HMS AGM 2017


Saturday 17th June 2017
Institute of Archaeology,
UCL, London
Organised by Eleanor Blakelock


The Historical Metallurgy Society in conjunction with the Portable Antiquities Scheme invited submissions for papers for a study day on the metallurgy of our portable heritage. This meeting was aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from archaeological metallurgists, excavators, post-excavation specialists and PAS officers. The meeting was for open to anyone interested in finding out more about metal objects; be they gold, silver, copper alloy or iron.

The day included some invited speakers, but other papers offered were related to metallurgical aspects of the following topics:
• Using the PAS data for the analysis and/or interpretation of metal objects or assemblages
• Manufacture and use of small metal objects
• Recent work on small find assemblages from excavations
• New metal finds both from excavations and the PAS
• Metal conservation of our portable heritage

Link to the programme is here and the abstract book is available here


This one-day meeting was organised jointly with the Portable Antiquities Scheme ( and was held at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL on a glorious sunny June day. It included the HMS AGM where new Council members were elected (see elsewhere in this newsletter for details).

As we’ve come to expect from HMS meetings, there was a packed programme with eleven papers on a wide variety of topics ranging in date from the Bronze Age to post medieval times. The involvement of the PAS meant that the majority of the papers dealt with metals and metalworking in Britain, but two of the speakers had travelled especially from abroad to present their papers. Takahiko Kutsuna spoke about the change of gold production from gold dust to gold ore in Japan. It is thought gold mining started in Yamanashi prefecture, central Japan, in the 16th century and two mine sites there were excavated in the 1990s. More recently scientific examination of ceramic finds has identified gold on them, demonstrating their use in smelting gold ores. Cupellation has not been identified from physical remains but its use is clearly shown on the Sado gold and silver mine picture scrolls that survive from the Edo period (1603-1868). Diya Mukherjee’s approach was rather different as she spoke about understanding lost wax casting through an ethnographic study of present-day craftsmen, showing a film of them at work. This technique has been used in the Indian sub-continent since at least the 3rd millennium BCE and is still in use today.

The Bronze Age was well represented with three papers. Miriam Andrews explained her work measuring the use intensity of Bronze Age palstave axes. Replicas were subjected to systematic wear by repetitive wood-cutting and were re-sharpened at optimum intervals. The incremental increase in hardness of the axe blades was due to both use and sharpening, and the results of the project can be used to estimate the degree of use of prehistoric axes and the number of times they have been sharpened. Harriet White described a Middle Bronze Age four-flange twisted gold bar torc, discovered by a metal detectorist near Reach, East Cambridgeshire in 2015. It was 1.265m long, weighed 732g and is one of the largest found in Britain, Ireland and the near Continent. Its composition was determined for the Treasure process and a technical examination investigated manufacturing methods and wear, comparing it with other bar torcs. Tim Young described his attempts to determine the composition of Late Bronze Age ingots from St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall. pXRF was used on external surfaces while some pieces were sliced to expose a fresh cross section. The coarse dendritic microstructure and the strong weathering of the external surface meant the analytical data proved extremely problematic; the most useful were those obtained with the pXRF on a cut surface, with multiple analysed areas, each of approximately 8 x 10mm. Representative elemental analyses were not obtainable from drilled samples. Although the analyses tentatively suggested a Welsh Borders source for the copper, the most important outcome was that unless previous analyses of ingots were made on large areas of fresh cross sections, they should be considered of dubious utility. These problems affect essentially the whole corpus of British Bronze Age copper ingots.

Matt Phelps described the scientific examination of precious metal jewellery from a mid-1st-century AD hoard from Colchester. The results demonstrate the application of a wide range of production methods including diffusion bonding, hard soldering, wire production by hammering and rolling, details on the setting of emeralds within the gold rings and information on the fabrication of the silver medallion. The jewellery was of a high-grade gold alloy typical of Roman compositions and much purer than Iron Age gold coinage. Eleanor Blakelock’s talk also focussed on gold: her analysis of objects from the Middle Saxon Staffordshire Hoard. They had found quite varied compositions with up to 30% silver and a few % copper in the gold. More surprising was the repeated observation that the surface 10-15μm of many objects was depleted in these elements, systematically giving the gold the appearance of a purer alloy than that actually used to make them.

