Historical metallurgy

Like many archaeologists, outside of my ‘proper’ archaeological job, I seem to find time to get involved with lots of other archaeological activities as a volunteer. One of my many ‘other’ roles is to be the Chairman of the Historical Metallurgy Society. This is occupying quite a bit of my time, so I thought it was worth saying something about it. I guess in many ways it is quite typical of a lot of national and local specialist societies and groups – entirely run by volunteers who are often the world’s leading experts in their particular fields, and producing information at various levels from high-level peer-reviewed academic journals and monographs to informal datasheets for archaeological fieldworkers.

The manufacture and working of metals is one of the most important human activities. Archaeologists encounter metal artefacts and evidence of metalworking in all periods from the Bronze Age through to the post-medieval. However it is often difficult to identify and make sense of. This is why the Historical Metallurgy Society was established almost 50 years ago. The Historical Metallurgy Society is a dynamic and exciting international forum for exchange of information and research in historical metallurgy. This means all aspects of the history and archaeology of metals and associated materials from prehistory to the present day.

Members’ interests range from processes and production through technology and economics to archaeology and conservation. The Society holds several conferences and meetings each year which showcase the latest research, and explore a wide range of metallugical landscapes and locations. The next meeting is in Cardiff in September.

The Society’s datasheets were launched over 15 years ago, and remain a popular resource for archaeological fieldworkers and managers alike. They can be dowloaded free. The archaeology committee is currently updating and enlarging the scope of the datasheets. The datasheets – and indeed Historical Metallurgy Society members – helped to inform the development of the English Heritage guidelines for Archaeometallurgy, and Science in Historic Industries.

A mini-datasheet on ironworking residues has also been produced – aimed specifically at archaeological fieldworkers.

The Society’s archaeology committee has also recently produced a UK-wide research framework for archaeometallurgy called ‘Metals and Metalworking’. This sets out current knowledge and areas where we need to learn more; it can be downloaded from the Historical Metallurgy Society archaeology committee page.

Joining the Society only costs £20! Details can be found here. Members receive a scholarly journal (Historical Metallurgy) twice a year and a newsletter three or four times a year. The Historical Metallurgy Society has an extensive archive of books and reference material, and can put you in touch with expertise all over the world… the Society also provides small grants for research and travel. Please visit the website – or look at our Facebook page!


More post-excavation tasks

After completing this morning’s interim report on the Stirchley Station watching brief, I have now turned my attention to the various odds and ends which have built up during the week and really need to be sorted before the weekend.

First amongst these was finishing the archive for the blast furnaces community archaeology project which we completed in May. Yes, I’m afraid to say that the drawings and finds have been littering the office for the last three months or so – but I am pleased to report that they are now all boxed up and ready to be sent off. Part of the reason for doing this now is that I am preparing a paper on the site for the Historical Metallurgy journal – the site may contain the remains of the first ‘hot blast’ iron smelting furnaces in the world!

Archiving of projects is one of the big issues in commercial archaeology at the moment – with museums finding it hard to take stuff… and even I do sometimes wonder if some of that stuff is really worth keeping.

Something else that has been in the office for a couple of weeks – and this is definitely worth keeping – is this lovely early nineteenth century mixing bowl which has been converted to a flowerpot by someone drilling rather crude holes in the bottom. We found this on another watching brief in Wales.

Welsh mixing bowl converted to a flowerpot

Also today I have been speaking with one of our team who is working on a site in Cheshire, and dealing with a couple of questions from clients. I have hardly had time so far to get down to work on the big excavation write-up, but I think I can have a good crack at it in the next couple of hours.

Here I am at my desk in contemplative mood!

I guess one of the things about being an archaeologist is that it never stops! I am currently the Chairman of the Historical Metallurgy Society, so inevitably bits of the day (and much of the evenings) are taken up in dealing with the activities of our various committees and thinking ahead. It is the society’s 50th anniversary next year, and we have a meeting on Monday to do some intensive planning – so I need to think about that over the weekend.

Tomorrow, just for fun, I am spending the day with a friend (another archaeologist, of course) looking at urban industrial sites and comparing their condition today to how they were when they were officially surveyed 25 years ago. I expect that this will take about 12 hours of our free time!

You do need to be quite mad to do archaeology – but still after 20 years it is very enjoyable!