Furnaces, foundries and forges:
ironmaking heritage revisited
HMS AGM Meeting

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25th-27th May 2012
Organiser Paul Belford


Part of the series of event organised for the 50th Anniversary of the Society. The ferrous industries were central to the origins of HMS in 1962-3, and fifty years later we returned to the historical heart of the English iron industry to review progress in research, conservation and interpretation since then. This residential meeting echoed the focus of early HMS gatherings.

There were site visits and behind the scenes tours to:

  • Archaeological excavations and standing remains of blast furnaces, forges and other sites in Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire.
  • Churchill Forge: rarely-open operational 18th and 19th century water-powered forge
  • Excavation of early 19th century hot blast furnace and refinery at Stirchley
  • Black Country Living Museum: with guided tour of the Keith Gale archive
  • Ironbridge Gorge Museum: with guided tour of HMS archives and the Slag Collections

Along with a range of lectures on medieval and later ironworking practice; origins and conservation of blast furnaces; new research into forges and puddling technology; hot blast and the cupola, and more.

The accommodation and lectures were provided at Woodbrooke Hall a Quaker Study Centre, with splendid facilities including a boating lake for evening entertainment.



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The first of the three HMS 50th anniversary conferences was held over a weekend in Birmingham at the beautifullly landscaped grounds of the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in the historic heart of the British iron industry.

Peter Crew began Friday’s talks with a paper discussing the development of iron production seen through bloom sizes, production estimates, and raw material costs. Kate Biggs’ paper ‘Overlooking the Wye Project’ discussed the importance of a holistic approach to heritage management, dealing with both the built and natural environments. Recent projects dealt with Abbey Furnace, Tintern, and Mushet’s Whitecliffe furnace, Coleford, the latter of which is now being conserved. Ian Standing, who took an active part in Whitecliffe’s preservation, was on hand to answer questions. Highlights from Saturday included Don Wagner’s paper on ‘Cast Iron in China’. He discussed such objects as 2nd century BC cast iron tomb doors and the Cangzhou lion (cast 953AD). The lion, which was largest cast iron object in the world until 1910, is now corroding badly due to mismanaged conservation. David Cranstone discussed the problems researching puddling caused by conflicting contemporary literature.

The fieldtrips were a high point of this conference, made all the better by the fantastic weather. At the Black Country Museum we witnessed chain making, brass casting, and wandered through industrial relics such as steam-hammers, a re-heating furnace and rolling mill. This was followed by a fascinating tour of the water-powered Churchhill Forge, active for over 500 years, complete with an operational waterwheel. Sunday’s tours were to Cinder Mill, a partially excavated water-bloomery site, and to the Stirchley Furnaces, Telford; an extremely impressive site built in the 1820s with a monumental chimney and the remnants of four blast furnaces. A knowledgeable tour of the site was provided by Paul Belford.


 Written by Matt Phelps for the Crucible 81


Not so much gold, silver,bronze –
more copper, zinc and brass
HMS Annual Conference

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6th-7th October 2012
SS Great Britain, Bristol, UK
Organiser Eleanor Blakelock


The Historical Metallurgy Society was celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a series of conferences. In this Olympic year the Historical Metallurgy Society invited its members to join it for a one day conference on the real stories behind non-ferrous metals - not just gold, silver, and bronze, but copper, zinc and brass.

This conference offered an opportunity to explore themes relating to the history and archaeology of all non-ferrous metals. With the SS Great Britain as a backdrop there will be a focus on the broad theme of communication; communication of ideas, metals as communication tools and the role of non-ferrous metallurgy in the slave trade.

The conference was hosted in the stunning Victorian surrounds of the SS Great Britain, the world’s first great ocean liner. The Bristol area is rich with non-ferrous archaeological sites, and on Sunday 7th October there was an opportunity to explore many different post-medieval metalworking sites with expert guides.

 Link to programme here and the abstract book is here



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In a break from the Society’s recent iron-centered themes, this year’s annual HMS conference, entitled “Not so much Gold, Silver, Bronze – More Copper, Zinc and Brass”, focused on non-ferrous alloys, with brass taking centre stage.

This meeting was a tremendous success with over forty delegates from across the UK and Europe and clearly demonstrated that there is wide interest in non-ferrous metallurgy among the Society’s membership. The conference was held in Bristol’s city centre in view of the scenic SS Great Britain, which gave the proceedings an appropriately, although slightly anachronistic, historical backdrop. The event was excellently organized by Eleanor Blakelock and Matt Phelps and chaired by Paul Belford.

The conference was held over two days, with the Saturday dedicated to eight related papers presented by researchers and professionals from a broad range of backgrounds, while the Sunday was reserved for tours of the Warmley Brass and Zinc Works and the Saltford Brass Mill.

Saturday’s program included eight talks, roughly divided by theme. The conference included generous tea breaks and an excellent lunch that offered the perfect venues for discussion. After a brief introduction to the proceedings from Paul Belford, the first of two technical papers was presented by Jocelyn Baker from Durham University on quantifying colours using spectrophotometry and ED-XRF. This was combined with a study of historical records in order to understand how British Anglo-Saxons would have perceived the relationship between copper alloy and precious metal colour space. The Society then welcomed our German colleague Gerald Eisenblätter from Leipzig University who gave a talk on the use of X-ray computed tomography and its use in the investigation of the Roman copper coins. This paper, co-authored by Alexandra Franz and Gert Kloess, combined various imaging and archaeometric approaches to offer a versatile non-destructive method to characterize the composition of copper alloys.

After a short but well deserved coffee break the lectures continued on a decidedly more international outlook. Cambridge Archaeological Unit’s Simon Timberlake presented an overview of experimental mining and archaeometallurgical investigations at Sakdrissi in Georgia, in the Mitterberg region of Austria, and Rosia Montana in the Apuseni Mountains of Romania. This broad sweeping overview was followed by Wenli Zhou from UCL who gave a paper on China’s zinc distillation process from the 14th to 20th centuries. This paper outlined the clear technological head start that Asia enjoyed over Europe in regards to zinc production and neatly led to the next series of paper which covered the more traditional brass cementation and later zinc distillation processes in Europe and Britain.

The next four papers had a more local flavour, outlining the rise and fall of the British brass industry. A fascinating paper by one of the premier scholars on the Bristol brass industry, Joan Day, was read by Tony Coverdale of the Saltford Brass Mill Project on the historical and archaeological story of the Avon Valley copper and brass industry between 1700 and 1740. A paper covering the development of the rise of South Wales as the world’s dominant copper smelting area in the 19th century and its impact on shipping technology and the copper industry was given by Keith E. Morgan, curator of the Trose Works Cottage & Industrial Museum. Keith also kindly shared some surprising insight into the family origins of Swansea Valley’s famous actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. This was then followed by a review of recent salvage excavations at William Champion’s pioneering but ultimately failed 18th century venture at the Warmley Brass and Zinc Works by David Etheridge of the Avon Archaeological Unit.

However my personal highlight was the last paper of the day, given by historian Chris Evans of the University of Glamorgan, who broadened the topic substantially by exploring the role of copper and brass objects in the transatlantic slave trade. This excellent exposé was the source of lively discussion and elegantly tied together the various strands of research of the day into the broader global context which illuminated much of the developments we saw on more local scales.

