Welcome to a new Arch-metals Web Page. This page has not progressed as I would have liked due to pressures of work. However, I am goining to make an attempt to keep it more up date than it has been over the last 18 months.My thanks to David Killick for allowing me to use his effusive review of Gill's excellent book as the first entry, and Tony Oldham for his review of Ronald Rees' history of the copper industry of South Wales.
Chris Salter - 2nd Jan 2001
David Killick on Gillian Juleff's "Early Iron
and Steel in Sri Lanka"
Tony Oldham on Ronald. Rees's "King Copper: South Wales and the Copper Trade 1584 - 1895"
This is a weighty large format tome (422 pp), beautifully produced with many monochrome and full-colour photographs.
Although I have been following this project closely, I am still blown away by the quality of this volume and would urge anyone at all interested in archaeometallurgy to read it closely. I think that it is particularly notable for its exemplary integration of field survey, excavation, documentary and oral history, experimental archaeology and archaeometry.
The volume describes the discovery, during survey of a valley to be flooded by construction of a large dam, of two features of interest. The first was the site of the crucible steel production famously described by Coomaraswamy in 1904. Juleff found that the descendants of those steelworkers still possessed some blooms, crucibles and ingots of crucible steel, and an excellent metallographic study of these by Michael Wayman is included here as an appendix. The second feature was the discovery of an entirely new type of iron-smelting furnace. As reconstructed by Juleff (and the data presented here allow no doubt as to the accuracy of her reconstruction) these were low subrectangular structures, 1.5 - 2 m in length, 0.4-0.8 m wide and (particularly suprising) only 0.5 m high. Large numbers of these were found, invariably placed near the crest of west-facing hills, with the front long wall, bearing a single line of up to a dozen tuyeres, facing downslope. Juleff argued that these were wind powered furnaces utilizing the force of th seasonal monsoon (July to September), which (as she shows in an innovative chapter packed with wind-velocity measurements) achieve sustained wind speeds of 40 km/h, with periodic peaks up to 60 km/h.
Since Juleff was not an archaeometallurgist (at least not yet!) and
there was no precedent for the technology that she proposed, her reconstruction
encountered intense scepticism from the archaeometalurgical community.
She countered this in the most effective way - by building full-scale replicas
and smelting iron in them successfully on four separate occasions, using
only the force of the monsoon wind. There can be no doubt that she is correct
and that the Sri Lankan furnaces, for which available dates run from the
seventh through the eleventh centuries AD, are a significant new chapter
in the history of metallurgy. Mathematical modelling of the windflow patterns
by David Wilson, an aeronautical engineer, explains why these furnaces
work. A complex pattern of boundary layer separation occurs
where the pasees over the lip of the front walls, producing a low pressure zone that draws air in through the tuyeres. This is NOT a natural draft furnace - Wilson's calculations suggest that the pressure drop achieved in these 0.5 m furnaces is equivalent to that in natural draft furnaces 3 to 6 m tall.
This is the kind of publication that sets new standards for an entire field. The quality of the fieldwork is very high, it is superbly documented, and it is all woven into a complex and extremely coherent argument. Furthermore, unlike much contemporary archaeometallurgy (and I am thinking here particularly of European and Latin American archaeometallurgy) this study stands out for its wide-ranging use of comparative material - African, European, Near Eastern, Indian and Japanese. In summary, this is about as good as it gets in our field.
David J Killick
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
There are numerous papers, pamphlets, theses etc on the Swansea copper trade but this is only the second book to be published on this topic in the last hundred years, the first being Grant-Francis, The Development of Copper Smelting in the Swansea District 1881. The author of this latest work, was, until his retirement, Professor of Geography at the University of Saskatchewan. Clearly an expert in this field he writes with verve and style and has produced a work of rigorous scholarship.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a belt of coastal smelters used locally produced coal and copper ores from, Cornwall, Anglesey, Cuba and Chile to produce virtually all of Britain’s copper and indeed that of much of the world.
Copper brought amazing wealth and prosperity to Swansea, and fortunes were made the remnants of which can still be seen today in the estates of the industrialists. However, this prosperity came at a price and led to conditions which would never be tolerated today. The smelting process produced not only mountains of slag but the smelters disgorged billowing clouds of toxic, foul-smelling smoke, laced with sulphur and arsenic. The pollution led to the death of crops and grazing animals and although farmers and landowners sought compensation from the copper companies, their appeals failed. The consequence was a series of dramatic `smoke’ trials that set industry against country, but such was the contribution of copper to the economy that questions about public health and the loss of attractive landscapes came a poor second best.
Eventually the prohibitive costs of shipping the concentrates shifted
the balance of advantages from siting the smelters near the coalfields
to locating them at the ore fields and in 1906 Rio Tinto moved its smelting
operations to Spain. Today copper is mined and smelted at remote
mountain and desert locations like, Sudbury, Ontario and Flin Flon, Manitoba.
The pollution is still there, and environmentalists may deplore the wastelands
of bare and blackened rock, but there are no farmers and landowners to
Any comments and suggestions for improvement would be welcome, as would any suggestions of new entries for the bibliography please e-mail me :- firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: 2nd Jan 2001
Created: 29th July 1999