Early Iron Metallurgy in the Caucasus: Filling in a Technological "Missing Link"

Author(s): Nathaniel Erb-Satullo

Year: 2018


In the study of technological transformations, there is often much discussion of how innovations are conditioned by earlier systems of technical knowledge. Identification of transitional features is often challenging, however, particularly for questions about the origins of iron smelting and its relationship with copper-base metallurgy. This paper discusses some unusual technological features in iron metallurgical debris (circa 8th-6th c. BC) from a fortified hilltop site in the Caucasus, shedding light on the early development of iron technology. Macroscopically and microscopically, the slags are in most respects classic iron smithing slags. Larger fragments show the classic planoconvex shape of smithing hearth bottoms, and the slag microsctructures are dominated by wüstite (FeO) and small particles of metallic iron. However, analysis of metal inclusions trapped within these slags shows that they contain small amounts of copper and arsenic. These results suggest that the iron forged in this workshop was smelted from the oxidized upper zone (gossan) of a copper-bearing polymetallic deposit. If so, this would provide the first direct evidence of a much-discussed theory that iron smelting emerged from experimentation with copper ore deposits, linking the invention of iron with earlier copper-base metallurgical traditions.

Cite this Record

Early Iron Metallurgy in the Caucasus: Filling in a Technological "Missing Link". Nathaniel Erb-Satullo. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444141)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: 34.277; min lat: 13.069 ; max long: 61.699; max lat: 42.94 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22091