The research project ‘Chemical and metallurgical aspects of arsenical bronze: the case of arsenic-loss in prehistoric metal production‘ was hosted by the Institut de Recherche sur les Archéomatériaux – Centre de recherche en physique appliquée à l’archéologie (IRAMAT-CRP2 – UMR 5060 CNRS) at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne, in cooperation with the Universitá degli Studi di Genova.  This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, grant agreement no. 656244 (2015 to 2017).

The main goal of this project is to investigate out-of-equilibrium Cu-As alloys, i.e. 0-10 wt.% arsenic, as used in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age. The research protocol consists of several steps: equilibrium and out-of-equilibrium phase diagrams in the above mentioned range, evaluation of mechanical properties of Cu-As alloys in the most common metallurgical states (i.e. as-cast, annealed, cold-hardened, recrystallized), and estimation of the loss of arsenic during metallurgical transformations (i.e. melting / casting, homogenisation annealing, recrystallisation annealing) according to the number of iterations, the treatment temperature and the dwell time. The fulfillment of these objectives is of particular importance for archaeometallurgy, a branch of material science applied to archaeology, which also deals with the development and usage of arsenical bronze – the first alloy made by humans. New knowledge in the production, thermomechanical treatments and consequent properties of the misknown arsenical bronzes will be achieved.

ArsenicLoss will:

  • Investigate and contribute to the construction of out-of-equilibrium phase diagrams for arsenic bronzes up to 10 wt.% arsenic;
  • Evaluate mechanical properties and characteristics of arsenical bronze such as hardness, ductility, castability or tensile strength;
  • Quantify and evaluate the loss of arsenic during prehistoric manufacturing processes through re-melting, casting and annealing activities

Scientific outcome


  1. Sabatini, B. – Cziegler, A. – Mödlinger, M. 2020. Casting Simulations of Arsenical Copper: New Insights into Prehistoric Metal Production and Materials. JOM. doi: 10.1007/s11837-020-04210-8 full article available here.
  2. Mödlinger, M. – Macció, D. – Sabatini, B. – Cziegler, A. – Schnideritsch, H. 2018. Archaeological Arsenical Bronzes and Equilibrium in the As-Cu System. Metallurgical and Material Transactions B 49/5, 2505–2513. doi: 10.1007/s11663-018-1322-8.
  3. Kunze, R. – Rödel, T. – Mödlinger, M. 2017. Kaukasisches Kupfer in der Bronzezeit: Gewinnung und Einfluss. Prähistorische Zeitschrift 92/2, 289–303. doi: 10.1515/pz-2017-0019.
  4. Mödlinger, M. – Kuijpers, M. – Braekmans D. – Berger, D. Quantitative comparisons of the color of CuAs, CuSn, CuNi, and CuSb alloys. Journal of Archaeological Science 88, 14–23. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2017.09.001.
  5. Mödlinger, M. – de Oro Calderon, R. – Haubner, R. Arsenic loss during metallurgical processing of arsenical bronze, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. doi: 10.1007/s12520-017-0534-1
  6. Mödlinger, M. – Sabatini, B. Bronze Age Caucasian Metalwork: Alloy Choice and Combination. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 16, 248–257. doi: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2017.10.018.
  7. Mödlinger, M. – Sabatini, B. 2016. Segregation of Arsenic in Cu-As alloys and its influence on arsenic losses during recasting and annealing. Journal of Archaeological Science 74, 60-74. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2016.08.005

Invited lectures, conference participations: presentation of project results

  • 06/ 2017 – Meeting of the UISPP-Committee on Archaeometry of Pre- and Protohistoric Inorganic Artifacts, Materials and Technologies, Pavia, Italy
  • 05/ 2017 – invited lecture: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, USA
  • 04/ 2017 – XXI conference of the (Groupe des Méthodes Pluridisciplinaires Contribuant à l’Archéologie (GMPCA), Rennes, France
  • 04/ 2017 – 63. Metallkunde-Kolloquium, Lech/Arlberg, Austria (presentation: R. Haubner)
  • 02/ 2016 – invited lecture: University of Cork, Ireland
  • 11/ 2015 – invited lecture: IRAMAT-CRP2 – UMR 5060 CNRS, Bordeaux, France
  • 10/ 2015 – invited lecture: IRAMAT-CRP2 – UMR 5060 CNRS, Bordeaux, France
  • 09/ 2015 – ‘Recycling things and ideas: linking scientific, archaeological and conceptual approaches to the reuse of materials in the past’ session at the annual meeting of the EAA in Glasgow, UK
  • 04/ 2015 – ‘Glass and Metal Recycling in Archaeology and Archaeometry’ workshop at the University of Leicester, UK