Repair, recycle or modify? The response to damage and/or obsolescence in Mycenaean metal vessels during the Prepalatial and Palatial periods and its implications for understanding metal recycling
Stephanie Aulsebrook Studi Micenei 3 (2017): 7-26
Metals differ from other materials, with the exception of glass, because they can be melted down for recycling. This property gives metals an intrinsic value that is important for understanding their utilisation within past societies. Despite its significance, this form of metal recycling is hard to study as it is almost completely archaeologically invisible. Direct evidence is limited to deliberately fragmented metal objects, especially those found within the vicinity of a hearth or furnace, and written sources. This paper examines whether this type of metal recycling can be better understood by investigating circumstances where recycling was rejected, and repair or modification took place instead. Previous research has demonstrated that this occurred in a small minority of metal vessels from the Late Bronze Age Prepalatial and Palatial Mycenaean Greek mainland. The presence of repairs and modifications was compared against aspects of these vessels’ object biographies to see whether these influenced the decision made against recycling. Repairs were mainly associated with particular types of large copper-alloy vessels that appear to have been primarily prized for their function rather than aesthetic appeal. Many repairs were apparently linked to the prioritisation of other production factors over the final vessel appearance. Generally vessels of precious metals and lead were not repaired, nor were certain copper-alloy vessel forms. It is suggested that these were typically recycled instead, with different chains of reasoning leading to the same choice. The single example in this dataset of a repaired silver cup may be related to a unique object biography that involved an especially close personal bond.