Justine Bayley noted there was little technical innovation in the processes used to manufacture base metal objects during the 1st millennium AD. Evidence for the processes comes from part-made and finished objects as well as from the tools and debris that can be found in abandoned workshops; things such as scrap and waste metal, moulds and crucibles. She provided insights into the ways craftsmen worked in the past and how they made the metal objects archaeometallurgists study today. Kevin Leahy also dealt with metalworking processes, but by reviewing some of the finds of various dates reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The earliest examples were a mould for a Bronze Age palstave and a Celtic coin die. Other, early medieval, dies showed how pressblech work and backing sheets for interlace were produced. Mis-cast objects and lead patterns for making clay moulds were also illustrated.

Alex Bliss described a class of finds that is virtually unknown from archaeological excavations. These are medieval jettons (accounting tokens), mainly of English origin, which were converted for use as brooches. The necessary fittings were riveted onto the obverse and the reverse was gilded; they are found mainly in East Anglia. Their manufacture, use and possible social significance to the people who wore them were all discussed. The final two papers concerned post-medieval objects. Ann-Marie Carey showed how she and her colleagues had reconstructed two objects from the 17th-century Cheapside Hoard by producing detailed laser scans of them. The scent bottle made of gold and precious stones was recreated from its many component pieces to understand the manufacturing processes involved, while for the Ferlite watch just the casing and the internal bell were recreated. This meant the bell could be struck; its peal was clear and beautifully pitched, an unusual association of sound with a museum artefact.

John Davis talked about the metallurgy of portable sundials, part of an ongoing study of medieval scientific instruments. The alloy compositions are being measured by XRF but copper-alloys suffer from the well-known problem of ‘dezincification’ which can seriously distort XRF results as it is a surface-sensitive technique. Experiments are being carried out to quantify and profile this loss of zinc. Eventually, it is hoped that some light may be shone on the locations of the workshops producing these early ‘mathematical instruments’ and on their sources of materials and the techniques employed.


Review written by Justine Bayley for The Crucible 96


Research in Progress Meeting

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Tuesday 29th November 2016
University of Birmingham
Organised by Eleanor Blakelock


The Research in Progress meetings are aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from historical and archaeological metallurgists to excavators, historians and economists. Presentations were given on a range of topics, from a variety of speakers in a friendly environment.

The HMS prize is awarded for the best presentation by a student at the meeting was awarded to Yi-Ting Hsu for her presentation 'Analysis of cupels and minting materials from the late medieval Mint of Porto (Portugal).'

Link to programme is available here and the abstract book is here.

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 The annual HMS Research in Progress meeting, which took place in November, 2016 was graciously hosted in the Department of Materials and Metallurgy at Birmingham University. In attendance were collaborators from a range of backgrounds, including academic researchers, professionals and interested non-specialists. The one day event proved to be a wonderful forum for individuals to communicate preliminary metallurgical data, discuss aspects of ongoing experimental investigations and disseminate their findings. The presentations which covered a variety of topics related to historical metallurgy, archaeology and other closely connected disciplines offered a valuable insight into current research within each of these fields.

Following a welcome and introduction from the organiser Dr Eleanor Blakelock, the meeting commenced with a paper given by Umberto Veronesi on Bronze Age metal production at Taldysaj, central Kazakhstan. Previous excavations at the site had uncovered substantial quantities of material connected to copper smelting, from two key periods of occupation, the Andronovo culture (c. 1700 -1500 BC) and Alekseevka-Sargary culture (c. 1300 – 1000 BC). Copper smelting slags, situated in four different furnace types were analysed to better understand the chaîne opératoire of the smelting process. The microstructural and elemental characterisation of the copper smelting slags, emphasised some significant technological differences between the furnace structures and their operation. Through further investigation of the site finds, the project aims to build a picture of both the nature and organisation of Bronze Age copper smelting in central Kazaksthan.

Raphael Herman, from Newcastle University was up next with a presentation on the experimental reconstruction of use-wear patterns on Late Bronze Age swords from the British Isles and Sicily. The ongoing research tackles this question by first analysing patterns of wear on these swords, to distinguish marks made by different actions such as slashing or stabbing. The second approach is to complete controlled combat tests on replica swords, which will provide much needed comparative data in the hope to better understand the pattern of characteristic marks left on the archaeological examples. This inclusive twophased approach, could reveal previously unattainable information about the function of LBA weaponry and potentially identify the existence of regional fighting styles.

