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THE RISE OF IRON TECHNOLOGY IN PRE-ROMAN IBERIA: A LARGE-SCALE AND MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - IBERIRON (THE RISE OF IRON TECHNOLOGY IN PRE-ROMAN IBERIA: A LARGE-SCALE AND MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH)

Berichtszeitraum: 2018-09-15 bis 2020-09-14

Millennia before the Industrial Revolution and our technology-driven modern world, iron already played a fundamental role in prehistoric societies. Understanding how iron technology was discovered, perceived, learnt, and developed is important for our knowledge on how humans interacted with their environment and with each other. The IBERIRON project seeks to contribute to this knowledge by studying the situation of the Iberian Peninsula in the Late Iron Age (6th-3rd c. BCE), a case of particular interest because by that time in Iberia the technological traditions of Central Europe and Mediterranean iron spreading cultures had met. By studying the features of iron technology in this territory with a wide-ranging approach, IBERIRON explored how ironworking shaped their world and was, at the same time, shaped by it.

The objective of the project was to characterize the technology of iron applied to the manufacture of objects, with a special focus on weapons as artefacts of particularly high archaeological, symbolic and practical significance, making use of tailored methodologies adapted to the features of the material. The results were analysed to identify geographical and chronological trends, interactions between cultural areas and the dynamics of the development, implementation and exchange of the technological knowledge associated with the working of iron. It was also a priority to make the results of this study F.A.I.R (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) and the ensuing database to be published in Open Access
Despite being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, IBERIRON project has been successful in producing a corpus of data that results in an unprecedented overview of the technological practises on the working of iron of significant cultural segments of the indigenous populations in the Iberian Peninsula in Pre-roman times, especially in the period comprising the 5th to the 3rd centuries BCE. It has also been successful in generating a series of protocols and good practices for the study of archaeological iron artifacts, including the generation of a Data Model for its use in databases and Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI).

The project has collected and analysed more than then 60 samples of archaeological ferrous artifacts from five archaeological sites, significantly increasing the amount of metallographical analyses of pre-roman peninsular ferrous weapons and creating an incipient new corpus of other iron-based artefacts of the same period, comprising tools and structural elements.

The analytical characterization of the materials has provided insight not only into the chaîne opératoire involved in the fabrication of technologically complex artefacts but also into the production methodologies of iron and steel, giving subsequent rise to questions about craft organization as well as putting into question some of the funerary practises involving incineration and pre-depositional treatment of the weaponry.

It has been established that high-carbon steel was most probably produced during the smelting process and regularly used to improve the mechanical performance of weapons, but that it was at the same time a scarce resource, a sought after valuable commodity and element of exchange. This opens new exciting lines of research on the power relationships that would exist around the control of the resources required to obtain it in the shape of raw materials or specialized technological knowledge.
The intentionality of some technological practises has been put in question. The process of carburization that aims at superficially turning iron into steel to improve the mechanical properties of the manufactured objects seems not to be a stablished technical procedure. Also, the generation of patinas or coatings of black, shiny magnetite using heat seems to be accidental in the case of weapons blades, but it was probably intentional in the case of decorated iron objects, like weapons scabbards, pommels or guards. In all cases, further investigation based on targeted sampling is planned.

The project has also taken advantage of favourable circumstances to explore the possibility of incorporating into the protocols and good practises the use of increasingly available non-invasive techniques, in particular the use of Time-of-Flight Neutron Diffraction (ToF-ND) for the study of archaeological ferrous objects.

The work and results of IBERIRON have been disseminated in several conferences and events, included such a landmark event as is the “Archaeometallurgy in Europe 2019” conference in Miskolc (Hungary), and we expect to publish the overall results of the project in two to three academic journals over the next year, as well as the specific cases of the main sites that have provided samples for study shortly after.
IBERIRON has successfully pushed the knowledge of the metallurgy of iron in the Iberian Peninsula in Pre-Roman times a huge step forward by providing evidence of differentiated technological traditions among the different cultures inhabiting the territory, as well as opening new lines of research around the ramifications of the craft organization and power dynamics around high carbon steel and the specialised skills necessary to produce it as potential strategic resources.

The results of IBERIRON are putting the Iberian Peninsula in line with other territories in Europe and the Mediterranean who went through similar processes and that are being researched right now. As comparable technological patterns are being found and complementary methodological approaches are being developed, the possibilities for wider international studies and collaborations involving long-ranged questions about the development, perception, assimilation and transmission of technological knowledge are becoming a reality and we plan to work in this direction
Slag inclusions in the iron matrix of a blade sample, analyzed by EDX
Metallography of a section of a falcata sword from the Vetton necropolis of La Osera (Ávila, Spain)
Atrophied antennae sword of Alcacer do Sal type at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid)