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

Research in Progress Meeting

15th November 2019

University of Cambridge
Organised by Yi-Ting Hsu, Jasmine Vieri and Julia Montes-Landa

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 Saltanat Amirova for her presentation ‘Copper and tin bronze metallurgy on the Late Bronze Age site of Semiyarka (Kazakhstan).’



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This year’s HMS Research in Progress Meeting was held at the McDonald Institute at the University of Cambridge. It had a great atmosphere and a very interesting and diverse programme of talks, covering many fields of metallurgical research. Everything from archaeology, history, scientific analysis, to experimental research was represented throughout the day, illustrating the breadth of the field of historical metallurgy.

Following a welcome from the organisers Yi-Ting Hsu, Jasmine Vieri and Julia Montes-Landa, the day began with a keynote presentation by Dr Jane Humphris, a Senior Research Associate at the Department of Archaeology in Cambridge. She discussed her project at the site of Meroe in Sudan, where a series of large slag mounds have been examined along with workshops and an associated mining site. The preservation of the workshops was particularly significant, with many of the clay pot bellows still remaining intact around the furnace structure, thus allowing the layout of these workshops to be reconstructed.

After the break, Session One commenced with Nicolas Nikis, discussing the copper trade in Central Africa. It was fascinating how extensive these trade networks were during the 2nd millennium AD and how Nicholas has been able to trace these by looking at the distribution of copper ingots, which are distinctive in their cross shaped appearance.

His talk was followed by a presentation by Matteo Cataldo on non-invasive characterisation of Nuragic bronzes. Using neutron diffraction, Matteo has been able to understand the composition of the bronze and the metalworking techniques that were applied in manufacture, which has enhanced understanding of the development of metalworking within the region.

Jiun-Yu Liu presented his research at Blihun Hanben, a settlement site in Taiwan that has revealed evidence of ironworking. His investigation into the nature of ferrous pyrotechnology within the settlement has included possible evidence of furnace sites, from which he collected samples for analysis at the University of Washington. It was great that Jiun-Yu had made a special trip all the way from Seattle to attend the conference.

Before lunch we heard from Kay Smith about the continued work in casting a medieval canon. Last year Kay and Peter Vemming built a reverbatory furnace which was put into action this year to cast a bronze cannon. While several issues arose that prevented a full casting from being achieved, the project really demonstrates the benefits of experimental archaeology in understanding techniques and learning from mistakes. They hope next year to achieve a complete casting.

Lunch was held in the McDonald institute and it provided a great opportunity to catch up and network, while eating delicious locally made pizza. The recently refurbished Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is near to the institute, and lunch provided the change for some members to visit its amazing collections.

Session Two began with a talk by A Bujl on neutron diffraction, which has been used to examine oriental swords. This was followed by Saltanat Amirova, who discussed her research into copper and tin bronze metallurgy on the Late Bronze Age site of Semiyarka in Kazakhstan. The site is large scale and could be identified through aerial reconnaissance along with metalworking debris. Crucibles attest to the production of tin-bronze at the site, a technique not usually identified in the region.

Tim Young presented on his analysis of hammerscale and the process of its creation. His experiments have significant implications for archaeology, in that it would appear much hammerscale residue is discarded during archaeological recovery. Louise Bacon gave a fascinating paper on Burghmote horns which she has been examining from Cinque Ports across Southern England. She explainedhow these horns were used in civic ceremonies to summon bailiffs of the city to the Burghmote court and are still used in special occasions to this day. Examples, such as one from Canterbury date back to the 12th Century. Her use of radiography has shed light on the metallic composition of these horns.

Stephanie Aulsebrook and Christina Clarke outlined past approaches to identifying Minoan and Mycenaean metalwork and the need to reassess the ways in which metal styles are classified. Using the Vaphio Cups as an case study, they explained that current stylistic classification is still largely based on the work of Ellen Davis, who, in interpreting the two gold cups, viewed the more ‘peaceful’ cup depicting a tethered bull as Minoan, while the second cup displaying a ‘violent’ capture of a bull was viewed as Mycenaean. Stephanie and Christina argued for the need to move away from an association of ‘peaceful’ Minoans vs ‘warlike’ Mycenaeans and be more critical of the way metalwork from the Bronze Age is interpreted.

Jack Cranfield discussed his recent work investigating the Tudeley Ironworks in Kent, where he is applying a landscape approach to investigate the medieval ironworks and identify how it is connected to the wider economic landscape and associated industries. He hopes that the cross disciplinary use of historical sources and archaeological evidence, will shed new light on the nature of iron production in the Weald.

The final presentation of the day was given by Marc Gener- Moret, who, through the project IBERIRON, is examining metal technology of Iron Age weapons from the Iberian Peninsula. Scientific analysis using techniques such as SEM-EDS and LA-ICP-MS have been applied to look at the manufacturing techniques of weaponry as well as their significance in cultural and practical use.

Marcos Martinón-Torres concluded the conference by praising the diversity of research that is taking place within the field of historical metallurgy. From excavation, archaeological field surveys to experimental metalworking, all of these lines of inquiry were illustrated through the day’s papers and how their findings are enhancing our understanding. Finally, the student prize was awarded to Saltanat Amirova for her pioneering work on copper and tin bronze metallurgy on the Late Bronze Age site of Semiyarka.

Everyone agreed that it was a brilliant conference, with an interesting range of papers. Particular thanks goes to Yi- Ting Hsu, Jasmine Vieri and Julia Montes-Landa from the University of Cambridge, for their time and hard work in organising such a great day.

Written by Jack Cranfield for The Crucible 102
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