The Sunday programme of field tours proved to be equally captivating. The first visit was of the Warmley Brass and Zinc Works discussed the previous day by David Etheridge. This complex was the first to produce zinc metal through the distillation process to make high zinc brass in Britain starting in the 1740s. The walk through the patchy remains of William Champion’s estate was very interesting although at times puzzling and mystifying. The slag-block summer house, and slag-clad concrete statue of Neptune, and slag-lined grotto complete with industrially warmed waterfall, were particularly inspiring! Following a delicious Sunday carvery lunch at the Riverside Inn, we continued the day’s activities at the Saltford Brass Mill where Tony Coverdale and Joan Day gave a riveting tour. This mill is a prime example of what would have been a complex of mills scattered throughout the region working brass ingots into sheets and then into the various hollow-ware vessels destined for export. The grounds are dominated by several watermills that were used to roll the ingots into sheets and to power large “battery” hammers.

The positive response we have received to this entirely non-ferrous meeting (with only the occasional reference to iron manhole covers) clearly shows that there is much appeal for alloy-specific themes amongst the Society’s members. It has been particularly pleasing to attend this well-organised and cohesively themed conference. This gave the chance for all the delegates to engage in meaningful discussion, crossing both geographic and methodological barriers. Attendance to the conference by all sectors of archaeometallurgy, including academics, enthusiasts, historians, museum curators, metallurgical engineers, and commercial archaeologists, continues to highlight the strength of the Historical Metallurgy Society in bridging customarily segregated fields. I look forward to seeing the Society expand on these strengths and feel confident that our next meeting, the 50th Anniversary Conference and AGM in London will be just as engaging and successful as this one has been.

Written by Loic Boscher for The Crucible 81


Research in Progress Meeting



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Wednesday 10th November 2010

Institute of Archaeology,
University College of London.

Organised by Ruth Fillery-Travis and Miljana Radivojevic


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 Loic Boscher for his presentation 'Speiss and arsenical copper production in Early Bronze Age Iran'.

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Wednesday 9th November 2011

Department of Archaeology,
University of Sheffield.

Organised by Derek Pitman and Jessie Slater


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 Sian James for her presentation 'Faunal Remains from the Great Orme Copper Mines'.

 A link to the programme is here


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Research in Progress Meeting



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Tuesday 6th November 2012

Department of Archaeology,
University of Newcastle.

Organised by Andrea Dolfini and Michael Smith


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 Yvette Marks for her presentation 'Any way the wind blows: a re-assessment of the working parameters of the Bronze Age Aegean perforated furnace'.

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Andrea Dolfini and Michael Smith organised and hosted an excellent Research in Progress meeting. It was held, and generously funded, by Newcastle University. As noted in the closing remarks, the research presented was ‘truly research in progress’, and the talks offered a fantastic overview of various research projects taking place within historical and archaeological metallurgy across the globe.

The range of approaches taken was particularly interesting, with presentations of experimental studies, instrumental analyses and academic research in different combinations. Below are some of my personal highlights of the day. Yvette Marks presented an excellent paper on Bronze Age perforated furnaces, discussing her field, laboratory and experimental work that has led to a re-assessment of the working parameters of these furnaces. Yvette proved that these perforated furnaces, originally thought to have been used in conjunction with ceramic pot bellows, were in fact powered naturally by the high winds that she recorded on site. Experiments proved that these winds would heat the furnaces to the required temperatures to smelt copper ore and that the heat was even across the furnace instead of being localised (which is common with bellows-driven furnaces). She developed her re-assessment in a very logical way and linked her findings back to key archaeological and social questions. Her paper, deservedly, won the HMS student prize.

Evidence of metal production in Scotland, specifically casting activity, was discussed by Daniel Sahlén. Daniel presented material (predominantly ceramic moulds and crucible fragments) found during recent excavations and compared it to assemblages found in a wider context. He developed his arguments by identifying a number of trends; for example material distribution on the excavated sites. Daniel also noticed that the ceramic fabrics of the moulds and crucibles were remarkably similar to each other; suggesting the raw materials used for both crucibles and moulds were from the same source. He concluded that evidence for non-ferrous metal production is in-fact traceable in the archaeological record of Scotland from the late Bronze Age to early Historic Period. It is therefore important to record and analyse these production materials and not just rely on the finished products as tools for assessing non-ferrous production.

The final paper of the day, presented by Andrea Dolfini, presented an exciting interdisciplinary project that seeks to produce an online metadata archive documenting usewear patterns on artefacts with cutting edges. This paper developed themes presented earlier in the day by Rachel Crellin, regarding the development of use-wear analysis for the study of Bronze Age axes. Andrea explained the key principles of the online archive and its intended purpose as a resource to assist and encourage future research. These types of interactive, online resources are current in many fields and are providing academics and students with valuable resources for research and a forum for specialist discussion. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the development of one of these online spaces and the ideas behind it.

These three papers are just some of the exciting research projects presented; the nine other papers by Laura Perucchetti (on Bronze Age transalpine relationships), Siran Liu (on gold and silver production in China), Heather Hopkins (on lead dying kettles from Pompeii) Carlotta Gardner (on a late-medieval foundry in Croatia), Abdullah Alzahrani (on a mining settlement in south-west Saudi-Arabia), Michael Smith (on the role of copper and brass in the Transatlantic Slave Trade), Peter Claughton (on ore processing in Queensland), Tim Young (on the old term ‘Wolf’s Spit’), and David Cranstone (on the development of the cementation process in Britain) were equally as interesting and thought provoking. Siran Liu and Laura Perucchetti were runners up in the student prize. The audience, of around 25 people, were welcoming and contributed to the discussion by asking interesting questions and providing useful feedback.

During the lunch break there was an opportunity to visit the Great North Museum. The exhibitions reminded me of how rich the archaeology of the North East is. There were some beautiful examples of Roman metalworking and explanations of how some of the artefacts were made; crucibles and moulds were displayed in some of the cabinets.

The 2012 RIP was a superb opportunity to discuss research as it happens in a friendly environment with both early career and more established scholars. I would certainly recommend future RIPs to anyone interested in current developments in the field.


  Review written by Carlotta Gardner for The Crucible 81

Research in Progress Meeting



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Friday 14th November 2014

School of Archaeology,
University of Oxford.

Organised by Mark Pollard 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 Ragnar Saage for his presentation 'The evolution of smithies from 11th to 19th c. in Estonia'.

Link to programme is available here.


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.



Iron Age East Yorkshire
Archaeology Committee Workshop

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22nd-24th March 2013
Hull, Yorkshire
Organiser Peter Halkon


This conference was primarily fieldtrip baed, with highlights including;

  • Guided tour of prehistoric iron production sites in the region.
  • A guided visit to the Arras barrow cemetery site.
  • Reception and exclusive viewing of the South Cave Weapons Cache, a Late Iron Age cache of five iron swords in ornate La Tene scabbards and 33 iron spearheads discovered in East Yorkshire.
  • Guided tour of the Hull and East Riding Museum.

Link to the programme is here



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In March some HMS members braved snow and icy winds to attend the Archaeology Committee Spring Workshop which had been organised by Peter Halkon and Yvonne Inall from the University of Hull. A combination of museum visits and field trips was arranged to illustrate the theme of Iron Age ironworking.

The meeting began with a Friday evening reception at the aptly-named Treasure House in Beverley. This combined library, archive and museum building opened in 2007 and holds the archaeological collections of the East Riding Museums Service. Here, delegates were able to see the very impressive cache of Iron Age swords from
South Cave, discovered by metal detectorists in 2002.

