Melter smelter: Exploring the implications of part-time low-intensity copper casting in the pre-smelting Chalcolithic

19th December 2012

Katherine Deverson

Over 70 years ago, Gordon Childe investigated prehistoric metallurgy, identifying it as a full-time specialised craft that helped give rise to regional state societies and a new ‘elite’ governing class. Archaeological evidence today, however, presents a different picture of the beginnings of metal production, suggesting that the earliest metal workers may have maintained their craft with less intensity. Through an examination of available literature and controlled replicative experiments, this project explores the implications of part-time, low-intensity copper casting in the early Chalcolithic. This research highlights the validity of experimental archaeology in bridging the past and present, and its ability to address both technical and, to a certain extent, social questions.

Results demonstrate that the casting process was a relatively simple endeavour that could have been carried out successfully with few specialised items of equipment, relatively low demands on fuel, and by a few individuals without specialist skills. It was found that choices in design of materials used in copper casting had little bearing on the efficiency of the process, but that the quantity of those materials was the determining factor. Providing preliminary data, this project could be built upon with further research into a wider range of variables, and could extend into later technical advances in metal production, such as smelting. Such investigations may also be able to identify design choice motivations. This project demonstrates that part-time metal workers, or non-specialists, could have maintained the early copper casting industry, provided they were able to access resources through extra-household exchange relationships.

Katherine Deverson
Melter smelter: Exploring the implications of part-time low-intensity copper casting in the pre-smelting Chalcolithic
2012
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Thesis Abstracts
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