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ARA8186 : Ancient Metals: Technology and Scientific Analysis

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Andrea Dolfini
  • Lecturer: Dr Chloe Duckworth, Dr Alasdair Charles
  • Technician: Ms Diana Blumberg
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The module introduces the archaeology and scientific analysis of ancient and historic metals, with special reference to copper alloys. By taking the the module, you will learn (1) how people mined and smelted the ore in antiquity; (2) how to understand the chemical composition of ancient metals by XRF analysis; (3) how to understand the microstructure and mechanical properties of metals by metallography; (4) how corrosion may alter the surface of ancient metals; and (5) how to understand manufacture and use of copper alloy tools and weapons by Metalwork Wear Analysis. As part of the module, you will learn and practise two cutting-edge techniques of metal analysis: metallography (including sample preparation and polishing); and metalwork wear analysis (using a stereomicroscope). You will also take part in a metal casting and working experiment to develop first-hand experience and practical understanding of some of the concepts introduced during classes. Teaching resources include archaeological metal artefacts from the Great North Museum collections, ore/mineral specimens, and replica Bronze Age objects from the School’s own teaching collections. The course is open to all Master’s students as it does not require any background knowledge of chemistry or materials science.

• To provide students with a critical understanding of ancient metals (especially copper alloys) including their extractive and manufacturing technologies.
• To provide students with the theoretical and practical skills needed to carry out metallography and metalwork wear analysis safely and independently.
• To introduce metalwork microstructure and surface corrosion.
• To introduce alloy composition analysis by X-Ray Fluorescence.

Outline Of Syllabus

- The chaîne opératoire of copper, gold and silver (and their main alloys): mining, smelting, casting, and finishing metalwork
- The chaîne opératoire of iron and steel: mining, smelting, and forging metalwork
- Understanding metals: microstructure and surface degradation
- Metallography: theory and practice including sample preparation
- XRF analysis: An introduction (including H&S)
- Metalwork wear analysis and optical microscopy: theory and practice

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture21:002:00PIP lectures
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion501:0050:00Guided independent work towards assessed student project
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical43:0012:00Metallography and wear analysis lab practicals
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical52:0010:00Lab practicals introducing core concept and methods
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities112:0022:00Recommended weekly reading and other supplementary learning material
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study194:0094:00Independent study
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDissertation/project related supervision52:0010:00Scheduled supervised lab time for independent student work leading to assessed project
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

- 1h lectures introduce metalwork microstructure and corrosion
- 2h lab practicals introduce and practise the main topics covered by the syllabus including the extractive technology and manufacture of copper and other metals; lab H&S; XRF analysis; and metal casting and working experiment.
- 3h lab practicals introduce and practise metallography and metalwork wear analysis.
- Project-related supervisions offer students opportunities to work on their assessed projects in supervised lab sessions.
- Assessment completion and preparation provides students with unsupervised time to work towards their assessed projects.
- Structured research and reading activities provide weekly opportunities to further subject knowledge through recommended reading and other supplementary learning material.
- Guided independent study provides students with independent study time.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination202M20In class exam consisting of a multiple-choice quiz evaluating knowledge and understanding of phase diagrams and alloy properties
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Report2A803000 word metalwork wear analysis report
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Reflective log1M500 word reflective log on the lab casting and metalworking experiment
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

- The class exam (multiple-choice quiz) evaluates knowledge and understanding of phase diagrams and alloy properties.
- The 3000 word analytical report evaluates students’ ability to carry out the Metalwork Wear Analysis of a small assemblage of archaeological copper alloys safely, proficiently, and independently. It also tests their ability to critically interpret the analytical data in light of the archaeological literature and draw inferences of general validity. The report shall include an archaeological contextualisation of the objects.
- The formative assessment - a 500 word reflective log commenting on the lab casting and metalworking experiment - helps students reflect on how experimental/practical knowledge enhances and complements academic/scientific learning

Reading Lists