Some members of the group also took advantage of the opportunity to wield a replica sword, made in 2009 by Roland Williamson. After the reception, delegates repaired to the accommodation in Hull, at the delightful Endsleigh Centre. This was built in 1901 as a Convent of the Sisters of Mercy and included a training College. The College closed in the 1970s and since 1995 the Endsleigh Centre
has been a retreat and conference centre – still run by the very friendly and welcoming Sisters.

Overnight snowfall greeted delegates the following morning. Undeterred, the group boarded the minibus to explore some Iron Age sites and landscapes under the expert leadership of Peter Halkon, who has known this landscape since childhood and has been involved in many of the most important excavations. Some delegates took a while to get accustomed to the East Yorkshire definition of ‘hill’; however the icy Russian wind and drifting snow encountered at the famous Arras burial ground convinced most people that this was indeed high ground.

The trip then moved into the relatively low-lying area surrounding the River Foulness, which in the Iron Age was a much larger body of water feeding into the Walling Fen and thence to the Humber. The group investigated two sites, on either side of the former Fen. The first of these was at Moore’s Farm, Welham Bridge, the scene of substantial bog-ore smelting – indeed this was the site of the excavation of the largest slag heap ever found in Iron Age England. Weighing a massive 5338kg, this represented the production of up to between one and two tonnes of bloom (Halkon 2011, 139). Undeterred by the snow and freezing temperatures delegates enthusiastically began fieldwalking, returning to the minibus proudly bearing bits of slag.

The second site was at Hasholme. Famous for its log boat excavated in 1984, the trip explored an adjacent enclosure and again discovered various lumps of slag and bog-ore – along with a very nice decorated greyware rim-sherd. A recent scheme has restored a small area of adjacent wetland to very much its Iron Age appearance, so there was a vivid impression of the former shoreline of the Walling Fen.

The farmhouse kitchen provided a welcome warm break during which delegates were able to inspect an impressive collection of portable antiquities discovered by the farmer over the years.

After lunch at the Red Lion in Holme-upon-Spalding Moor, the workshop returned to Hull where an enjoyable afternoon was spent in the East Riding Museum. Peter led a tour of the galleries. Although the focus on the Iron Age meant inevitable enthusiasm for items such as the North Grimston Sword, there was also an impressive collection of Roman and medieval metalwork. The Museum also houses the Hasholme boat, although sadly the conservation programme was stopped in 2009 leading to some deterioration in its condition.

A quick pint at the Black Boy was followed by a very nice dinner at Princes Quay, and some delegates followed this with further drinks at the George.

Sadly the trip planned for the following morning was cancelled, due to snow and looding. Some delegates made their way to Beverley, for a pleasant morning inspecting the Minster and various items of cast-iron street furniture. This was a hugely enjoyable meeting, despite the weather; many thanks to Peter and Yvonne for organising it.

 Written by Paul Belford for The Crucible 82


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

Research in Progress Meeting



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Thursday 10th October 2013

Department of Archaeology,
University of Exeter.

Organised by Tathagata Neogi and Brice Girbal


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 Giovanna Fregni for her presentation 'Minimum tools required: a system for organising Bronze Age metal-smithing tools'.

Link to programme is available here.

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After an early start I arrived at Exeter University for the research in progress meeting. These meetings provide an excellent platform for a range of speakers including academics, students and professionals as well as groups or individuals with an interest in historical metallurgy. As usual the talks offered a fantastic overview of various research projects currently taking place. The range of approaches taken was also particularly interesting, with presentations of experimental studies, instrumental analyses, historical economic based work and academic research in different combinations.

The meeting started with the student presentations, which as usual were excellent and made it very difficult for the HMS council members present to choose a winner for the student prize. This year Giovanna Fregni was awarded the prize for her presentation on the ‘minimum tools required: a system for organising Bronze Age metal-smithing tools’. Through the creation of a detailed catalogue of Bronze Age tools she was able to understand the processes taking place, identify the potential activities being carried out by owners of hoards and even suggest tools that are missing or may have been misinterpreted.

Tathagata Neogi’s presentation and research focuses on the people and society behind iron working in India, and this has revealed much about the nature of iron-working in the community and its relationship to those involved, the techniques used, trade and religion. Brice Girbal, also working in India, is investigating Wootz steel production, he intends to not only visually assess the material collected but also to carry out scientific analysis to investigate the raw materials used and processes involved.

The presentation by Angela Wickenden provided a possible use for tin mine waste, new and old, in the production of ceramic vessels. Steffan Klemenic carried out a number of experiments to replicate the rivet holes found on the tangs of bronze swords. David Budd presented joint research with Katheryn Bonnet looking at the manufacture in the hope that this would reveal the possible use of the rather strange billhook’s found in cemetery contexts. The results from this study, while shedding light on the construction methods, still have not revealed a use for the tool, which is still a mystery.

After the student presentations, Tom Greeves introduced us to the site of Upper Merrivale Tin Mill where a series of excavations have taken place 1991-1996. The slag has been analysed but there are a number of soil samples still waiting to be analysed to reveal more about the efficacy of the process and changes through time.

A presentation by Roger Hutchins questioned the use of long reaves on Dartmoor as early boundaries, and provided both map and photographic evidence to suggest that they connected various mines and trading points, and could therefore have acted as track ways to transport ore from the mines, possibly using pack animals.

Steve Grudgings gave two interesting presentations on the iron and steel used to build the Newcomen engine, and also specifically on the manufacture of the early boilers. Chris McKay introduced us to the turret clock in the church of St Cuthberga, Wimborne Minster and the speculative amounts of iron, brass and wire required to manufacture it.

The analysis of the archaeometallurgical residues from the Ynysfach ironworks was presented by Tim Young; this included research on the refining process slag which revealed that it had an important de-phosphorisation effect in addition to de-siliconisation, thus increasing our knowledge of the refining process. Neil Philips reported on the new research and excavations carried out at the early Angidy works. This has revealed another large building with a 6m wheel pit and the ghost of a battery frame, all of which are not on the 1763 map. Finally Peter King gave a detailed presentation on the charcoal consumption in the iron industry in England and Wales.

All in all, Tathagata Neogi and Brice Girbal organised and hosted an excellent Research in Progress meeting at the University of Exeter, under the watchful eye of Gill Juleff..

  Review written by Eleanor Blakelock for The Crucible 84



100th Anniversary of Stainless Steel
HMS Annual Conference

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19th-20th October 2013
Cutlers' Hall, Sheffield, S1 1HG
Organiser Eleanor Blakelock


Another anniversary to celebrate this year, On the 20th August 1913, local metallurgist Harry Brearley made his first arc furnace cast of stainless steel in Sheffield. Therefore to mark this occasion the 2013 Annual Meeting we will be holding a two day conference in the Cutlers' Hall in Sheffield. There will be presentations on the Saturday and field trip on the Sunday will be to Kelham Island, this includes an opportunity to see the River Don Engine in action.

Link to programme here and the abstract book here



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The magnificent Cutlers' Hall in Sheffield was the setting for our HMS Annual Conference. I cannot think of a more fitting location to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Stainless Steel than in the city of its birth. The conference was a reflection of the history of HMS and the story of stainless steel, its conception, its development, through to modern day industrial practices and contemporary uses of this dynamic material.

