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Archaeometallurgy is the study of metal artifacts, the technology that was used to smelt them, and the ways ancient societies acquired ores. In addition to understanding the history of metal technology, archaeometallurgists seek to learn more about the people who made and used metal implements and gain a broader understanding of the economic and social contexts in which the people lived. Archaeometallurgy can help to answer archaeological questions concerning the rise of craft specialization, the effects new technologies have on societies, the level of interaction between cultures, and the forces required to change societies.

Archaeometallurgy is a type of archaeometry, which is the use of scientific methods to study archaeological materials. It incorporates many different fields of study, including geology, ethnography, history, chemistry, and materials science. Archaeometallurgists reconstruct ancient smelting (ore melting) furnaces, conduct experiments, and analyze metals and slag (the glassy residue left by smelting).

It is a misconception that somehow the use of metals is limited to certain ages (e.g., the Bronze Age or the Iron Age). For example, until relatively recently, there was no evidence of metallurgy in pre-Bronze Age southeast Europe. Copper artifacts had been found and there was evidence of ore mining, but because no slag had been found, some archaeologists believed the copper had been smelted elsewhere. In 1979, copper slag was discovered with material from the Vinca culture (5400-4000 B.C.). The pieces of slag were small and scattered, and had been overlooked by earlier investigators. Spectroscopic analysis of the slag showed it was similar to local ores. This is strong evidence for local smelting of the ore. In addition, a few tin bronze artifacts have been found with the Vinca and contemporary cultures of southeast Europe. This suggests that the Bronze Age, when it arrived, may have been a scaled-up version of a technology that already existed, rather than something fundamentally new. This is one example of how archaeometallurgy helps us understand ancient societies.

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