Swedish Bronze Age axes made with copper from Cyprus

Ancient bronze tools unearthed in Sweden were made using copper from the Mediterranean, showing there was trade between the two cultures, archeologists have found.

According to a story carried in Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, copper mined in Sicily, Sardinia, the Iberian peninsula and Cyprus was exchanged for Nordic amber, which was as highly valued as gold in Mycenaean Greece and in the prehistoric Middle East.

Copper produced in Cypriot mines was smelted into "oxhide ingots" – copper slabs with four extruding corners that were used to carry oxhides – a useful invention since the hides were heavy, around 37 kilograms each. According to Haaretz, the ingots were big business, noting a large collection was found in a ship that sunk off Turkey in the late 14th century.

"Bronze was as valuable a raw material as oil is today"

So how did the copper get to Sweden to be made into bronze tools? And why was it traded? The copper likely "trickled along the Bronze Age trade routes," says Haaretz, referencing Dr. Johan Ling from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, rather than being purposely shipped to northern Europe in large quantities.

University scientists used isotope analysis to show that around 70 bronze daggers and axes from Sweden were made from copper originating in Cyprus. Archeologists also believe that the copper was probably traded for amber, which along with copper, was so important to the Bronze Age economy that marriages were forged to secure the amber trade.

"Bronze was as valuable a raw material as oil is today," the newspaper quotes archeologist Kristian Kristiansen from the University of Gothenburg.

Further proof of the trade in amber and copper is shown by thousands of elaborate rock carvings found on the west coast of Sweden. A recurring them on the carvings is ships carrying oxhide ingots.