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Medieval copper smelting in the Harz Mountains, Germany

Asmus, B.; (2011) Medieval copper smelting in the Harz Mountains, Germany. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

The Rammelsberg deposit in the Harz mountains in Germany is among the largest metal deposits in the world and has been in continuous use for more than a millennium. There is much controversy as to the nature of the metals produced and the processes involved from the ores of this deposit. This thesis deals with the largest and most accurately excavated smelting site of the high medieval period in the Harz mountains called Huneberg and may be regarded as typical for region and period. Traditionally historians connect the Rammelsberg with silver production, the mining historians, however point out that the deposit is too poor in silver and that copper was produced in the high medieval period. Modern economical literature classifies the Rammelsberg as a lead-zinc deposit. To contribute towards the understanding of these questions an archaeometric study of archaeometallurgic waste- and byproducts, such as slag, furnace lining, furnace wall, litharge and spilled metal drops was undertaken. It builds the base of the interpretation of the metallurgical activities that have taken place at the Huneberg and is contrasted with previous studies. It is suggested that copper, lead and silver in form of argentiferous lead were produced on site, using a complex multi-step process, taking full advantage of the numerous structural features of the site, e.g. the three furnaces present on the site. Successive smelting episodes produced black copper of increasing purity as well as a rather rich argentiferous lead. Because the site is similar to may other sites it is further suggested the mode of metal production at the Huneberg followed a more or less stringent set of recipes and traditions. The mass of 1600 kg slag recovered from the site suggest a copper production of some 600 kg or less, depending on the ore quality. Lead is thought to have been produced in similar quantities, which in turn would mean that the site produced also 1.4 kg of silver during its operation.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Medieval copper smelting in the Harz Mountains, Germany
Language:English
Additional information:Permission for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Institute of Archaeology

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