The delegates included a diverse mix from the worlds of industry, academia and amateur. This made for a multi-faceted perspective which was highly informative and thought provoking. The day began with an overview of the history of the Historical Metallurgy Society, which was given by two of the journal's editors, Justine Bayley and David Crossley. This presentation included a diverse collection of images which provided a fascinating look at how the society has progressed over its fifty years. This presentation served as a fitting introduction to an exciting programme of talks to follow.

The day continued with a presentation by David Dulieu, the author of 'Stay Bright: A History of Stainless Steels in Britain'. This presentation provided a thorough introduction to Brearley and his discovery of stainless steel in 1913. The presentation provided an excellent overview of the early development of the stainless steel industry in Sheffield, as well as discussing some controversial moments within its history. This was followed by John Beeley of Outokumpu Stainless, who discussed the stainless steel industry 100 years on. He explained through various company mergers half a million tons of the metal is still being melted per annum.

After lunch we were invited to the Muniments Room. This gave us the opportunity to view a selection of historic knives, in particular the multi-bladed Norfolk Knife by Joseph Rodgers and Sons' Norfolk Street Works. This display consists of a comprehensive collection of 72 knives constructed in a Swiss army like form for the Great Exhibition of 1851. In addition, copies of '100 Years of Stainless Steel' were made available for purchase.Joan Unwin took us through the history of the knife drawer, including an overview of the progression of the domestic knife set and the changes that are evident in the design of blade and handle type. She discussed how the stamping out of cutlery rather than the traditional assembly method changed the industry in the 1960s. She highlighted the fact that the local industry changed irrevocably due to the importation of less expensive metal from developing countries. This was followed by an informative discussion by Peter King who gave an in-depth analysis of the statistics of the iron and steel industry 1860-1886.

After refreshments the afternoon session began with a presentation by Mick Steeper and Jonathan Aylen on rolling mills and their development from the steam-powered (the Rive Don engine being a prime example), to electricity and finally to the modern computer mechanised. The paper ended with an overview of today's metal-forming industry and the effects on Sheffield.

The day ended with a stimulating paper from Robert Booth, a sculptor in stainless steel and an avid performance caster. The paper displayed his work (http://www.robertbooth.co.uk) and showed the aesthetic beauty of the material rather than focusing purely on its functional use.

An interesting and informative weekend culminated in a field trip to the Kelham Museum on the banks of the River Don on Sunday morning. For the first time visitor this really is a thrilling experience. The visit was topped off by viewing the River Don Engine fully operational, complete with reverse gear change at full speed (this is worth the journey alone. On a final note, HMS would like to take this opportunity to thank all delegates for participating in what was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. In particular the society owes a great debt of gratitude to Ellie Blakelock for producing yet another first class meeting. A special thanks should also be noted to Joan Unwin for her contribution throughout the day.

Written by Vanessa Castagnino for The Crucible 84



Celebrating Street Furniture

12th-14th June 2015
Stratford upon Avon
Organised by Rachel Cubitt, Margaret Birch and Eddie Birch


Street furniture is a rich but much overlooked resource. The conference themes included manufacturers, methods and technology, but also went beyond metallurgy to discuss design choices, trade patterns and the social and economic considerations. Also discussed were the needs for recording and preservation of these slowly diminishing objects. A evening and day of presentations was followed by a tour of Stratford-upon-Avon which boasts a unique display of lamp posts from the UK and beyond.

The Glass-Bottomed Walking Bus Tour.

Following the formal sessions, the Sunday morning of the conference consisted of a walking tour of central Stratford-upon-Avon. This provided an opportunity to admire Stratford’s unique display of lamp posts from around the UK and beyond, and to spend time looking in detail at other examples of street furniture, but also provided an opportunity to network with other delegates.

The programme is available here

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Nestled in the heart of Warwickshire is the home of William Shakespeare, Stratford Upon Avon, a beautiful, quaint and idyllic... and ... esteemed location of the annual conference of the Historical Metallurgy Society 2015.

Meeting up with people is always a great event and any opportunity to do so is always very welcome, and this was no exception.

Paul Dobraszczyk, of University of Manchester, as the keynote speaker, kicked off the conference on the Friday evening. Paul’s lecture “Social Ornament: iron on the street” was a wonderful start that imparted a context on the conference subject, “Celebrating Street Furniture”.

The keynote lecture was followed up by a trip out to one of the local eateries and a few drinks to catch up with those attending.

On the Saturday morning, following the previous nights impressive thunderstorm, the lectures of the conference got started with Dr. Peter King’s dissertation on 18th century iron-founding: air furnaces and coke-smelting. Peter’s ability to paint a historical picture that is approachable to all in the audience was again in evidence as he gave light to the mysteries of the furnaces and their workings in the most intricate and wonderfully enticing detail.

Richard Williams followed up and continued with the theme of foundries with his lecture “The Production of Foundry Irons from 18th Century Charcoal and Coke fired Blast Furnaces”. His descriptions of the workings of the foundry and its output described so much of the street furniture that we are currently aware of, yet in a contemporary context of the 17 and 18 hundreds.

In a totally different vein, Jonathan Prus described a project that will allow the easy access for all concerned to the production and administrative details of the foundries of the UK historically, in his lecture “Who made that? Access to data on foundry history”.

Chris McKay asked us to look up at the tower clocks that are present in so many of our town squares. He gave us a great idea of how these clocks were made, and of course why! His lecture “Cast Iron Time” was littered with pictures of these “behemoths of time” and proved to be a very interesting and enlightening, not to mention educational presentation.

“Knock knock, what’s there?” was the story of the Arundel Castle bell-pull, which had recently had a another layer of history added to its story, with the conservation work carried out by William Hawkes, at West Dean College. This lecture demonstrated the other side of the story of our cultural heritage and what it takes to keep the objects we cherish safe and in good condition.

Ruth Rhynas Brown showed us that recycling is nothing new with her lecture “Re-using old cannon”. This presentation gave an insight into the re-use of canons of all things, to make street bollards! This was an interesting insight in to a historical aspect of a perennial problem we have today, yet we seem to have had a much greater degree of ingenuity in the past.

The lunch break gave time for us to pause and reflect on the morning’s proceedings before we were thrust in to another session of intrigue interest and wonderment. The hotel put on a superb lunch and we wanted for nothing as the hotels staff did all they could to provide us with a superb service and a great time.

Immediately after lunch Paul Belford was intended to have carried on the refreshment theme with his lecture “Beer, coal and light: a preliminary study of cellar access systems”. However Paul was sadly unable to attend the conference, but we were fortunate enough to have Eddie Birch who is more than capable of stepping into the breach. And so Eddie, with his usual high level of ability and competence, presented Paul’s paper. This work gave insight into the humble drey-drop and all it entails. Painting an interesting and realistic picture of the drey-mans job and how the street furniture beneath our feet plays an integral part in the day to day running of businesses, modern and historical.

Rachel Cubitt followed up with an interesting and enticing take on the foundries of York and surrounding area, showing us the beauty of her home towns street furniture and where it plays a part in the fabric of the city.

Eleanor Cooper, of the Oxford Preservation Trust inspired us to look a little deeper at the project being run by Oxford City Council in her lecture entitled “Oxford Preservation Trust and Oxford City Council Victorian Railings Reinstatement”. This gave an interesting insight into the work that is being done to preserve the street furniture we hold so dear, and how it might work for other councils to do the same.

