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

Research in Progress Meeting

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).’


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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.

Written by Nicola George for The Crucible 94
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