The succeeding presentations both focussed on the archaeology of Iron Age Britain, with the first speaker Steffan Golby discussing the regional variations evident in iron production practices in England. Dr Tim Young, founder of GeoArch shed new light on the Iron Age in southern Britain with a chemical characterisation of smelting residues and fragmentary iron ores recovered from local sites. Trace element analysis revealed much of iron in the region was smelted from gossan ore during the middle late Iron Age. Characterisation of Iron Age furnace structures from the region demonstrated the existence of a complex system of smelting at southern Iron Age sites.
In the second session of the day, three papers were presented by current PhD researchers from the UCL Institute of Archaeology. The first from María Teresa Plaza, focussed on the manufacture of both gold and gold-silver alloy objects in the south central Andes during The Middle Horizon (AD 400-900). The objects under investigation were all uncovered alongside a number of individuals buried in the cemeteries of San Pedro, a practice often reserved for specific graves. Analysis of these objects, offered an exciting opportunity to glean more information about the manufacture of these items. Due to the cultural significance of these precious items, non-destructive analysis was carried out using pXRF, SEM-EDS and PIXE. Preliminary results from the cemetery Casa Parroquial found that the items were imported from different regions and later reshaped and refashioned to reflect popular local traditions. A second presentation by Jasmine Vieri focussed on characterising gold-working from pre-Columbian societies spanning north of Peru to central Mexico. The archaeological investigation brought together existing compositional data for gold bearing objects in the region, in an attempt to highlight spatial and temporal patterns. To complete the second session of the day Yi-Ting Hsu, presented ‘Analysis of cupels and minting materials from the late medieval Mint of Porto (Portugal)’. The aim of this research was to discern the manufacturing process of medieval coin minting in Portugal from the analysis excavated material connected to the mint.

During a break for lunch we were offered a tour of the Metallurgy and Materials department, providing the opportunity to view the state of the art equipment available for archaeometallurgical research. The newly refurbished Electron Microscopy suite was extremely impressive and it was great to see students, making full use of the facilities.

The third sitting of the day continued after lunch with Dr Peter King, who presented an historical account of greensand iron founding traditions at Coalbrookdale furnace. Kay Smith from the South-east Asian cannon project offered some thought-provoking insights into the collection of Bronze cannons held by the Museum Bronbeek in Arnhem. A detailed inspection of the cannons, suggest an intricate arrangement of chaplets were used to produce them.

The final presentation of the day came from the Keynote Speaker Professor Yasuyuki Murakami from Ehime University, Tokyo discussing the details of his fascinating fieldwork project. The project focussed on a specific type of ancient iron smelting technology which uses a furnace known as a Tatara, to smelt pig iron from iron sand. The transmission of this iron technology has been traced through a number of archaeological excavations spanning across Asia and Kazakhstan to Japan, via Siberia, Mongolia, and China. The experimental investigations recreated this process with the knowledge and support of Akira Kahira, a traditional Japanese iron smelting specialist. This was a particular honour for individuals involved in the project, as this knowledge is reserved for apprentices of murage (furnace master). It was wonderful to get a glimpse into the exciting projects being carried out both in the UK and globally.

Overall the conference was a fantastic success, providing a friendly atmosphere for individuals to share their ongoing projects. On a social basis it was wonderful to discover more about those currently undertaking archaeometallurgical research and provided a great opportunity for me to inquire more about particular topics which peaked my interest.

Review written by Nicola George for The Crucible 94


Anniversary of Cyfarthfa Ironworks


17th-19th June 2016
Merthyr Tydfil
Organised by Tim Young


 This meeting celebrated two separate anniversaries

  • 250th anniversary of the construction of Cyfarthfa Ironworks (1765-7)
  • 225th anniversary of the first successful commercial implementation of the puddling process (1791)

    Based in the Merthyr Tydfil area, this conference was held to discuss a range of related topics including the story of puddling (technology, economics, social history, engineering implications, international adoption), as well as the wider story of iron conversion technology and the broader development, social history and context of the iron industry in Merthyr Tydfil and South Wales from 1750 to 1950. There was also discussion of the development of Cyfarthfa Ironworks and its people (Bacon, the Homfrays, the Crawshays, their engineers and partners).

    On Friday before the conference started there was a rare opportunity to visit Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine. On Sunday there was another excursion through the sites of the Taff Valley in Merthyr, excursion on foot (approx 7km), sites visited included:

  • Merthyr (Penydarren) Tramroad tunnel,
  • Ynysfach Ironworks,
  • Chapel Row,
  • Cyfarthfa Ironworks

    The programme is here and details of the presentations here.


