Press information about the special exhibition

Press information about
"HEAVY METAL - How copper changed the world"
from 2.2.2016 to 14.1.2018


Overall concept: Angelika Fleckinger
Curator: Andreas Putzer
Concept group: Vera Bedin, Margit Tumler, Günther Kaufmann, Andreas Putzer
Exhibition design: DOC, Office for communication and design, Bozen
Exhibition interior: Fine Line; Plantec; Profiklex; Eldomare Electronics

Images of the special exhibition

On 2 February 2016, an innovative exhibition opened on the top floor of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. The exhibition presents 10,000-year-old artefacts using state-of-the-art technology. A multimedia display on an area of 300 square metres invites visitors to learn about the archaeological history of copper on wide screens and to test the metal in small experimental stations.
The first metal was discovered over 10,000 years ago. It was a revolutionary step for mankind. Someone must have found a pure copper nugget by accident and realized that this unknown material could be shaped by heating and beating. At some point our ancestors succeeded in smelting copper ore at over 1000ºC (over 1832 °F) and fashioning it into desired forms. The triumphal march of copper began!

Soon craftsmen in the Middle East were learning how to make useful and beautiful things out of copper – whether jewellery, weapons or tools. Trade and mining gathered pace, and the knowledge of how to exploit the unlimited possibilities of this metal was passed around the world. The special exhibition HEAVY METAL traces the history of copper. What were the consequences of its discovery for Stone Age man? And why is the shiny red metal found in smartphones, coins and electrical cables today?

The most famous individual from the Copper Age is Ötzi, the Iceman, a glacier mummy from the Schnals Valley. He has been on display in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology since 1998. He carried a valuable copper axe, which marks him out as a person of high standing. HEAVY METAL is linked to the permanent Ötzi exhibition and presents the Copper Age as an exciting period of historic global change.

The special exhibition at a glance

The exhibition leads from the beginning of copper processing in the Middle East to our ancestor’s life in the Alps during Otzi’s time, approx. 5,000 years ago. Copper ore was also found in South Tyrol, however at the beginning most of the European deposits were located in the Balkan Peninsula. Gradually the knowledge about copper, this new raw material, spread from the Middle East to Central Europe. As a result, exchanges between the civilisations increased dramatically, leading to an unprecedented exchange of information and ideas between the prehistoric cultural groups in Central Europe.

Ötzi, the Iceman, lived during this period and is part of a group which not only possessed copper but also knew how to process it. This fact gave them a huge advantage over groups who didn’t know how to work the metal. At the same time, the technical innovations surrounding copper led to far-reaching economic and social changes. Even today, 5,300 years after Ötzi, the heavy metal we now know of as copper plays just as an important role in our society as it did back then.

HEAVY METAL, on a surface of ca. 300m², displays archaeological findings from the Alps as well as important original findings from neighbouring regions. The exhibition is ideal for every age group thanks to its multimedia features and its relevance to our modern society.

How copper is used

Copper is still used to this very day for its unique traits and is an essential component of our society’s daily activities. The current relevance of copper gives us a glimpse into its cultural and historical development and what knock-on effects its discovery had starting from the prehistoric era.

In the beginning was Copper

Copper has been used by mankind for around 12,000 years. At the beginning, its unique traits as a metal were still unknown. Copper ores such as malachite, a green mineral, or azurite, were used as pendants or colour pigments. Around 9,000 B.C., copper was used to manufacture pearls, nails, and tools. Most of them can be found in Anatolia (Turkey) as native copper originates there. The first copper artefacts from Europe (hatchets, axes, and bodkins) are 7,500 years old and originate from the Balkan Peninsula. The performance of Copper tools was in no way inferior to stone tools. In fact, the former had an edge over the latter: broken tools weren’t thrown away. They were simply smelted and recast. This elevated copper objects to coveted trading commodities. The first copper tools appeared in Central Europe via barters and trades around 6,500 years ago. However, copper processing techniques only reached Central Europe some centuries later. Ötzi’s copper axe allowed researchers to determine the age of the findings and, as it turns out, these aren’t even the oldest copper objects found in South Tyrol. In fact, other objects preceding the Iceman’s had already been found and testify to the contact between neighbouring cultural groups.

