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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Dr Alan Williams, BSc (Hons), PhD, C.Eng., MIMMM, ARSM.

Research Associate in the Department of Archaeology

(email at

I completed my PhD in 2018 at the University of Liverpool on the Great Orme Bronze Age copper in Wales, one the largest in Europe. By characterising the ores and metals it was possible, for the first time, to trace the mine’s metal across Britain and into Europe indicating large-scale production and a copper boom in Britain around 1600 BC. A long-standing research interest in Bronze Age tin and long distance trade networks developed the Leverhulme funded Project Ancient Tin: Did British tin sources and trade make Bronze Age Europe? led by Ben Roberts and which started in March 2020.

I originally graduated with a BSc (Hons) degree in Mining Geology, from the Royal School of Mines at Imperial College London. After working in metal mining and exploration (Cornish tin mining, Canadian gold and Swedish uranium exploration) I had a long research career with the international glass company, Pilkington (now NSG). I was chief geologist and head of the Raw Materials and Glass Compositions Department at the Pilkington European Research Centre. I was responsible for global sourcing and development of glass-making raw materials in over 20 countries and researching new glass compositions. In addition, I managed extensive laboratory research facilities (for glass melting and petrography) and produced numerous confidential internal research reports. I took early retirement in 2012 to apply my expertise in geochemistry, ore geology, mineralogy, ceramics and pyrotechnology to outstanding archaeological challenges in the field of prehistoric metal mining and smelting. This has been supported by my long-standing interests in historic metal mining and archaeology and I have published two books and several articles on copper, lead and silver mining in Wales and Ireland.

Research Interests

  • Bronze Age tin sources and trade networks
  • Bronze Age archaeology of metal mining and smelting in Britain and Europe.
  • European Bronze Age metalwork (copper, tin, gold, lead & silver)
  • Prehistoric long distance trade networks and cultural connections
  • Tracing metal sources and movements using isotopes and trace elements
  • Experimental archaeology – ore smelting.

Selected Publications

Authored book

  • Williams, R.A. (Forthcoming). Boom and Boost in Bronze Age Britain: The Great Orme copper mine and European trade. Archaeopress.
  • Williams, R.A. (1992). The Berehaven Copper Mines, Allihies, Co. Cork. (reprinted 1993, 1998, 2007). Northern Mine Research Society and reprints by Kenmare Book.
  • Williams, R.A. (1985). The Old Mines of the Llangynog District. Northern Mine Research Society.

Chapter in book

  • Williams, R.A. (2018). The Great Orme Bronze Age copper mine in North Wales: Opportunities to link ore to metal. In Mining for Ancient Copper: Essays in memory of Professor Beno Rothenberg 2013 conference. Ben-Yosef, E The Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. 399-417.
  • Williams, R A (2017). The Great Orme Bronze Age copper mine: linking ores to metals by developing a geochemically and isotopically defined mine-based metal group methodology. In Archaeometallurgy in Europe IV 2015, Bibliotheca Praehistorica Hispana, vol XXXIII. Montero-Ruiz, I. & Perea, A. Editorial CSIC, Madrid. XXXIII.: 29-47.
  • Williams, R.A. (2014). Linking Ore to Metal – Geochemical and isotopic opportunities to characterise and trace the metal from the Great Orme Bronze Age copper mine. In .) The Bronze Age in the Atlantic Archipelago. Proceedings from the Bronze Age Forum held at Queen’s University Belfast, 9th–10th Nov 2013. Brandherm, D. & Plunkett, G. Curach Bhan Publications. 145-175.
  • Williams, R.A. (1995). Mining and Quarrying in Clwyd. In Industrial Minera – The Lead Mines and Quarries of Minera. Bennett, J. Maelor Borough Council. 1-14.
  • Williams. R.A. (1987). The High Mortality of British Metal and Slate Miners. In Northern Mines Research Society Memoirs. Bird, R. Northern Mine Reserch Society. 18-33.

Journal Article

  • Williams, R.A. & Carlier de Veslud,C. (2019). Boom and bust. Major copper production in Bronze Age Britain from the Great Orme mine and European trade c.1600-1400 BC. Antiquity 93(371): 1178-1196.
  • Melheim, L., Grandin, L., Persson, P.O., Billström, K., Stos-Gale, Z., Ling, J., Williams, R. A., Angelini, I., Canovaro, C., Hjärthner-Holdar, E. & Kristiansen, K. (2018). Moving metals III: Possible origins for copper in Bronze Age Denmark based on lead isotopes and geochemistry. Journal of Archaeological Science, 96: 85-105.
  • Williams, R.A. (2018). x Revealing the Bronze Age zenith of the Great Orme copper mine. Welsh Mines and Mining 5: 33-43.
  • Williams, R.A. (2012). Hidden Bullion: Silver Production in northeast Wales. Welsh Mines and Mining 2: 33-43.
  • Williams, C.J. & Williams, R.A. (2012). Rediscovering the Lead, Zinc and Silver production of northeast Wales. Welsh Mines and Mining 2: 13-31.

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • Williams, R.A. (2020). Great Orme's golden age of European trade. Current Aracheology 359. February 2020: 8.

Show all publications

Indicators of Esteem

  • An Honorary Research Fellow, University of Liverpool:
  • Awarded in June 2020 the Ben Cullen Prize by the Antiquity Trust for his article in Antiquity:
  • Awarded the Clement Le Neve Foster prize for excellence in geology, mineralogy or mining :
  • BBC TV and radio appearances and coverage in The Times and Current Archaeology on my research at the Bronze Age Great Orme copper mine.:
  • Consultant to RTE TV documentary based on my research on the Allihies copper mines in Co. Cork, SW Ireland:
  • Peer reviewer for journal papers in Historical Metallurgy and the Journal of Archaeological Science:
  • Presentation on glass-making raw materials to an All Party UK Parliamentary Group :

Selected Grants

  • 2020: Co-authored successful Leverhulme Trust research grant application 'Did British tin sources and trade make Bronze Age Europe?