EF5 – Concepts of Change in Historical Processes



Spreading of Copper Technology in Ancient Times

Project Heads

Nataša Djurdjevac Conrad, Christof Schütte, Wolfram Schier

Project Members

Johannes Zonker (FU) 

Project Duration

01.07.2019 – 30.06.2022

Located at

FU Berlin


Invention of copper smelting technology had a great influence on the socio-technological development of past societies. However, dynamical mechanisms that governed the spreading of this process are until now not well understood. The goal of this project is to model and describe the process of spreading and evolution of the copper production technology in ancient Europe between different socio-cultural groups and across multiple spatio-temporal scales.


Within this project, we are studying models on different scales, e.g. stochastic agent-based models on a micro-scale, stochastic and piecewise-deterministic metapopulation models on a meso-scale and network-based models on a macro-scale. The problem of choosing the optimal model is always connected to balancing between the descriptive power of the model and its computational cost. We are working on derivation of mathematical relations between these models e.g. by using model reduction techniques, which could help in estimating an approximation error made by the choice of the model.


In the construction of our (piecewise-deterministic) metapopulation model for the spreading of copper technology we define interaction rates between subpopulations by considering geographical influences like least cost paths as well as archaeological influences such as time-dependent geo-cultural and compositional partitions of the sites. In addition to the exchange between subpopulations we model an internal adoption process by logistic growth functions.


This is an interdisciplinary project with our colleagues from the Institute for Prehistoric Archaeology at Free University Berlin. Together we want to conduct rational modelling utilizing also archaeological knowledge instead of choosing a purely data driven approach.

Project Webpages

Selected Publications

  1. Fabian Becker, Nataša Djurdjevac Conrad, Raphael A. Eser, Luzie Helfmann, Brigitta Schütt, Christof Schütte and Johannes Zonker. The Furnace and the Goat—A spatio-temporal model of the fuelwood requirement for iron metallurgy on Elba Island, 4th century BCE to 2nd century CE. PLoS ONE 15.11 (2020): e0241133. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241133
  2. Stefanie Winkelmann, Johannes Zonker, Christof Schütte and Nataša Djurdjevac Conrad. (2021). Mathematical modeling of spatio-temporal population dynamics and application to epidemic spreading. Mathematical biosciences336, 108619.
  3. Johannes Zonker, Cecilia Padilla-Iglesias and Nataša Djurdjevac Conrad. Insights into drivers of mobility and cultural dynamics of African hunter-gatherers over the past 120,000 years. Royal Society Open Science, 10(11), (2023).

Selected Pictures

Network of subpopulations with geo-cultural partititon of sites.

Data in this plot is provided by W.Schier and reference: E. Rosenstock, S. Scharl and W. Schier. Ex oriente lux? – Ein Diskussionsbeitrag zur Stellung der frühen Kupfermetallurgie Südosteuropas. Oriental European Archaeology, vol. 3 (Rahden/Westf.: Verlag Marie Leidorf 2016) 59- 122.

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