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    Research in Progress Meeting

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    Thursday 9th November 2017
    University of Liverpool
    Organised by Dr Matthew Ponting and his students


    The Research in Progress meetings are aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from historical and archaeological metallurgists to excavators, historians and economists. Presentations were given on a range of topics, from a variety of speakers in a friendly environment.

    The HMS prize is awarded for the best presentation by a student at the meeting was awarded to Alan Williams for his research on 'Characterising Bronze Age copper from the Great Orme mine to reveal its spatial and temporal distribution'.

     Link to the programme is here

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    The 2017 Historical Metallurgy Research in Progress meeting was held at the University of Liverpool on the 9th of November. Held in a Faculty library the meeting was well attended with a great environment.

    The meeting kicked off with the first talk ‘The spatial organisation of Roman Lead production in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire’ given by student Nicholas Clarke. Using chemical analysis it was possible to look at relative difference in lead content of the soil with a Roman fort and surrounding vicus. This revealed a larger concentration of lead within the fort itself, perhaps showing where the lead is being stored or potentially from when the workers washed their clothes.

    The next talk was by Alan Williams on ‘Characterising Bronze Age copper from the Great Orme mine to reveal its spatial and temporal distribution’. This presentation discussed the potential wide ranging trade networks within Britain using a new methodology for looking at mine based metal groups rather than artefact based groups, using chemical composition and lead isotopes.

    In Vanda Morton’s presentation ‘Types of evidence available at successive periods and places, for the production, use and trade of brass, up to AD1800’ we were given a wide sweeping overlook at brass production over time. The presentation focused primarily on the different clues hidden in a range of evidence, from archaeology and artefacts to documents and paintings.

    After a short break Peter Claughton provided an insightful presentation on the ‘Iron and steel production during the First World War’. This talk discussed the production of iron and changes of the ores sourced for the industry, from imported to home production. In addition the demands of war meant that many skilled workers were drawn into military service, and the consequences were shown in this presentation.

    From Poland Kamila Brodowska came to share her experiences of the extremely large bloomer fields in a presentation entitled ‘From fieldwork to experiment - what we know today about ancient furnaces from The Mazovian Centre of Metallurgy, Poland’. The amazing archaeological evidence was then followed by results of experimental work at the Mazovian Centre of Metallurgy to build an understanding of the processes involved.

    The next talk was given by Peter Gethin on ‘Compositional trends within diagnostic and non-diagnostic smithing slag assemblages; examining contemporary materials from Middle Islamic Tell Dhiban and the Old City of Jerusalem’. He presented the results from the analysis of smithing slags to investigate any differences between the two sites.

    Lunch was provided within the library which allowed for networking. Following lunch there was an opportunity to visit the Garstang Museum of Archaeology which consists of archaeological artefacts, from the ancient Near East, Mediterranean and Europe.

    After lunch we had three presentations from colleagues from the University of Liverpool on the recent research of ancient coinage. The first talk given by Jake Morley-Stone was on ‘Late Pre-Roman Iron Age pellet moulds from Scotch Corner’ which detailed experimental work carried out to investigate the production and use of pellet moulds, and providing comparative material for comparison with those from Scotch Corner. The next talk given by Nicola George was also based on ‘Experiments in Roman minting technology’, here she investigated how different mould materials affected the process of inverse segregation seen in many debased coins. The final talk of the day was by Diana Nikolova who discussed the ‘Debasement and Economic Fluctuation in Hellenistic Egypt: Chemical Analysis of Ptolemaic Coinage’ and introduced an alternative methodology for the examination of the Ptolemaic economy by investigating the composition of silver and bronze coins, and their amount of debasement.

    All in all a fantastic day, with excellent presentations and a really friendly environment. The student presentation as usual were excellent and this made it difficult for the HMS council members top choose a best presentation, however we felt that Alan Williams presentation with well argued discussion and contribution to a larger debate was worthy of the HMS student prize. Thanks must go to Mathew Ponting and his team of students for arranging a successful and interesting meeting.

     Review written by Eleanor Blakelock for The Crucible 96


    Archaeometallurgy Conference 2009ConferencePhoto
    10th-12th November 2009
    University of Bradford
    Organised by Eleanor Blakelock

    The conference was conceived as an opportunity to celebrate Gerry McDonnell's contribution to archaeometallurgy over the years, to wish him well for his future career and to give him the send-off fromBradford that he deserved. Current students presented research alongside former ones, but other presentations were provided by his many friends and colleagues from the field. Despite, or perhaps because, of its origins, the conference was not the slightest bit sombre but instead looked to the future, and provided an opportunity for a much larger HMS Research in Progress meeting than normal, encouraging contributions from around the globe.