Ötzi’s civilisation – Backstage Archaeology

The concepts of ‘Stone age’, ‘Copper Age’ or ‘Chalcolithic’ or rather the chronological allocation of findings aren’t always clear to laypeople. The Backstage Archaeology area illustrates the archaeological methods used to define a specific age. The allocation of the Iceman to a specific civilisation was determined on two findings relying on the two main materials from the Copper Age: his copper axe and his flint dagger. The archaeologists availed themselves of scientific, historical and societal methods to determine the correct era. Museum visitors can also try a simper version of those very same methods.

Copper and innovations

Certain innovations came about only thanks to copper being traded and information being exchanged between neighbouring civilisations. Important technical innovations brought about by the first metal and its processing can be found as far back as the prehistoric era. Ancient graves give us a glimpse into the life of civilisations living in the Cooper Age and the start of social disparity.

The Copper Age: a bit of history wherever you go

If you thought that recycling this red-hued metal, copper, was a modern innovation, think again: copper has been recycled from the very first day. Numerous findings of copper scoriae from archaeological digs and some copper mines, whose use was well documented during the Copper Age, led to an approximate calculation of the amount of the metal in circulation at the time. The results posit how there was far more copper circulating then archaeological objects we know today and how it was often smelted and recast. This leads us to believe that our everyday objects may contain traces of prehistoric copper.

Exhibition design

The Heavy Metal exhibition uses the full gamut of digital representation to explain to visitors in simple terms the complex history of copper. Two large dynamic multimedia screens link the two central themes of the exhibition: the symbolism of social inequality associated with the discovery of copper and the spread of copper from Anatolia to Central Europe over thousands of years.
The backstage area is also a must see. Adults and children alike will be able to witness the methods archaeologists use to examine copper artefacts. There are pull-out drawers, multilingual tutorials, switches and interactive surfaces arranged liberally against a light background. Experimenting with various disciplines and technologies to date copper makes archaeometallurgy or C14 radio carbon dating a fascinating game. Central to the exhibition is the valuable copper blade of the axe owned by Ötzi, the Iceman, the most famous mummy from the Copper Age and the emblem of the South Tyrol Archaeology Museum. Light also plays an important role in the exhibition. On the stairs leading up to the top floor, a luminous sign with “Heavy Metal” against a copper-red background signals the metal that is central to the exhibition. More than 400 LED lights are a reminder that copper can be shaped by fire. The white walls and the light-coloured furnishings stand out from the dark floor so that the typed texts are easy to read. Copper smelting also provides a play of colours which are reflected in the exhibition design. The design as a whole is simple and bright.

We would like to thank the following loaners

Amt für Archäologie, Frauenfeld/Thurgau (CH)
Amt für Bodendenkmäler, Bozen / Ufficio beni archeologici, Bolzano (I)
Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck (A)
Istituto Italiano del Rame, Milano (I)
Kantonsarchäologie Graubünden, Chur (CH)
Kantonsarchäologie Tessin, Bellinzona (CH)
Leopold-Franzens-Universität, Innsbruck (A)
Montanwerke, Brixlegg (A)
Musei Civici Reggio Emilia, Reggio Emilia (I)
Museo Fiorentino di Preistoria “Paolo Graziosi” (I)
Museo Nazionale Luigi Pigorini, Roma (I)
National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Sofia (BGR)
Naturmuseum Südtirol, Bozen / Museo Scienze naturali, Bolzano (I)
Palais Mamming Museum, Meran (I)
Rätisches Museum, Chur (CH)
Regional Museum of History, Stara Zagora (BGR)
Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per la Città Metropolitana di Firenze e le Province di Pistoia e Prato (I)
Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l'Area Metropolitana di Venezia e le Province di Belluno, Padova e Treviso (I)
Soprintendenza Archeologia dell’Emilia Romagna, Bologna (I)
Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali - Ufficio Beni archeologici, Trento (I)
Urgeschichtemuseum MAMUZ, Schloss Asparn/Zaya (A)
Wosinsky Mór Megyei Múzeum, Szekszárd
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