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Gold and silver production in imperial China: Technological choices in their social-economic and environmental settings

Liu, S; (2015) Gold and silver production in imperial China: Technological choices in their social-economic and environmental settings. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The production of gold and silver was of major importance for almost all ancient societies around the world but has been rarely studied archaeologically. The high flexibility of this production process allows it to be conducted through various technological routes, while the choice among these potential routes was mainly determined by the producers’ social-economic and environmental settings. The comparison of these choices in different settings can therefore reveal information about numerous facets of ancient societies. The subject of this thesis is to study the gold and silver smelting technology in imperial China based on archaeological materials from the sites of Baojia, Mengshan and Yanchuan, all broadly dated to the Tang-Yuan period (7th-14th century AD). The archaeometallurgical approaches were employed to investigate the production remains such as slag, furnace fragment, crucible and fuel-ash slag directly generated from the smelting processes, and to reconstruct the chaîne opératoire for these three sites. A range of unique technologies identified at these sites depicted a diversified picture of gold and silver production in imperial China. Iron reduction process (IRP) and iron oxide reduction process (IORP) were identified to be the main mechanisms for smelting the precious metal-bearing lead sulphide ores, while both furnaces and the coal-fired crucibles were used as the reaction containers. The dynamic relationships between the smelting technology and their broader context are examined to reveal a range of factors which constrained the technological choices of the smelters and led to the formation of varied technological traditions in the different regions of China. This research also contributes to the development of the characterisation and interpretation methodology for the precious metal and lead smelting remains within and beyond China, and demonstrates the strength of a combination of high resolution technological reconstructions and contextualised comparative studies in the inquiry of the pre-modern craft production systems.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Gold and silver production in imperial China: Technological choices in their social-economic and environmental settings
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: Archaeometallurgy, Smelting, Silver, Gold, Lead, Iron reduction process, Crucible, Coal
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1471168
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