This international academic conference was the culmination of a series of events marking the 50th Anniversary of the Historical Metallurgy Society.
HMS 50th Anniversary Conference
HMS AGM 2013
Friends House, London
This international academic conference was the culmination of a series of events marking the 50th Anniversary of the Historical Metallurgy Society and provided a high-level ‘state of the art’ profile of current and future developments in the various disciplines which HMS represents.
The four themes of this meeting are:
• Origins of metallurgy. Chairs Paul Craddock & Thilo Rehren.
• Metallurgy of the Northern Continents. Chairs David Bourgarit & Justine Bayley.
• Archaeometallurgy of the Southern Continents. Chairs Marcos Martinón-Torres & Vincent Serneels.
• The future of historical and archaeological metallurgy. Chairs David Killick & David Dungworth.
The conference was attended by over 120 people, from a range of backgrounds and countries. The event included a wine reception sponsored by the Historical Metallurgy Society, the HMS AGM and also a conference dinner. There were also visits behind the scenes of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the John Percy collection, organised by Matt Phelps.
Review - Conference
One could summarise the last HMS 50th Anniversary Conference as a sort of materialisation of the HMS logo: a true melting pot of specialists from different institutions and disciplines, working on different areas, in different periods, with different materials but all joined by a common aim: generating a better understanding of past societies through the study of one of their essential productions: metallurgy. A second shared target was creating and consolidating research networks, tools and environments for the exchange and discussion of this knowledge. This Conference has shown that, after 50 years, HMS is deservedly recognised as one of these essential networks.
The conference was held in central London and exceptionally well organised by Eleanor Blakelock. It combined talks and discussion with more social and informal interaction: tea and lunch breaks, a wine reception at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, a social dinner to which all the attendants were invited, or the trips to the Science Museum Blyth House Store or the Victoria and Albert Museum, which turned out to be excellent atmospheres for relaxed discussion.
Thirty-eight papers and 18 posters were presented by researchers from all over the world including Europe, Israel, USA, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Australia and Japan, with an audience of over 100 people. At least 12% of the contributions were the result of international cooperative teams, which illustrates how current research networks are broadening at a transnational level to address research questions of common interest. It is also worth mentioning that a significant proportion were women (30% of oral presentations and 50% of posters) and young researchers. Together with some of the most widely known archaeometallurgists, a new generation of young researchers had the opportunity to present and discuss some of the most recent projects and latest trends.
All contributions were structured into four main themes: Origins of Metallurgy chaired by Paul Craddock and Thilo Rehren; The Southern Continents chaired by Vincent Serneels and Marcos Martinón-Torres; The Northern Continents chaired by David Bourgarit and Justine Bayley; and Future of Historical and Archaeological Metallurgy chaired by David Dungworth. The program itself showed the broad scope of the HMS membership: from Prehistory to modern times, from copper to gold and spanning the world.
On the first day, ten papers were presented on the origins of metallurgy. Some of them were examples of what P. Craddock denied in his opening talk as “the pendulous character of metallurgical research.” Old discussions on the independent invention of metallurgy or its diffusion in Eurasia are back in the agenda through new and stimulating evidence from Eastern Europe (M. Radivojević) or South East Asia (O. Pryce). Local evidence of some of the earliest metallurgy in Western Europe was also brilliantly presented in Italy by provenance studies through lead isotope analysis (G. Artioli and his team); in France by the technological characterisation of the earliest metallurgical remains at the mining district of Cabrières-Péret (S. Rovira, P. Ambert and his team); or in Britain by the systematic radiocarbon dating of prehistoric mining works (S. Timberlake et al.).
Another swing of the pendulum brought new and inspiring insights into an old discussion regarding the latest evidence on the intentional production of arsenical copper in Chalcolithic Turkey (L. Bosher et al.). However, not all the contributions had a technological focus: A. Feuerbach discussed the origins of metallurgy as part of specific adaptive social strategies; and L. Nigro the role of early metallurgy and the emergence of the urban sites in Early Levant. Finally, J. Palermo gave a historiographic perspective on the origins of Iron.
The session on Southern Continents was an important step forward in beginning to redress a Eurocentric bias that persists in many conferences organised by European institutions. In this session, however, we could see some of the metallurgical ‘restrictions’ that Th. Rehren highlighted in his closing talk: two out of the three papers on African metallurgy were devoted to iron production (E. Ch. Lyaya; V. Serneels) with the only exception of one on trans-Saharian copper trade (L. Garenne-Marot and B. Mille). Four out of the five papers on South American metallurgy concentrated on noble metals, although presenting different approaches: C.I. Angiorama and M. Florencia Becerra presented robust evidence of silver extractive activities, while C. Gutiérrez Neira et al., and M. Martinón-Torres and A. Uribe, presented non-invasive studies of gold objects cast by the lost-wax technique and convincingly stressed the high importance of their social contexts and roles. On the other hand, N. Bustamante and J. Escobar tried to infer pre-hispanic technological productions by experimental sintering of gold and platinum. Regarding copper, B. Mille and his team presented a comparative study on the organization of copper production between the Atacama Desert and France, showing that small and large scales of production are not necessarily two steps of a linear trajectory, and that other social and economic aspects must be incorporated in order to correctly assess the metallurgical production in its context.
