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Our annual Research in Progress meeting held at the University of Newcastle

Research in Progress Meeting

6th November 2012

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.’


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.

Written by Carlotta Gardner for The Crucible 81
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