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Our annual Research in Progress meeting held at the University of Exeter

Research in Progress Meeting

10th October 2013

University of Exeter
Organised by Tathagata Neogi and Brice Girbal

The Research in Progress meetings are aimed at a wide variety of contributors, from historical and archaeological metallurgists to excavators, historians and economists. Presentations were given on a range of topics, from a variety of speakers in a friendly environment.

The HMS prize is awarded for the best presentation by a student at the meeting was awarded to Giovanna Fregni for her presentation ‘Minimum tools required: a system for organising Bronze Age metal-smithing tools.’



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After an early start I arrived at Exeter University for the research in progress meeting. These meetings provide an excellent platform for a range of speakers including academics, students and professionals as well as groups or individuals with an interest in historical metallurgy. As usual the talks offered a fantastic overview of various research projects currently taking place. The range of approaches taken was also particularly interesting, with presentations of experimental studies, instrumental analyses, historical economic based work and academic research in different combinations.

The meeting started with the student presentations, which as usual were excellent and made it very difficult for the HMS council members present to choose a winner for the student prize. This year Giovanna Fregni was awarded the prize for her presentation on the ‘minimum tools required: a system for organising Bronze Age metal-smithing tools’. Through the creation of a detailed catalogue of Bronze Age tools she was able to understand the processes taking place, identify the potential activities being carried out by owners of hoards and even suggest tools that are missing or may have been misinterpreted.

Tathagata Neogi’s presentation and research focuses on the people and society behind iron working in India, and this has revealed much about the nature of iron-working in the community and its relationship to those involved, the techniques used, trade and religion. Brice Girbal, also working in India, is investigating Wootz steel production, he intends to not only visually assess the material collected but also to carry out scientific analysis to investigate the raw materials used and processes involved.

The presentation by Angela Wickenden provided a possible use for tin mine waste, new and old, in the production of ceramic vessels. Steffan Klemenic carried out a number of experiments to replicate the rivet holes found on the tangs of bronze swords. David Budd presented joint research with Katheryn Bonnet looking at the manufacture in the hope that this would reveal the possible use of the rather strange billhook’s found in cemetery contexts. The results from this study, while shedding light on the construction methods, still have not revealed a use for the tool, which is still a mystery.

After the student presentations, Tom Greeves introduced us to the site of Upper Merrivale Tin Mill where a series of excavations have taken place 1991-1996. The slag has been analysed but there are a number of soil samples still waiting to be analysed to reveal more about the efficacy of the process and changes through time.

A presentation by Roger Hutchins questioned the use of long reaves on Dartmoor as early boundaries, and provided both map and photographic evidence to suggest that they connected various mines and trading points, and could therefore have acted as track ways to transport ore from the mines, possibly using pack animals.

Steve Grudgings gave two interesting presentations on the iron and steel used to build the Newcomen engine, and also specifically on the manufacture of the early boilers. Chris McKay introduced us to the turret clock in the church of St Cuthberga, Wimborne Minster and the speculative amounts of iron, brass and wire required to manufacture it.

The analysis of the archaeometallurgical residues from the Ynysfach ironworks was presented by Tim Young; this included research on the refining process slag which revealed that it had an important de-phosphorisation effect in addition to de-siliconisation, thus increasing our knowledge of the refining process. Neil Philips reported on the new research and excavations carried out at the early Angidy works. This has revealed another large building with a 6m wheel pit and the ghost of a battery frame, all of which are not on the 1763 map. Finally Peter King gave a detailed presentation on the charcoal consumption in the iron industry in England and Wales.

All in all, Tathagata Neogi and Brice Girbal organised and hosted an excellent Research in Progress meeting at the University of Exeter, under the watchful eye of Gill Juleff.

Written by Eleanor Blakelock for The Crucible 84
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