“Survey of Cast Iron Lamp Posts in Clifton and Hotwells, Bristol” was next up from Maggie Shapland, of Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society / Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society. This whistle-stop tour of the area of Bristol gave us an insight into what happens when we look up. The often-ignored lamppost was the subjects here and was bought into sharp focus by an enticing lecture full of the wonders of ironclad Bristol.

Finally finishing the day’s proceedings was Andrew Naylor of Hall Conservation. His lecture “Street Level Conservation” was a catalogue of the fantastic projects he and his company have undertaken in the preservation of the street furniture around the UK. The work he and his team carry out is an exemplary showcase of the type of work we need to pursue to preserve the very fabric of the streets we enjoy today, and hope to enjoy for the future to come.

Following on from the superb dinner on the Saturday night... On the Sunday, following the lectures of the previous day, the delegates were able to take a tour of Stratford to experience exactly what we had been so enlightened about the day before. Taking in the historic lamppost collection as well as other items of interesting street furniture along the historic spine, this tour was a flexible look at the city that had so graciously hosted us and all it has to offer.

So... Wide and varied, interesting and intriguing, all of the lectures gave an insight and education alike into the workings of the streets we tread on a daily basis. Many of us will never look at the humble street furniture in the same way again, and perhaps that’s the best thing that has come out of this conference: The ability to look up, to look down, to see... and really observe. But not just to see, to really understand. We have been given an insight into the form, function, and history, and in fact, the desirability of our most often encountered object based heritage. This rare opportunity to look into what we encounter every day was an inspired choice by the organisers. It was an opportunity that I personally was very grateful to be able to experience and take part in, and most sincerely hope to be able to repeat again in the future.

 Review written by William Hawkes for The Crucible 90


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 (www.finds.org.uk) 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


Royalty, Religion and Rust!
HMS AGM Meeting


4th-5th June 2011
Helmsley, North Yorkshire
Organiser Eleanor Blakelock


This conference discussed metallurgy in relation to status and faith. The first day focused on how faith and religion affected metallurgy and metal artefacts, this was followed by an afternoon visit to nearby Rievaulx Abbey. The next day focused on status and metallurgy, again this was followed by a guided tour of Helmsley Castle.

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



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The meeting began with Niklas Schulze describing the casting of small copper alloy bells in pre-Hispanic Mexico. Copper alloy was valued more highly than gold by the Aztecs, and these small bells had an important religious role -they appear to have been ritually deposited in the temple in association with other offerings. The peak of bell production took place between the Triple Alliance of 1428 and the Spanish conquest of 1520. XRF analysis of 781 bells found considerable variation in the type of alloy. Arsenic, tin and lead were the most frequent elements, but the composition varied regionally, and with time; there was also some correspondence between the shape of the bells and the alloy used. Unfortunately there was no evidence for production – documentary evidence suggests that the bells were made in small portable furnaces on tripod legs.

Niklas' paper was followed by a fascinating study of Jesuit ferrous metallurgy in Venezuela by Ana Maria Navas. Missionaryled colonisation in the 18th century spread westwards along the Orinoco River, with iron objects the most significant trade items. Excavation at the Pueblo de los Espanoles del Villacoa provided considerable insight into the way the Jesuits introduced ironmaking technology to the indigenous population. Locally - sourced iron was smelted in a bloomery, and then worked in a blacksmith's forge. European and African experts were brought in to train the indigenous people, who themselves much preferred blacksmithing to other tasks. After the expulsion of the Jesuits in the 1780s, knowledge of smelting was lost, and ironworking was subsequently restricted to reworking and repair of existing artefacts.

Tim Youngthen transported delegates across the Atlantic and provided a synthesis of several projects, exploring the role of the church in the development of ironmaking during the early Christian period. The church was a focus for economic activity, it was a "sponsor" of metalworking, and was also a facilitator of technology transfer between areas. There seemed to be an association with the size of smithing cakes and the size of bells being made at some sites with considerable variation and specialization. Smithing changed significantly between the 6th and 9th centuries, and Tim suggested that links with the Merovingian kingdoms were significant in the exchange of culture and technology. Connections between church and ironworking were also noted in a later periods.

Continuing the ecclesiastic theme, Paul Rondelez described his excavations at a Cistercian ironworking site. At Aghmanister (County Cork), an abbey of c.1172 was replaced by an entirely new monastery in c.1278. The earlier church was re-used for the manufacture of iron – finds included smithing hearth cakes, tuyeres and various iron objects, as well as smithing residues. This activity seemed to have peaked during the late 13th and 14th centuries. Amy Bunce and Barry Cosham looked at iron-working in Tulsk (County Roscommom). The research project had identified that a prehistoric ringfort was later occupied by the fortified tower house of the O'Conor Roe family; this strategically-located site was captured by the English in 1593 and rebuilt by Sir Richard Bingham. Excavations recovered smithing debris, most of which was associated with the late 16th and early 17th century occupation.

There were two further ferrous papers. Roy Andrews looked at ironworking in medieval castles in Yorkshire, noting how earlier excavations and analysis had largely overlooked the often quite substantial evidence for ironworking. At Knaresborough, for example, 107,000 crossbow bolts were made in three years during the 13th century; excavations revealed the remains of 14 smithing hearths. At Pontefract, despite there having been no excavations within the castle walls, 18kg of smithing hearth bottoms and associated debris had been recovered. There is clearly considerable potential for further research.

Peter Halkon began his paper on iron, myth and magic by singing a folk song which encapsulated several long - standing themes of transformation and ritual. He then explored a range of iron related myths (including Wayland, Sigurd and Vulcan) before considering the particular landscape of east Yorkshire in the late Iron Age and Roman periods.

Moving away from iron, Chris Witney-Lagan presented very interesting piece of research on pewter dress accessories from the 10th century onwards. There was no documentary evidence for pewter production between c.900-1200, but the archaeological collection of the Museum of London had the potential to provide important evidence. Pewter may have been used to imitate silver, but it became an increasingly high-status material in its own right, with ecclesiastical use from the 12th century. Over 70% of the 223 objects Chris had examined were brooches, with a bewildering array of styles which provided a great deal of information on the status, connections and affiliations of the wearer. XRF analysis suggested no particular pattern in the composition of alloys, demonstrating the need for Guild control which was eventually imposed in the 14th century. Finally, Steve Sherlock outlined the excavation of an unusually rich Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Street House (Yorkshire). The "bed burial" in Grave 42 was the most northerly in the country, suggesting royal connections with the south-east. Jewellery included a pendant incorporating Iron Age gold coins, and another piece which reused the gold from Merovingian coins. Some pieces were extremely well made and had clearly been handed down over several generations as shown by evidence of repair work.

After the paper presentations delegates were treated to a series of field trips led by Gerry McDonell to various medieval and post-medieval ironworking sites. These included Rievaulx Abbey (where the post-medieval blast furnace made good use of former monastic buildings) and sites of earlier monastic iron-working at Bilsdale including a water-powered site which created considerable discussion in the field. Gerry also led a trip round Helmsley Castle. Many thanks to Eleanor Blakelock and Gerry McDonnell for organising such an excellent meeting which introduced a number of ifferent themes, and struck a good balance between lectures and field visits.

