Early extractive iron metallurgy in N Greece : a unified approach to regional archaeometallurgy
Aspects of early Greek extractive iron metallurgy are investigated here, for the first time, with particular emphasis on Macedonia, Greece's most metals-rich province. The subject is approached experimentally by considering equally the ores, slag and artefacts of iron in Macedonia, through the analytical examination of archaeological slag and artefacts, the experimental smelting of Macedonian ores and subsequent analytical investigation of the slag and blooms produced. The mineral resources geology of Macedonia is presented. The historical background to mining and metal working in Macedonia from the Early Iron Age (tenth century BC) to the turn of the present century is documented. The literature on the introduction of iron into Greece, and the East Mediterranean more generally, is critically reviewed, and in the light of results obtained, especially from Thasos, it is argued that the origins of iron making in Macedonia, if not elsewhere in Greece, should be sought locally during the Late Bronze Age. Despite the absence of excavated furnace remains, it has been possible, through analytical examination of metallurgical waste, to trace the operation of the bloomery in Macedonia continuously for nearly thirty centuries. That a considerable variety of iron ores were exploited was elucidated by the analysis of slag inclusions in a large number of iron artefacts from Vergina and from sites on Thasos and the East Macedonian Mainland, spanning chronologically the Early Iron Age to the Byzantine period. The titanium-rich magnetite sands on Thasos and at Vrontou on the Mainland were shown to have been worked from the Hellenistic/Roman to the turn of this century. A second century BC nickel-rich bloom found at the Hellenistic site at Petres in West Macedonia testified, for the first time, to the smelting of nickel-rich iron laterites in Greece, while the manganese-rich iron deposits in Palaia Kavala district were worked for their precious metals content, probably during Ottoman times and perhaps as early as the Classical period. It is suggested that the Skapte Hyle of the classical texts may be located in the Palaia Kavala district. A fresh appraisal of the depiction of furnaces on Black and Red Figure Attic vases of the sixth and fifth centuries BC suggests that the bloomery process may have developed at that time to a level not previously suspected. The classical texts, the function of the cauldron on the furnace top and experimental meltings carried out in the process of this work all point to the production of wrought iron/steel through the decarburisation of high carbon iron in a fining hearth. It is argued that the furnaces depicted on the vases are themselves fining hearths, the cauldron sealing the furnace top in order for the air blast to be directed over the molten mass.