Archaeometallurgy is the study of the history and prehistoric use and production of metals by humans. It is a sub-discipline of archaeology and archaeological science.


Archaeometallurgical study has many uses in both the chemical and anthropological fields. Analysis can be used to deduce conclusion on many subjects. Any project concerned with the relationship that the human species has had to all of the metals known to us is an example of archaeometallurgical study.


There are various methodological approaches to archaeometallurgical studies. The same methods used in analytical chemistry may be used to analyze artifacts. Chemical analysis methods may include the analysis of mass, density or chemical composition. Most methods are non-destructive in nature, such as X-ray spectroscopy. Non-destructive methods will be able to be used on many more artifacts. A few of the options that take a small sample from the artifact are mass spectrometry and a variety of chemical tests.

Modern to ancient

One of the methods of archaeometallurgy is the study of modern metals and alloys to explain and understand the use of metals in the past. A study conducted by the department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at Weizmann Institute of Science and the department of Archaeology at the University of Haifia analyzed the chemical composition and the mass of different denominations of Euro coinage. They concluded that even with modern standards and technology, there is a considerable variation within the "same" denomination of coin.[1] This simple conclusion can be used to further analyze discoveries of ancient currency.

Non-ferrous archaeometallurgy

The specific study of the non-ferrous metals used in past. Gold, silver and copper were the first to be used by ancient humans.

Ferrous archaeometallurgy

The specific study of the ferrous compounds used in past.


After initial sporadic work, archaeometallurgy was more widely institutionalised in the 1960s and 70s, with research groups in Britain (The British Museum, the UCL Institute of Archaeology, the Institute for Archeo-Metallurgical Studies (iams)), Germany (Deutsches Bergbau Museum) and the US (MIT and Harvard). Specialisations within metallurgical focus on metallography of finished objects, mineralogy of waste products such as slag and manufacturing studies.

See also


  1. Making Sense out of Cents, SciVerse, retrieved 11 April 2012.

Further reading

External links

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