Oxford Archaeological Lead Isotope Database

The origin of copper oxhide ingots found on Sardinia.

The copper ‘oxhide’ ingots are very special artefacts that are found around the Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age contexts. They are slabs of pure smelted copper mostly weighing between 25-30 kilograms with elongated corners forming ‘horns’, which most likely were made to facilitate their carrying. Whole ingots and fragments were excavated in Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Bulgaria and on Sardinia. The largest groups of oxhide ingots were found on two shipwrecks off the coast of south-west Turkey: the Gelidonya (dated to the ca 1200 BC) and Uluburun (end of 14th century BC – see the photo on the ‘Isotrace Laboratory’ page).

 It has been widely assumed that in the Eastern Mediterranean these ingots were produced from Cypriot copper (for summary see: Gale 1991). However, the evidence for indigenous copper metallurgy on Sardinia at the end of the second millennium BC was very strongly attested by the archaeological remains (Lo Schiavo et al. 1990) and it seemed quite reasonable to assume that all copper ingots found on Sardinia, including the oxhide shaped, were of local manufacture.  However, the lead isotope analyses of samples of oxhide ingots from all geographical locations, including Sardinia, show quite clearly that copper ingots of this shape were only made of Cypriot copper, mainly from the Apliki region (Stos-Gale et al 1997, Stos-Gale and Gale 1991, Gale 1999 and 2006). The plots of lead isotope ratios of the Sardinian ores and the ores from Apliki mines on Cyprus, and the copper oxhide ingots found on Sardinia illustrate this result.


Gale, N.H. 1991, Copper oxhide ingots: their origin and their place in the Bronze Age metals trade in the Mediterranean. In Bronze Age Trade in the Mediterranean (N.H. Gale ed..),  SIMA Vol. 90. Paul Astroms Forlag. 197-239.

Gale, N.H. 1999. Lead isotope characterisation of the ore deposits of Cyprus and Sardinia and its application to the discovery of the sources of copper for Late Bronze Age oxhide ingots. In S.M.M. Young, A.M. Pollard, P. Budd and R.A. Ixer eds. Metals in Antiquity. BAR International Series 792. 110-121.

      Gale, N. H. 2006. Lead isotope studies – Sardinia and the Mediterranean: Provenance studies of artefacts found in Sardinia. Instrumentum 23, 29-34. 


      Lo Schiavo, F. 1990. Lingotti ox-hide e lingotti piano-convessi. In F. Lo Schiavo, R. Maddin, J. Merkel. J.D. Muhly and T. Stech, eds.  Analysi Metallurgiche e Statistiche sui Lingotti di Rame della Sardegna: 16-40. Quaderni 17. Ozieri, Sardinia.

Stos-Gale, Z.A.  and Gale, N.H. 1992:   'New light on the provenance of the copper oxhide ingots found on Sardinia.'   Sardinia in the Mediterranean: a Footprint in the Sea. Studies in Sardinian Archaeology presented to Miriam Balmuth. R.H.Tycot and T.K. Andrews eds. Sheffield Academic Press. 317-346.

Stos-Gale, Z.A.,  Maliotis, G., Gale, N.H. and Annetts, N. 1997. Lead isotope characteristics of the Cyprus copper ore deposits applied to provenance studies of copper oxhide ingots. Archaeometry 39 (1), 83-124.