Archaeology and Ancient History

A New History of Bronze: crafting, leadership and violence

5 pieces of metalwork

About the project

Our understanding of change in the deep past is fundamentally defined by metalworking. The British and Irish Bronze Age (c.2200-600 BC) was a time of3 pieces of metalworktechnological and social transformation following the use of copper, bronze, and gold. These new materials changed lives, altered flows of knowledge and exchange, and restructured community and power relationships. This project looks to  re-think who metal makers and users were, and how metals were exchanged, utilised, and valued across the British and Irish Bronze Age.

Funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Leadership Award, over the next five years the project team will analyse thousands of objects from weapons and tools to the stones used to mine, make and maintain metals. This analysis will provide an unprecedented level of detail about how objects made from copper, bronze and gold were made, used and destroyed in different ways across Britain and Ireland.


Various tinworking tools

The project uses non-destructive techniques to study objects. Our primary approach is microwear analysis which examines marks on objects to determine the materials they have come into contact with and the manner in which they have been made and used. From notches on swords that tell us about Bronze Age combat, to the scratches on tools that tell us about the details of wood working, these objects contain histories of their use that have remained hidden until now.

In addition to microwear analysis we also employ a host of non-destructive forms of analysis including micro-XRF and scanning electron microscopy to understand the residues left behind on objects. These can help us spot when stone tools have been used to shape gold or bronze, for example.

Our project builds on the expertise developed at the University of Leicester in microwear analysis. It builds on a previous Leverhulme funded grant, Beyond the Three Age System (BTTAS), that examined objects across the Neolithic and Bronze Age and helped identify previously unknown evidence for tin working, gold working and gold decoration. This was followed by work funded by the British Academy looking at spectacular Bronze Age gold objects from burials close to Stonehenge. We have had objects on loan from the British Museum, Wiltshire Museum, Tullie House, Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Oxford Archaeology and others, and travelled across the country to study others.

Goldworking tool

Our hosts

This project is based in the Centre for Material Worlds Past and Present, at the University of Leicester, and our state of the art microwear and microscopy laboratories. These were refurbished in 2023, funded by the University of Leicester, and equipped with cutting-edge equipment via funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

Over the next five years, our team will look at a wide variety of Bronze Age objects in greater numbers, and greater detail, than has ever been done before. Situated in a sophisticated understanding of how metals and other materials made new ways of living, and new kinds of identity, possible, the project will write a new history of bronze. 

If you are a curator, an FLO, or a finds specialist and have metalwork, or stone tools that you think might have been involved in metalworking, in your care that you think might benefit from study please get in touch by emailing Dr Rachel Crellin -

Meet the team

The project is led by Dr Rachel Crellin and includes a team of postdoctoral research assistants and PhD students. 

Rachel Crellin

Dr Rachel Crellin - Project Director

Rachel Crellin specialises in the study of the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Britain and Ireland and archaeological theory. She is a metalwork wear-analyst with experience analysing a range of different Bronze Age metalwork and carrying out related experimental archaeology projects.

 Oliver Harris Prof Ollie Harris - Project Collaborator

Ollie Harris specialises in the study of the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Britain and Ireland and archaeological theory. Ollie was the Primary Investigator on the Leverhulme BTTAS project where he worked extensively with Rachel and Christina. It is through this project that the methods used in this project were developed and he forms a key part of the team.

 Christina Tsoraki  

Dr Christina Tsoraki - ground stone tool and gold expert

Christina Tsoraki specializes in prehistoric archaeology with a focus on material culture studies, stone technology and microwear analysis. Her research interests include object histories, cross-craft interactions, depositional practices and household archaeology. She investigates topics as diverse as Anatolian Neolithic plant processing toolkits, Minoan craft technologies, early goldworking in Bronze Age Britain and household activities in Archaic Greece. Between 2012 and 2018 she was the Head of the Ground Stone Team for the Çatalhöyük Research Project (Turkey).

 Matthew Hitchcock  

Dr Matt Hitchcock - metalwork wear-analyst

Matt Hitchcock’s  primary academic interests include themes surrounding art, violence, identity, dealing with death, object histories and museum studies. His work has mainly focused on later prehistoric and early Roman period Britain and Ireland, but he has also worked on material from Japan and Cyprus. He has previously worked as a field archaeologist for York Archaeological Trust, for the National Videogame Museum, Sheffield, and most recently, as a project curator at the British Museum. 

 Dawid Sych  

Dr Dawid Sych - metalwork wear-analyst

Dawid Sych specializes in the study of metalwork and archaeometallurgy. His research interests include topics related to the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, archaeometallurgy, and the archaeology of warfare. He specializes in the analysis of the production traces and use-wear on metal artifacts, primarily made of copper and its alloys.


Hamish Darrah - Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD researcher

Hamish’s research is funded through an AHRC collaborative doctoral partnership from the Scottish Heritage Consortium. The project is co-supervised by Rachel and Ollie at the University of Leicester and Dr Matt Knight and Dr Fraser Hunter at the National Museums of Scotland. Hamish is a practicing archaeological wood analyst and green wood worker with a background in experimental archaeology. His PhD will explore Late Bronze Age toolkits. 

Could the project include you? 

We will be recruiting two more PhD students to join the project in October 2024. These will be advertised in due course.

Example publications

The work on the new project is at an early stage, but a good sense of what we do can be found in publications from our completed research work. These come from the team members and our research, and where we have collaborated with others. All of the below are open access and free to download and share.

  • Carey, C., Tsoraki, C., Jones, A.M., Harris, O.J.T., Crellin, R.J., Lyons, P. 2023. Beaker and Early Bronze Age tin exploitation in Cornwall, UK: cassiterite processing identified through microwear and pXRF analyses. European Journal of Archaeology 26, 147-67. doi:10.1017/eaa.2022.30
  • Crellin, R.J., Tsoraki, C., Standish, C., Pearce R.B, Barton, H., Morriss, S., and Harris, O.J.T. 2023. Materials in movement: gold and stone in process at the Upton Lovell G2a burial. Antiquity 97: 86-103. doi:10.15184/aqy.2022.162
  • Roy, A., Crellin, R.J., Harris, O.J.T. 2023. Use-wear reveals the first direct evidence for use of Neolithic polished stone axes in Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science Reports 49, 103882 doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.103882
  • Tsoraki, C., Barton, H., Crellin, R.J. and Harris O.J.T. 2023. From typology and biography to multiplicity: Bracers as ‘process objects’. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 33: 693-714. doi:10.1017/S0959774323000094
  • Tsoraki, C., Barton, H., Crellin, R.J. & Harris, O.J.T. 2020. Making marks meaningful: new materialism and the microwear assemblage. World Archaeology 52, 484-502. doi:10.1080/00438243.2021.1898462

Back to top