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Optical metallography, when complemented by compositional analysis, can reveal in some detail the various kinds of treatment that a metal artifact has experienced during its manufacture, and suggest what practical properties it might be expected to have, such as strength against fracture or an ability to take a keen edge. Groups of artifacts from excavated contexts then can be used to pinpoint crucial moments of change in metalworking traditions, while intra-and inter-regional comparisons of technological styles can enhance our understanding of metals, both mundane and precious, in their social context.

At the Penn Museum, we have specialized in the copper-to-bronze transition in Old World metallurgy-particularly how that transition played out in early Mesopotamia and Thailand-and in the development of copper, iron, and gold metallurgy of the New World, the latter studies focusing of the exquisite items recovered during the Museum's excavations at Sitio Conte, in Panama.

Left: Copper spear-point
(As, 3.0%; Sn, <0.016%; Ni, 4.8%)
Ur, private grave 1733
ED III (circa 2150–2000 B.C.)
Inv. 31-17-222
Photograph: Lindsay Shafer, MASCA


Note that the specialized metallurgical terms used in this website are defined and illustrated in our Glossary.

The Development of Metal Production on the Iranian Plateau: An Archaeometallurgical Perspective

Reconstructing the Copper Production Process as Practised among Prehistoric Mining/Metallurgical Communities in the Khao Wong Prachan Valley of Central Thailand

Valley Forge: The Making of Iron in the Eighteenth Century

Goldworking Techniques at Sitio Conte: Hammering and Casting

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