A group of Newcastle University students have been attempting to recreate the metal smelting techniques used by our prehistoric ancestors.

The students have been working with Jarrow Hall Anglo-Saxon Farm in South Tyneside to try to understand how materials like copper were made in the distant past.

Their experiments have been based on discoveries made in Pyrgos-Mavroraki near Limassol in Cyprus.

Thanks to its extensive ore deposits, Cyprus was an important centre of metalworking from the Bronze Age to the Roman period.

Most of the copper used during that time around the Mediterranean is thought to have been mined and smelted on Cyprus.

Excavations conducted over the last decade have found evidence of metal workshops and pit-type furnaces at Pyrgos-Mavroraki.

In addition to recreating the Cyprus-style furnaces, the Newcastle team have been using models of blowpipes with ceramic nozzles that were discovered on the island.

PhD student Marco Romeo Pitone, who is leading the project, said, “The site at Pyrgos-Mavroraki was abandoned around 1,800 B.C. so this is a very early moment for metalworking in Cyprus.”

“The discoveries that have been made there are exceptional for a site dating back this far.”

“But we still don’t fully understand the specialist techniques these ancient smiths used so the challenge now is to put together the archaeological evidence and try to recreate how it might have been done.”

“Our experiments will help us to get answers to questions such as how long smelting took, how much copper could be produced, what sort of fuel was needed to get the required temperatures and how many people it might have involved.”

The Newcastle University team – made up of five PhD students – will be involved with similar projects over the coming months. One of these projects will see them cooperate with Sunderland’s National Glass Centre to investigate how glass was produced in Anglo-Saxon times.

The team – who have set up the research group Experimental Archaeology at Newcastle (EXARN) – will be running their last copper smelting session at Jarrow Hall (formerly Bede’s World) today (27th July) between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm.

Tomorrow (28th July) the EXARN team will give a free lecture at 3.00 pm, also at Jarrow Hall. Both the lecture and the smelting experiment will be open to the public.

(Featured image courtesy of Stephen Dann, from Flickr Creative Commons.)

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