Institute of Archaeology


Raluca - Ioana Lazarescu

Mapping technological change in medieval North Africa: from Roman to Islamic copper economies (0 -1500 CE)

Portrait of Raluca Lazarescu

Email: raluca.lazarescu.16@ucl.ac.uk          
Section:  World Archaeology and Archaeological Science


Mapping technological change in medieval North Africa: from Roman to Islamic copper economies (0 -1500 CE)

Medieval Arabic and Latin sources indicate that North Africa was one of the major exporters of raw and worked copper to West Africa, silver coinage to Europe, the Middle East, and the Baltic. It served as the key conduit for the flow of West African gold to Europe and North Africa. The 8th century mining boom in the Moroccan Atlas – a major source of silver and copper – mirrors the similar industrial expansion in the Middle East and Arabia (Morony 2019). The bulk of West Africa’s copper resources came from Morocco and Mauritania, and such was the importance of copper that it was analogous to gold in the modern world (Herbert 1984: 80).

This is the first comprehensive analysis of continuity, adaptations, and innovations in copper alloy metallurgy across North Africa in the Roman and Medieval periods. Recent analysis from pre-Islamic Garamantian sites in Libya (Cuénod 2020: 223) show the need to re-examine traditional assumptions about copper metallurgy through rigorous compositional analysis. The project takes a trans-regional and multi-scalar approach to long-term changes in copper extraction and alloy production in the Maghreb al-Aqsa (Morocco) and Ifriqiya (Tunisia and western Libya) in the Roman and Medieval periods.

At a local level, this transferable dataset explores not only the changing patterns of copper production but has the potential to shed light onto the old copper-metallurgy debate across the continent. Copper metallurgy in the region has been regarded as an adaptation from external stimuli, as there seems to be no copper working prior to iron working in Africa. On a global level, it tackles how copper metallurgy is intrinsically linked with the economies of the pre-modern world. West and West-Central Africa, directly powered by the North African copper supply, were integral the global price revolution of the 16th and 17thcentury.


ERC Project ‘Everyday Islam’


  • BA Archaeology and Anthropology. UCL, 2019

  • MSc in Archaeological Sciences: Technology and Materials, UCL, 2020

Made an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, May 2023

Nominated for the following Student Choice Awards 2023: 

  • Inspiring Teaching Delivery
  • Active Student Partnership
  • Amazing Support Staff
  • Diverse & Inclusive Education


Conference Paper 

Lazarescu, R., Fenwick, C., Bokbot, Y., Charlton, M., Mattingly, D., Sterry, M., 2023. Copper production and oasis development in the medieval Moroccan Sahara. European Association of Archaeologists, Belfast 2023 Presentation.