Research into ancient mines, mining methods and metallurgy, now broadly subsumed under the title of archaeometallurgy, is a fairly young branch of archaeology and in its present form is about 30-40 years old. At its core are a number of enthusiastic archaeologists who have applied the techniques and philosophies of neighbouring disciplines and sciences (with varying degrees of understanding) to ask and then answer major questions about the inception, spread and development of mining and metallurgy. The most successful studies, like the decades-long investigation into copper mining and smelting at Timna (NNW of Aqaba and close to Eilat), have involved collaboration between archaeologists and non-archaeological specialists and the integration of excavation, post-excavation and experimental data. Less successful studies have been predominantly 'in-house' and have omitted to use primary sources or expertise.
Paul Craddock, based at the British Museum, is a long-established and well-travelled researcher into ancient metalwork and metal working. Alone, he has undertaken the responsibility for producing a wide-ranging book that will be regarded as the first attempt at a primer in archaeometallurgy.
His book, of 360 pages, comprises eight chapters, 34 pages of references (to 1993) and a short index. The text is augmented by many photographs and sketches together with a few graphs and tables. A short, first chapter that gives the history of, and current problems within, archaeometallurgy is followed by the longest chapter (70 pages) on the development of mining technology. This includes a geological/mineral deposits background and strongly features early mine sites in the British Isles. A chapter on the use of native copper, iron, gold and PGM is followed by a couple covering smelting from its beginnings to its final, refined state. The last three chapters are 'metallocentric', describing the history of lead and silver, iron and steel and, finally, volatile metals and alloys- namely, arsenical copper, brass and zinc.
Since the book is so wide-ranging, covering mainstream archaeology, geology, mining and mineral beneficiation, smelting and metallurgy, many of the data and lines of argument have to be taken on trust. It is therefore a pity that the early chapters (predominantly the geological/mineral deposit/mining ones) contain so many errors of fact, misconceptions, idiosyncratic use of terminology and paucity of primary references. On a single page, albeit one of the worst, there are 'hyperthernial' for hypothermal; ,...carbonate rocks such as calcite, goethite and siderite'; 'syngenie' for syngenetic; and 'In hard strong volcanic rocks such as granite...'. Elsewhere the book states 'The old red sandstones of the Hereynian Orgency [sic] ... cover two principal forms of copper mineralisation: primary quartz-sulphide veins and secondary sedimentary copper beds in the sandstones'-despite quoting all the references that clearly show that the sedimentary copper ores are earlier than the remobilized quartz-sulphide veins.
These and other similar errors are irritating but essentially trivial and only demonstrate the absence of scientific editing; others are damaging to archaeometallurgy. Perhaps the most significant of these are the descriptions and discussions of fahlerz the copper arsenic antimony ores of the tetrahedrite and enargite groups. These ores and their locations, both geographically and within an orebody, are central to the highly contentious debate on the origin, provenance and role of copper-arsenic alloys in the earliest Bronze Age of Europe. Numerous factual errors have entered into the archaeological literature relating to these ores and it is therefore very unfortunate that this book has elaborated rather than corrected them. Statements to the effect that they are pale, rather clayey ores formed at the base of the weathered horizon, full of exotic metals such as nickel, and their equivalent in lead-silver ores is jarosite (another clayey ore!) can only continue to mislead researchers.
The later chapters are more literature-based and descriptive and, to a non-specialist, both interesting and informative. Even here, however, the coverage is uneven. Most examples of metalwork and metalworking come from Britain and Europe, together with China, the Indian sub-continent and non- Spanish speaking North America. There is very little discussion of mining or metal working around the Pacific Basin apart from China and Japan (Southeast Asia or Central and South America) or in sub- Saharan Africa (Benin is absent from the index, despite the high profile of its bronzes in the British Museum). Even within those geographical areas that are well covered there is a parochial feeling. Bonsall Moor, a very minor lead-producing area to the west of Matlock in central England, is given far greater space (and photograph) than the Spanish mercury mine of Almaden (mentioned in the last paragraph of the book).
To try to review and summarize as large a field as archaeometallurgy, and to be the first, is perhaps an impossible task, doubly so if attempted unaided, and uneven coverage and a few factual errors are to be expected. Although this edition has to be read with care, a revised second edition, scientifically edited within each sub-discipline, would produce the valuable primer that is needed. It would be good if we did not have to wait too long.
Book review for Minerals Industry International. 1997. 44-47