    The conference abstract book can be downloaded using this link.

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    Conference Review

    There was an impressive turnout for the Bradford conference with a packed auditorium and an equally full line up of speakers and poster presentations. The programme began with a presentation by Juilien Fang, who presented her findings on alloying and colour change. It was a particularly interesting subject being relevant to current research themes in material culture studies and one worthy of the prize for best Student Presentation. Jane Cowgill followed with a presentation on a particular type of slag known as “Iron Age Grey” that seems to be present only between 400-300 BC. It is thought to be so characteristic that it can be used to date a site. Despite its limited chronology, it is found at almost every British Iron Age site of every size, and despite its resemblance to them, it is never found with fuel ash slag.

    Jim Brophy updated the audience on the Nidderdale Iron project, an impressive community based project which is going from strength to strength with an impressive range of sites now documented. Ed Kendall looked at usewear on Roman and Medieval knives. In common with Jui-Lien Fang’s paper this approach ties directly to current concerns such as artefact biographies in Material Culture Studies and demonstrates the health of metal-centred studies. Samantha Rubinson presented aspects of her recently completed PhD and looked at how the analysis of iron alloys could be used to reconstruct economic patterns in the medieval period. HMS Chairman, Tim Young, presented his work on Irish smithing slags questioning their size and formation whilst Susan La Niece reported her recent study of an English medieval jug that appears to have been the product of sideline activities in bell foundries. Rachel Hewitt and David Starley looked at compositional and typological variation in arrowheads used during the War of the Roses. They concluded that shape was more important than composition. Day One was concluded by Jane Wheeler who argued that the impact of medieval and early modern iron working on woodlands in North Yorkshire could be understood through pollen analysis, and that it was apparent that the area was carefully managed for production of hardwoods for charcoal.

    Tim Taylor started the second day with a paper which looked at how prehistoric communities envalued metals and developed concepts of materiality when there was a conspicuous absence of metals. This was followed by Alan Doust who argued for a contextual approach to archaeometallurgical projects. Christina Clarke-Nielsen gave an impressively detailed account of raised vessel manufacture drawing largely on her experience as a metalworker. Giovanna Fregni looked at the effects of remelting on copper alloy composition noting the surprising stability of tin over remelting cycles. Burkart Ullrich presented his geophysical work on quantifying quantities of ferrous slags at archaeometallurgical sites. Roger Doonan presented a paper on the relationship between iron smithing and literacy in EIA Greece and noted that literacy and craftwork are both skills requiring dexterity and may be more related than is often thought. David Dungworth asked why archaeometallurgists have dismissed the idea of a bowl furnace for iron smelting and suggested that evolutionary accounts of technology may well be to blame. Peter Halkon updated the conference on his work in East Yorkshire looking at Iron Age production sites and associated paraphernalia and their relation to the continent. Janet Lang reported on her metallographic analyses on the iron rimmed chariot tyres in East Yorkshire burials with particular focus on one piece iron bands or tyers. Reference was made to rural American blacksmithing and descriptions of how to fit the metal tyer to a wooden rim.

    The final day began with Maxime L'Héritier speaking about experiments using saiger prozess, a technique developed in 14th Century Europe for parting silver from copper. This was followed by Marie-Pierre Guirado also reporting experimental work in silver refining but this time by cupellation with particular attention given to the formation of litharge cakes. Peter Claughton continued the precious metal theme with a discussion of late Medieval lead/silver smelting slag and their apparent absence in the archaeological record. Litharge cakes received further attention from Justine Bayley, HMS Journal editor, presenting further work on their structure and composition. Patrice de Rijk detailed the ongoing work at the Stanley Grange Medieval Iron Project and the exploitation of ironstone in the 13th Century. Peter King spoke about the politics associated with the development of ironworks in the 1720's and the context of innovations. Eleanor Blakelock concentrated on Viking knife manufacture and how discrete fabrication traditions can be identified. Arne Esplund presented a total of two papers with his second on a two step iron process from Norway. The conference was concluded with Tim Young speaking on the formation of spherical hammerscale before making the closing remarks. All in all a great success and fitting honour to Gerry.