 Written by Paul Belford for the HMS Newsletter 78

Research in Progress Meeting



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Friday 13th November 2015

Newton Room, Hamilton Centre,
Brunel University.

Organised by Lorna Anguilano

 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 William Hawkes for his presentation 'Polishing our performance and winning silver'.

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

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The past Research in Progress 2015, organized by Lorna Aguilano and held at Brunel University, once again proved to be a fantastic event where attendants were able to witness firsthand the latest results and investigations regarding a large range of topics, from mining to metal production as well as novel techniques and proposals for metal preservation, experimental archaeology and historical research both from the UK and abroad.

One of the most interesting aspects of this conference was the presentation of various dissertations related to new methods and techniques for both archaeometallurgical research and metal preservation. Among these papers were those of Samantha Rowe (University of Huddersfield) who presented her first results on metal artifact decay in plough soils in the UK, assessing the important relation between soils and metal artifacts to understand the different conditions under which metals decay and therefore being able to present different strategies for the recovery and preservation of metallic objects.

William Hawkes (West Dean Collage) presented an outstanding dissertation on the qualities of Saponin for silver cleaning and preservation compared to the traditional use of acidified thiourea. By the comparative analysis, having used XRF for superficial chemical analysis, of sterling silvers before and after having been treated with both products, he was able to demonstrate how Saponin was much less corrosive to silver surfaces as well as being cheaper, less dangerous and less aggressive for preservation treatments. His presentation was awarded the HMS prize to best presentation and here we would like to congratulate him on his outstanding work.

Within this same line regarding application of new methods and techniques we must also highlight the dissertations of Alan Williams and David Edge (Wallace Collection Museum) who presented the use of neutron diffraction for the study of swords as a non-invasive technique rather than using the traditional method of metallography; as well as that of Michael Carlton (University Collage of London), who presented the latest results of the IRONWORKS projects, centering on the importance of data quality and processing data, and whose work has been fundamental for establishing a correct analytical protocol for slag analysis, stressing the importance of slag analysis for understanding metallurgical production processes.

One of my personal favorites was the dissertation presented by John Boothroyd (Oxford Archaeology) on the latest finds of Roman iron production in the UK, not only because of the impressive contexts they have been able to document at the Bexhill to Hastings road (large iron furnaces and slag heaps, evidence of large scale iron production), but because the presentation of results from urban archaeological excavations tend to be missing in many conferences and seminars, or are usually overpassed by long running research projects. This presentation demonstrates the importance urban archaeology has in order to advance in archaeological research and historical knowledge and proves how important it is for urban archaeology to have representation in these types of events since, in many occasions, it is the front-runner of archaeological research.

It is also very important to highlight the presence of many international researchers who presented us with some the latest research that is being carried abroad; in this case being specifically noted the presence of our Italian colleagues Elisa Grassi (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) who spoke about metallurgical production in sacred contexts from the Capitolium of Brescia, and Vasco La Salvia (D´Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara) in collaboration with Marco Valenti, Stefano Bertoldi, Vittorio Fronza, Manuele Putti and Lorna Aguilano, who presented novel information on metallurgical activities documented at some sites in Central and Southern Italy.

These are just some of the 15 outstanding presentations we were able to enjoy, such as those presented by Marta Matosz and Julio M. del Hoyo Melendez on the analysis of dinarii from Poland minted by the early Piasts; Eleanor Blakelock who presented the results of the analysis of the silver objects from the Staffordshire Hoard; Peter King with new results regarding the transition of puddling to the Bessemer and Open Hearth processes in the UK during the 19th century; David Cranstone, on finery steelmaking in the area around the Forest of Dean from the second half of the 16th century A.D and throughout the 17th; Yvette Marks, on the origin and latest ideas on the role of itinerant smiths for the transmission of metallurgy during the late Neolithic and the Bronze Age; Patrick Cropper, with a new approach on the study of the lack of prehistoric metallurgical remains in the UK from the field of experimental archaeology; David Sables, with novel information on the important role that mining played within the monastic life at the Cistercian Abby of Strata Florida; and Peter Claughton who presented the latest discoveries of lead and silver production at Combe Martin.

The conference ended with a visit to the Experimental Techniques Center at Brunel University where we were offered an outstanding tour of the facility with first hand explanations of the different techniques available at their center and their application to archaeology in general and archaeometallurgy in particular.

Finally, we would once again like to congratulate the organizers and Brunel University, as well as all the speakers for a fantastic day where attendees, students, new researchers and established scholars were able to discuss some of the latest research in worldwide archaeological and historical metallurgy. I would personally like to stress here the importance of these events held by the HMS which give an opportunity for both students and the scientific community to present the latest research that is being carried out worldwide regarding metallurgy and that leads us, step by step, to a better comprehension of the role of metals and metallurgy throughout human history. Once again congratulations to William Hawkes for winning the HMS prize with his outstanding presentation “Polishing our performance and wining silver” and to Lorna Aguilano and the HMS community for organising such a successful day.

 Review written by Charles Bashore Acero for The Crucible 91


50th Anniversary Conference


14th-16th June 2013

Friends House, London

Organised by

Eleanor Blakelock


This international academic conference was the culmination of a series of events marking the 50th Anniversary of the Historical Metallurgy Society and provided a high-level 'state of the art' profile of current and future developments in the various disciplines which HMS represents.

The four themes of this meeting are:
• Origins of metallurgy. Chairs Paul Craddock & Thilo Rehren.
• Metallurgy of the Northern Continents. Chairs David Bourgarit & Justine Bayley.
• Archaeometallurgy of the Southern Continents. Chairs Marcos Martinón-Torres & Vincent Serneels.
• The future of historical and archaeological metallurgy. Chairs David Killick & David Dungworth.

The conference was attended by over 120 people, from a range of backgrounds and countries. The event included a wine reception sponsored by the Historical Metallurgy Society, the HMS AGM and also a conference dinner. There were also visits behind the scenes of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the John Percy collection, organised by Matt Phelps.

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

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One could summarise the last HMS 50th Anniversary Conference as a sort of materialisation of the HMS logo: a true melting pot of specialists from different institutions and disciplines, working on different areas, in different periods, with different materials but all joined by a common aim: generating a better understanding of past societies through the study of one of their essential productions: metallurgy. A second shared target was creating and consolidating research networks, tools and environments for the exchange and discussion of this knowledge. This Conference has shown that, after 50 years, HMS is deservedly recognised as one of these essential networks.

The conference was held in central London and exceptionally well organised by Eleanor Blakelock. It combined talks and discussion with more social and informal interaction: tea and lunch breaks, a wine reception at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, a social dinner to which all the attendants were invited, or the trips to the Science Museum Blyth House Store or the Victoria and Albert Museum, which turned out to be excellent atmospheres for relaxed discussion.

Thirty-eight papers and 18 posters were presented by researchers from all over the world including Europe, Israel, USA, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Australia and Japan, with an audience of over 100 people. At least 12% of the contributions were the result of international cooperative teams, which illustrates how current research networks are broadening at a transnational level to address research questions of common interest. It is also worth mentioning that a significant proportion were women (30% of oral presentations and 50% of posters) and young researchers. Together with some of the most widely known archaeometallurgists, a new generation of young researchers had the opportunity to present and discuss some of the most recent projects and latest trends.

All contributions were structured into four main themes: Origins of Metallurgy chaired by Paul Craddock and Thilo Rehren; The Southern Continents chaired by Vincent Serneels and Marcos Martinón-Torres; The Northern Continents chaired by David Bourgarit and Justine Bayley; and Future of Historical and Archaeological Metallurgy chaired by David Dungworth. The program itself showed the broad scope of the HMS membership: from Prehistory to modern times, from copper to gold and spanning the world.

On the first day, ten papers were presented on the origins of metallurgy. Some of them were examples of what P. Craddock denied in his opening talk as "the pendulous character of metallurgical research." Old discussions on the independent invention of metallurgy or its diffusion in Eurasia are back in the agenda through new and stimulating evidence from Eastern Europe (M. Radivojević) or South East Asia (O. Pryce). Local evidence of some of the earliest metallurgy in Western Europe was also brilliantly presented in Italy by provenance studies through lead isotope analysis (G. Artioli and his team); in France by the technological characterisation of the earliest metallurgical remains at the mining district of Cabrières-Péret (S. Rovira, P. Ambert and his team); or in Britain by the systematic radiocarbon dating of prehistoric mining works (S. Timberlake et al.).

Another swing of the pendulum brought new and inspiring insights into an old discussion regarding the latest evidence on the intentional production of arsenical copper in Chalcolithic Turkey (L. Bosher et al.). However, not all the contributions had a technological focus: A. Feuerbach discussed the origins of metallurgy as part of specific adaptive social strategies; and L. Nigro the role of early metallurgy and the emergence of the urban sites in Early Levant. Finally, J. Palermo gave a historiographic perspective on the origins of Iron.

The session on Southern Continents was an important step forward in beginning to redress a Eurocentric bias that persists in many conferences organised by European institutions. In this session, however, we could see some of the metallurgical 'restrictions' that Th. Rehren highlighted in his closing talk: two out of the three papers on African metallurgy were devoted to iron production (E. Ch. Lyaya; V. Serneels) with the only exception of one on trans-Saharian copper trade (L. Garenne-Marot and B. Mille). Four out of the five papers on South American metallurgy concentrated on noble metals, although presenting different approaches: C.I. Angiorama and M. Florencia Becerra presented robust evidence of silver extractive activities, while C. Gutiérrez Neira et al., and M. Martinón-Torres and A. Uribe, presented non-invasive studies of gold objects cast by the lost-wax technique and convincingly stressed the high importance of their social contexts and roles. On the other hand, N. Bustamante and J. Escobar tried to infer pre-hispanic technological productions by experimental sintering of gold and platinum. Regarding copper, B. Mille and his team presented a comparative study on the organization of copper production between the Atacama Desert and France, showing that small and large scales of production are not necessarily two steps of a linear trajectory, and that other social and economic aspects must be incorporated in order to correctly assess the metallurgical production in its context.

The twelve papers on northern continents encompassed studies on gold and silver, copper-based metallurgy and iron. Noble metals were presented in the studies of three hoards (Mildenhall, Derrynalan and Staffordshire) from the UK (J. Lang and E. Blakelock et al); an original technological approach was proposed by S. Liu and Th. Rehren in China, where archaeometallurgical studies are mainly focused on bronze production and gold or silver are rarely considered. Another innovative technology was presented by M. Renzi et al. in Iberia, who proposed a method of silver production by de-silvering copper ores that was hitherto unreported for the Early Iron Age. A broader organisational model of silver production in this period was presented by M. Murillo-Barroso, based on lead isotope analyses.

Copper-based metallurgy was focused in the Levant with two approaches to copper trade networks by the elemental and isotopic composition of ingots (N. Yahalom-Mack et al.) or the manufacturing techniques of objects (C. Clarke). Tin was brought into the picture by J.-M. Welter, who presented a remarkable study on the physical and mechanical properties of tin bronzes. And inally, iron technology was centered on the industrial production of iron and steel from the 17th century up to present times (H.J. McQueen and L. McNally; J. Greenwood; K.E. Morgan; T. Smith).

The last theme, Future of Historical and Archaeological Metallurgy was mostly focused on iron production. A. Dolini opened the session with a clarifying talk on the earliest copper metallurgy in Italy, and stressed the main goals and trends for the future research in relation to the state of the art. A critical and innovative topic – how to provenance iron objects – was addressed by two of the presentations (M. Brauns et al. and P. Dillmann et al.). T. Young presented a synthetic paper on the development of bloomery furnaces in Britain and Ireland.

Closing speeches were presented by Th. Rehren and P. Belford who gave illustrative clues on the future of archaeometallurgy and historical metallurgy research.

It has been a great pleasure to attend this inspiring and well-organised conference. Even though I have only been able to report my personal highlights, collectively all the papers and posters showed the strength of metallurgical research internationally, using a variety of methodological approaches and the latest analytical techniques where necessary. I found it very gratifying to observe that, by and large, technological aspects are not the ultimate object of study and the social role and impact of metallurgy (in past or present societies) was at the core of most of these technological studies. The presence of academics, museum curators, students, metallurgists or archaeologists diversified the discussion and showed that, on its 50th birthday, HMS continues to be an extremely fertile crossroads of different metallurgical grounds.

Review written by Mercedes Murillo-Barroso for The Crucible 83

V&A handling session

O n Thursday, the handling sessions took place in the offices of the Metalwork, Silver and Jewellery Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum. A variety of objects displayed on a large table were waiting for us: a late medieval steel helmet; an intricately decorated 17th century sword with a blade from Toledo; a range of candle holders made of different metals; and an 18th century 5.5kg solid silver ewer; as well as other beautifully made and intricate objects.

We were attended by Angus Patterson, armour and arms specialist, and Kristen Kennedy, silver specialist, who delighted us not just with the story behind the different artefacts (such as the the silver chest thought to be Spanish that was in fact Bolivian), but also with explanations of the different metals and alloys used; techniques of manufacture (e.g acid etching, inlaying, examples of early electroplating) and their change over time and observations about details of the decoration. After the explications, we had an hour to handle the artefacts and enjoy an informal talk.

Among all the artefacts, my favourite was an 18th century hand gun, steel barrelled with wood and silver fittings; its details were simply fantastic: small dogs and hunters with their hats and riles made of silver displayed symmetrically around the body of the weapon. All the mechanical pieces were not just perfect, but also beautiful with engravings of waves, plants and creature's faces. Wood and metal parts it perfectly, showing the expertise and art of two crafts of the period: carpenters and metalworkers.

The artefacts were stunning and it was privilege to be able to handle such wonderful objects.

Tour review written by Teresa Plaze for The Crucible 83

Percy collection tour

John Percy is rightly famous among metallurgists for his pioneering work on 19th century metallurgy, which he published in his Treatise on Metallurgy, and so the opportunity to see his metallurgical collection would feel a real privilege to any self-respecting HMS member!

The collection is housed in the impressive surroundings of the Science Museum Stores at Blythe House and we were shown around by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Susan Mossman, aided by Rebecca Stores. The room itself was an Aladdin's cave of shelves stacked with loose or jarred samples with hand written labels. Percy was a prolific collector, and though he is famous for his work on metallurgy he collected a vast diversity of over 4000 objects. These included a large collection of coal from seams around the UK, large chunks of glass and assorted minerals from across Europe. His slag collection contained contemporary samples from blast furnaces from diverse locations around the world, such as Wales, the USA, Russia, and even 200 year old examples of bloomery slags from Sweden. It seems that the collection of historical slags for analysis is nothing new!

