The research department for archaeometallurgy was founded in 1990, with the support of the Volkswagen Foundation, to cater to researchers’ increasing interest in the extraction and distribution of metals in (pre-)historic times. Archaeometallurgy – a specialized field of archaeometry – uses scientific methods to investigate questions in archaeology, cultural history and the history of technology. The exceptionally well-equipped Materials Laboratory enables us to carry out this work.
The significance of archaeometry, at the intersection between archaeology and science, is steadily increasing. There is growing recognition that analysing the materials of finds and features can make a substantial contribution to solving problems in cultural history. The fact is that it would be unusual, nowadays, to find an archaeological excavation in which no scientists were involved. A broad and varied field of application is opening up here for geoscientists, chemists, physicists, biologists, medical scientists and engineers.
The participation of natural scientists in archaeological research projects has long since gone beyond the status of an “auxiliary science”; in many areas of archaeometry they have attained a level of authority which is changing the focus of humanities research. Examples of this are the results of modern dating techniques, geophysical prospection methods, isotope analysis, or biochemical and anthropological methods of investigation.
The extraction and distribution of metals in ancient times is important for our understanding of cultural, economic and political matters: metals shaped cultures. This is what makes archaeometallurgy – a specialist field of archaeometry – especially important. This department works closely with the research department for mining archaeology.
The scientifically oriented projects of archaeometallurgy are a synthesis of fieldwork and analytics; generally several analytical techniques are used to find solutions. The focus of archaeometallurgy is on geochemical and mineralogical analyses and on isotope analyses (lead, copper, osmium), which are carried out in collaboration with partner institutions. A number of techniques for materials analysis are applied. When examining gold, non-destructive techniques are very important. The results obtained are interpreted in close collaboration with the department of mining archaeology.