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Metals Technology in North Aegean Societies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ME.Tech.NAS (Metals Technology in North Aegean Societies)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-04-30

This project investigates the organisation of mining, mineral processing and metallurgy in northeastern Greece from prehistory up to the Hellenistic period and their implications for social interaction, political power and economy. It is focused on one of the richest in mineral deposits regions of the country and explores issues of technological expansion through connectivity and mobility which are central to ongoing discussions in archaeology. It involves an interdisciplinary study of mining landscapes, excavated sites and archaeological material found therein by employing modern analytical techniques (archaeometry and GIS) in order tο provide quantifiable data on the social, symbolic and economic significance of metal production in the ancient world.
Overall, the studied cases represent solid examples of the long historical trajectories of resource appropriation strategies founded on political control while illuminating the developmental stages of technical sophistication linked directly to economic prosperity. As such they could be useful in timely discussions on natural resource management plans based on a better understanding of ancient and more recent developments in industrial practice. Such elements render the project important for wider societal implications linked to resource perception, influencing policy making for the protection of the environment and cultural heritage.
The project’s objectives relate to three crucial research questions corresponding to three technological breakthroughs: a) The emergence and early development of copper and silver extraction within the Late Neolithic/Bronze Age cultural framework (5th-2nd mill. BC). b) The introduction of iron metallurgy associated with increased connectivity between sites of the north and south Aegean and Anatolia around 1200-700 BC. c) The intensification of mining and extraction of base and precious metals during the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods (700-323 BC), triggered by the establishment of Greek colonies on the Thracian littoral.
The work performed consisted of several tasks integrated into five work packages. Initially this included the macroscopic study of archaeological finds and small-scale excavation of a metallurgical site. The contexts where such finds have been recovered were taken into consideration to account for the organisation of metal production in each examined case. Samples were taken for laboratory analysis during this stage. A second stage of the work involved a small-scale field survey that was conducted to locate ancient mining sites and smelting localities at the Lekani mountain range in Kavala prefecture. The GIS data collected during this survey were treated in order to create Geo-referenced maps. In the next stage instrumental analyses were performed on sampled material including optical microscopy, XRF, SEM/EDS, EPMA and ICP/MS.
Concerning the first technological stage, results from the project have confirmed the ways by which the north Aegean was a metal producing territory from the 5th to the end of the 1st millennium BC. Based on the study of prehistoric metallurgical finds it was concluded that copper and to lesser extent silver production was practiced in domestic contexts with a small output that was oriented to cover local needs. Contrary to previous interpretations that attributed a peripheral role to this region, the project displayed how it was actually located at the convergence of important trade routes for copper and possibly also silver and gold from the Balkan and Anatolian trade routes to the Aegean, as well as tin from further afield. The second technological stage, that of the spread of iron technology in this region, is a complex issue that has been partially addressed but no conclusions are yet available. The experimental simulation that was designed to address the critical issue of testing the local raw materials was helpful in addressing issues of selective ore procurement in the early stages of bloomery smelting in the region. Likewise, iron production residues from the Thracian coast, excavated at Molyvoti have been investigated. Although the assemblage dates to the 4th century BC the results point to the use of local resources utilising sophisticated bloomery smelting techniques and are important for understanding the later developments in iron production in Thrace. Concerning the third technological stage, mining evidence at several locations on the Lekani mountain range has been investigated in association to a large volume of metallurgical waste excavated at the Thasian colony of Pistyros at the foothills of the Lekani. Our results are significant as for the first time the process by which gold was extracted in the region could be explained based on actual archaeological evidence. The proposed model for gold extraction at Pistyros highlights its inhabitants’ advanced knowledge in metallurgical technology and the site’s importance in precious metals extraction that was fundamental for its economic prosperity during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Issues of supplying the Macedonian mints with gold after the site came under Macedonian rule have been also investigated and are crucial for identifying a new supply source, that is very important for numismatic studies, Greek archaeology and history in general. Such results represent an important contribution to the state-of-the-art in archaeometallurgical studies.
Results dissemination was carried out through the projects’ website, publication of articles in peer-reviewed journals, which is still ongoing, participation in conferences, public lectures, the organisation of a workshop and an international conference, as well as an experimental simulation of metal production open to the public.
Results from the project have expanded our knowledge on ancient metallurgical technologies of the north Aegean and contributed with such new information to the wider discussions on archaeometallurgy in Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond. The international symposium that was organised in the framework of the project was successful in promoting the research undertaken while putting it in a broader perspective displaying the progress that has been achieved beyond the state of the art.
The importance of technological history studies has been outlined in numerous instances and it has become increasingly acknowledged that ancient technological systems were embedded in their respective socio-economic and cultural settings that need to be equally addressed in addition to the purely technical aspects. The interdisciplinary examination of the technical as well as the socio-cultural features of ancient metallurgy provided useful insight that is valuable in modern approaches to technology, management of resources and public awareness about the impacts of industry on the natural environment. Therefore, communication of the project results to wider audiences will be informative in terms of presenting alternative resource procurement strategies based on examples taken from our distant or more recent past, which in most instances were considerably less damaging to the environment than those predominant today.