Some of the most interesting artefacts had been especially selected by Susan Mossman for us to view. These included a large bar of steel made in the Bessemer-Mushet process which had undergone shear strength testing. From the separate Park Collection, was a bar of some of the earliest made aluminium created by Faraday in the early 19th century. However, some of the most surprising objects were much older. There was a collection of ancient metal artefacts that had been sent to Percy for analysis; this included samples cut from a silver cup from excavations at Nineveh and a large sample taken from a bronze sword from Mycenaean Greece. This really shows that Percy was not just a metallurgist, but also one of the early pioneers of archaeometallurgy.

Percy collected materials from one of the most exciting periods of metallurgy and the benefits of this collection is in its breadth, size and completeness. This material has much to teach us, especially if coupled with the use of new, modern scientific techniques. Having been comprehensively catalogued, future research on this collection is an exciting prospect. This collection is probably the best of its sort in the world and the visit was a very rewarding experience.

Tour reviews written by Matt Phelps for The Crucible 83



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


HMS Conference - Metallurgy in warfare: A spur to innovation and development


3rd-5th October 2014
Organised by Tom Birch and Eddie Birch


The scope of this HMS autumn conference was to encompass the various roles that metals have taken in warfare through the ages. The main themes were: the development of metallurgy arising from military needs, the developments in military organising arising from metallurgical innovation, and the developments in metal and metal artefact production arising from the urgencies of war. After an evening and a day of talks there were trips to two museums; the Museum of Army Flying and the Tank Museum at Bovington

The programme is available here and the abstract book is here.

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This year's Annual Conference was held in the historic city of Salisbury. The theme was Metallurgy in Warfare, a fascinating topic but with an additional poignancy on this, the centenary year of the World War I. Metallurgy has always been at the vanguard of advances in warfare and this was aptly demonstrated by the extremely diverse topics on offer.

Friday evening started with a session on Ancient warfare and hand-to-hand combat. Andrea Dolfini's "Bronze Age combat: An experimental approach," possibly one of the most interesting sounding research topics out there, compared use-marks and damage recorded during simulated combat using traditionally made Bronze Age weapons, to archaeological examples. They matched bent swords from flat of the blade parrying to ancient weapons, and noted the surprising efficacy of beaten bronze shields.

Following the Bronze Age theme, Barry Molloy's "Avant garde? A techno-social perspective on the birth of the sword in the Bronze Age" (read by Tom Birch) dealt with the development of sword technology highlighting the need for very highly skilled casting; single pours, and the need to reduce casting errors, particularly at the junction between blade and handle to stop breakage. Off topic, but brilliant none-the-less, "Två 1800-talsbruk," a 1920's film of a 19th century charcoal blast and refinery furnace in Sweden recording the process from ore to finished bar iron, loaned by the Swedish Archive Centre and commentary by Tim Smith. This film was a remarkable historical record encapsulating not only the metallurgical process but a long lost way of life. Of interested was the use of horse drawn sledges for charcoal alongside trains for the ore; hand charging the blast furnace; operation of a Lancashire hearth; water driven tilt hammers for billet and bar production; protective clothing of no more than a leather apron and wooden clogs. The final paper of the day, David Edge's 'Damascus' watered steel: pretty lethal... or just pretty?' discussed modern methods in the identification of damascus steels, detailed study of objects from the Wallace Collection showed that Damascus steel was used only for bits of the object that could be seen with little attempt to make use of its superior material properties.

Saturday morning began with a session on Firearms and Artillery, Chris McKay explained the process of gun casting in 18th century Woolwich, identifying little known techniques, as illustrated in "The Art of Gunfounding" by Carel de Beer. This was followed by Jean-Marie Welter "The Keller brothers; gun casters to Louis XIV" who commented on the many difficulties of producing cannons with reproducible compositions and microstructures despite the technological advancement in casting, this explained the relatively high failure rates in cannons. Kay Smith's paper "Breaking the mould" discussed the drivers of cannon innovation; the change from casting breach up to muzzle up around the late 16th century in an aim to reduce casting defects and stop failure in the breach area during use; and how changes to gun powder production and cannonballs affected cannon design.

The second session, Technology, Organisation and Production began with a very interesting talk by Janice Li on "Metallurgy and China's First Empire: Bronze weapons for the Qin Terracotta Army." This paper used a combination of SEM for compositional and visual analysis, as well as metric analysis, to understand the production of the thousands of bronze objects used for the warriors, concluding that completed objects were made at individual workshops using standardised components and not by assembly line methods. Also recognised were hand and rotary polishing marks. A great example of how scientific methods can inform on past technologies and organisational choices. The second paper, "Persian crucible steel production: Chāhak tradition," Rahil Alipour combined medieval manuscripts and compositional analysis of crucibles to investigate the processes of crucible steel production in medieval period Persia, sharing new insights into this important industry. This session ended with Tom Birch "Supplying the Havor lance: towards standardised war gear in Iron Age Scandinavia".

The research centred around the astounding survival of thousands of iron weapons from lake depositions in southern Scandinavia, using metric and morphometric analysis of over 120 lances coupled with compositional analysis, a picture was presented of a highly standardised lance design with centrally controlled production that used iron from across Scandinavia.

Modern Warfare was the topic of the final session, beginning with Margaret Birch's presentation of the WWI war work of Major General William Huskisson as the Assistant Inspector of Steel, Bombs and Mines division, giving an insight into the organisation of war production. The day ended with an enjoyable presentation by Eddie Birch, "Liberty Ships: winning the logistics war," the design was based on the British designed Empire Ships; simple, versatile, modular and of a completely welded construction. While slow, they were quick to build, reliable and with 2700 built in 5 years, they made a significant contribution to the war effort, many of which continued to have long post-war lives owing to their versatility.

The conference ended with an enjoyable conference dinner at the Red Lion, and on the Sunday trips were organised to two local museums; the first was to The Museum of Army Flying which preserves a unique collection of military aviation history including historic fixed wing and rotary wing aircrafts. The second to the The Tank Museum at Bovington, the birth place of the tank in World War One, 6 halls exhibited an impressive collection of 300 vehicles which covered all major wars of the 20th century, including the first tank ever made, a feared German Tiger, and the modern Challenger 2.

Overall this was an informative and much enjoyed conference, with possibly one of the widest ranges of topics seen at a HMS conference, from Bronze Age swords and Iron Age lances, to cannons and WWII ships. This conference showed how archaeo-metallurgical techniques coupled with historical and archaeological approaches continue to enlighten us on past metallurgy, and how innovation in metal usage and production shaped the world we live in.

This review was written by Matt Phelps and Rahil Alipour for The Crucible 87.




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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    Metals used in Personal Adornment


    31st May-1st June 2014
    Organised by Eleanor Blakelock


    For many centuries metal, especially precious metals, has been the dominate material used in the construction of jewellery and other items of personal adornment. The basic form of personal adornment varies over time, location and culture. This influences not only the style of the pieces but also impacts the method of manufacture. This conference therefore provided an opportunity examine the metals used and the metalworking techniques carried out to produce these pieces.

    As part of the conference there will be a tour of the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, and a behind the scenes tour of the Birmingham Museum conservation department where they are working on the Staffordshire Hoard.

    The conference abstract book can be downloaded using this link and the programme is available here.


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