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Some problems and potentials of the study of cupellation remains: the case of post-medieval Montbeliard

Martinón-Torres, M; Thomas, N; Rehren, T; Mongiatti, A; (2008) Some problems and potentials of the study of cupellation remains: the case of post-medieval Montbeliard. ArcheoSciences: Revue d'Archeometrie , 32 pp. 59-70. Green open access

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Abstract

Bone-ash cupels are increasingly identified in medieval and later archaeological contexts related to the refining of noble metals in alchemy, assaying, jewellery or coin minting. These small finds may provide information on metal refining activities, the technical knowledge of different craftspeople, and the versatility of laboratory practices, which often differed from the standard protocols recorded in metallurgical treatises. This paper is centred around a late 16th-early 17th century cupel excavated in Montbéliard, France. The analytical study by optical microscopy, ED-XRF and SEM-EDS allows the cupel to be ascribed to the assaying of the silver content of an ore sample, which is supported by local historical and geological information. The manufacture of the cupel, made of a mixture of wood ash and bone ash, is also addressed, as well as the limited technical efficiency of the operation. This leads to a wider discussion of different recipes for the manufacture of cupels, documented historically and archaeologically, and involving the combination of various raw materials such as bone, wood ashes and clay. This variability raises interesting questions about the existence of diverse technical traditions, and the material properties and performance of different cupels in their specific contexts. In order to facilitate comparisons, we propose that the study of cupellation remains is most informative when it combines microscopy and microanalysis. The role of experimental approaches to these questions is also discussed.

Type: Article
Title: Some problems and potentials of the study of cupellation remains: the case of post-medieval Montbeliard
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://archeosciences.revues.org/948
Language: English
Additional information: With permission of ArcheoSciences: Revue d'Archeometrie.
Keywords: Assaying, bone ash, cupellation, ore, performance characteristics, silver
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 SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/93669
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