Experimental smelting of iron ores from Elba Island (Tuscany, Italy): Results and implications for the reconstruction of ancient metallurgical processes and iron provenance

Publication date: June 2016
Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 70
Author(s): M. Benvenuti, A. Orlando, D. Borrini, L. Chiarantini, P. Costagliola, C. Mazzotta, V. Rimondi
Iron deposits from Elba Island (Tuscan Archipelago) were extensively exploited since the 1st millennium BC: both raw iron ore and smelted blooms were extensively traded through the Mediterranean region. Within the frame of the multidisciplinary research Project “AITHALE” (from the Greek name for Elba Island), we have performed a series of archaeometallurgical experiments primarily to investigate the traceability of Elban iron ores during the various steps of the chaîne opératoire of bloomery iron production. Results of experiments performed both in the field (reconstruction of a bloomery furnace) and in the laboratory (smelting experiments carried out in a gas mixing furnace) are discussed in the text. Slags produced by smelting of W-Sn-rich iron (hematite) ores, like those from Elba island, show the presence of these elements in phases of their own, either relic (scheelite, ferberite, cassiterite) and/or newly formed (iron-tin alloys). Iron bloom obtained from this kind of iron ore could also bear evidence of the peculiar geochemistry of smelted ore, with tungsten preferentially associated with slag inclusions and tin eventually enriched in the metallic phase.