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Geochemical Provenance Mapping of Pre-Roman Ironworking sites in Britain

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Ancient iron trade identifiable with improved database map

The key to studying iron trade in pre-Roman Britain lies in better understanding the different regions in which this metal was produced and how to identify their unique fingerprints. Researchers have produced vastly improved geochemical maps using state-of-the-art chemical characterization and data analysis for this purpose.

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Pre-Roman Iron Age Britain is a region known to have been an exporter of iron metal. The region has an archaeological record that is rich with 'currency bars' and other forms of trade iron. The EU-funded project IRONWORKS (Geochemical provenance mapping of pre-Roman ironworking sites in Britain) worked to build a multi-element provenance database of smelting slag from primary iron production sites. The database will enable archaeologists to better explore the unique role that iron played in past societies. Team members used a combination of data analysis techniques and geochemical characterisation to build a database of slag smelted in sites where ancient iron was produced. They collected and analysed samples from historically important regions around Britain. IRONWORKS was able to produce a multidimensional geochemical “map” of ironmaking sites for Britain as a proof of concept for the new database. The researchers produced a map that can discriminate between iron produced at British sites and sites farther afield, including locations in Nigeria, Rwanda, and China. Project work showed that a global geochemical database is important for shedding light on the trade of materials in the pre-industrial world. These results will improve iron provenance methods, generate a practical expandable database of slag chemistry and build a foundation for analysing ancient iron exchange networks.


Iron trade, pre-Roman Britain, geochemical maps, IRONWORKS, slag

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