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In-depth analyses probe the origins of metallurgy in western Europe and its social impact

An EU initiative delved deep into how western European society assimilated metallurgy and developed different metallurgical traditions. It also examined to what extent such processes were affected by social contacts.
In-depth analyses probe the origins of metallurgy in western Europe and its social impact
The EU-funded SMITH (Society, metallurgy and innovation: The Iberian hypothesis) project explored the specific technological conditions and processes of metal production in Iberia as a basis for comparison with Europe and the Near East. It also evaluated the social and ideological impact of metallurgy in prehistoric societies.

Project partners analysed a wide range of archaeological materials from key sites in western Europe. They employed several techniques to measure the extent of possible influences and the social value of metals in each society.

Specifically, the SMITH team analysed samples of ore, slag, crucibles, tuyeres and metal objects. It identified different compositional groups between and within metallurgical sites mainly based on their arsenic, zinc and lead levels, as well as cobalt or nickel elements. Ten ore samples were further investigated to identify mineralogical species.

Researchers then selected five mining districts for a geochemical study. In total, 150 preliminary analyses were conducted on geological samples, of which 29 geological and 47 archaeological samples were selected for further examination and trace element composition. Geological survey results helped to determine the regional use of resources and the existence of regional exchange networks. SMITH conducted additional sampling and dating for 45 samples and 6 non-metallurgical pottery samples to better define the smelting process.

Findings reveal significant differences between south-eastern and north-eastern Iberia, which could be related to their different metallurgy social values. For the former area, metallurgy was developed together with other activities in domestic contexts. Technical ceramics did not differ from domestic ones. Small metal objects were recovered from productive sites. For the latter, metallurgy was performed inside rock shelters. Some crucible surfaces had beaker decorations.

SMITH led existing efforts to generate reliable data and original interpretations on the origins of metallurgy, the transfer of this knowledge and its social impact.

Related information


Metallurgy, SMITH, Iberia, prehistoric societies
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