The twelve papers on northern continents encompassed studies on gold and silver, copper-based metallurgy and iron. Noble metals were presented in the studies of three hoards (Mildenhall, Derrynalan and Staffordshire) from the UK (J. Lang and E. Blakelock et al); an original technological approach was proposed by S. Liu and Th. Rehren in China, where archaeometallurgical studies are mainly focused on bronze production and gold or silver are rarely considered. Another innovative technology was presented by M. Renzi et al. in Iberia, who proposed a method of silver production by de-silvering copper ores that was hitherto unreported for the Early Iron Age. A broader organisational model of silver production in this period was presented by M. Murillo-Barroso, based on lead isotope analyses.
Copper-based metallurgy was focused in the Levant with two approaches to copper trade networks by the elemental and isotopic composition of ingots (N. Yahalom-Mack et al.) or the manufacturing techniques of objects (C. Clarke). Tin was brought into the picture by J.-M. Welter, who presented a remarkable study on the physical and mechanical properties of tin bronzes. And inally, iron technology was centered on the industrial production of iron and steel from the 17th century up to present times (H.J. McQueen and L. McNally; J. Greenwood; K.E. Morgan; T. Smith).
The last theme, Future of Historical and Archaeological Metallurgy was mostly focused on iron production. A. Dolini opened the session with a clarifying talk on the earliest copper metallurgy in Italy, and stressed the main goals and trends for the future research in relation to the state of the art. A critical and innovative topic – how to provenance iron objects – was addressed by two of the presentations (M. Brauns et al. and P. Dillmann et al.). T. Young presented a synthetic paper on the development of bloomery furnaces in Britain and Ireland.
Closing speeches were presented by Th. Rehren and P. Belford who gave illustrative clues on the future of archaeometallurgy and historical metallurgy research.
It has been a great pleasure to attend this inspiring and well-organised conference. Even though I have only been able to report my personal highlights, collectively all the papers and posters showed the strength of metallurgical research internationally, using a variety of methodological approaches and the latest analytical techniques where necessary. I found it very gratifying to observe that, by and large, technological aspects are not the ultimate object of study and the social role and impact of metallurgy (in past or present societies) was at the core of most of these technological studies. The presence of academics, museum curators, students, metallurgists or archaeologists diversified the discussion and showed that, on its 50th birthday, HMS continues to be an extremely fertile crossroads of different metallurgical grounds.
Review - V&A handling session
On Thursday, the handling sessions took place in the offices of the Metalwork, Silver and Jewellery Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum. A variety of objects displayed on a large table were waiting for us: a late medieval steel helmet; an intricately decorated 17th century sword with a blade from Toledo; a range of candle holders made of different metals; and an 18th century 5.5kg solid silver ewer; as well as other beautifully made and intricate objects.
We were attended by Angus Patterson, armour and arms specialist, and Kristen Kennedy, silver specialist, who delighted us not just with the story behind the different artefacts (such as the the silver chest thought to be Spanish that was in fact Bolivian), but also with explanations of the different metals and alloys used; techniques of manufacture (e.g acid etching, inlaying, examples of early electroplating) and their change over time and observations about details of the decoration. After the explications, we had an hour to handle the artefacts and enjoy an informal talk.
Among all the artefacts, my favourite was an 18th century hand gun, steel barrelled with wood and silver fittings; its details were simply fantastic: small dogs and hunters with their hats and riles made of silver displayed symmetrically around the body of the weapon. All the mechanical pieces were not just perfect, but also beautiful with engravings of waves, plants and creature’s faces. Wood and metal parts it perfectly, showing the expertise and art of two crafts of the period: carpenters and metalworkers.
The artefacts were stunning and it was privilege to be able to handle such wonderful objects.
Review - Percy collection tour
John Percy is rightly famous among metallurgists for his pioneering work on 19th century metallurgy, which he published in his Treatise on Metallurgy, and so the opportunity to see his metallurgical collection would feel a real privilege to any self-respecting HMS member!
The collection is housed in the impressive surroundings of the Science Museum Stores at Blythe House and we were shown around by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Susan Mossman, aided by Rebecca Stores. The room itself was an Aladdin’s cave of shelves stacked with loose or jarred samples with hand written labels. Percy was a prolific collector, and though he is famous for his work on metallurgy he collected a vast diversity of over 4000 objects. These included a large collection of coal from seams around the UK, large chunks of glass and assorted minerals from across Europe. His slag collection contained contemporary samples from blast furnaces from diverse locations around the world, such as Wales, the USA, Russia, and even 200 year old examples of bloomery slags from Sweden. It seems that the collection of historical slags for analysis is nothing new!
Some of the most interesting artefacts had been especially selected by Susan Mossman for us to view. These included a large bar of steel made in the Bessemer-Mushet process which had undergone shear strength testing. From the separate Park Collection, was a bar of some of the earliest made aluminium created by Faraday in the early 19th century. However, some of the most surprising objects were much older. There was a collection of ancient metal artefacts that had been sent to Percy for analysis; this included samples cut from a silver cup from excavations at Nineveh and a large sample taken from a bronze sword from Mycenaean Greece. This really shows that Percy was not just a metallurgist, but also one of the early pioneers of archaeometallurgy.
Percy collected materials from one of the most exciting periods of metallurgy and the benefits of this collection is in its breadth, size and completeness. This material has much to teach us, especially if coupled with the use of new, modern scientific techniques. Having been comprehensively catalogued, future research on this collection is an exciting prospect. This collection is probably the best of its sort in the world and the visit was a very rewarding experience.