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 from Bradford 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.


Research in Progress Meeting



 Colour Horizontal

Friday 13th November 2015

Newton Room, Hamilton Centre,
Brunel University.

Organised by Lorna Anguilano

This meeting is aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from historical and archaeological metallurgists to excavators, historians and economists. If you are working, or have just finished working, on a project related to archaeological or historical metallurgy, we would like to hear from you. We are particularly interested in bringing together contract and public sector archaeologists with academic researchers, and in fostering links between the different disciplines studying metallurgy and related activities. Whether you are a student, a researcher, an interested non-specialist, or a professional excavator, we invite you to meet others working in this field and present your research to an interested community.

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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Coming soon


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

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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Coming soon

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.