By the hand of the smelter: tracing the impact of decision-making in bloomery iron smelting

Ivan S. Stepanov, Lee Sauder, Jake Keen, Vanessa Workman, Adi Eliyahu-Behar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Slag analyses from archaeological iron smelting sites are common. Rigorous analyses of iron and slag from successful experimental smelting, however, are still rare. Furthermore, thorough analyses from a series of smelts, and of the slag produced in different phases of the smelt, are exceedingly rare. The present study investigates the effect of an iron smelter’s decision-making and skills on the products of the smelting process: iron and slag. Four smelting experiments were carried out in a shaft furnace with slag tapping using iron ores from the Southern Levant. Using various analytical techniques, including portable X-ray fluorescence, optical and electron microscopy, metallography, and hardness tests enabled us to correlate the properties of the final products with adjustment of various parameters during the smelting process. The latter include airflow and charging rate, temperature, residence time in the reducing zone, ore-charcoal ratio, and control of the slag characteristics. Results obtained allowed us to empirically demonstrate the direct impact of decisions made by the smelter during the complex technological practice of bloomery smelting. Analysis also highlights the benefits of moderately reducing conditions controlled by the smelter to produce good-quality, low-carbon iron, which is particularly relevant within the geological setting of the Southern Levant.

Original languageEnglish
Article number80
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


This study was funded by the Israel Science Foundation grant no. 1047/17 to A. Eliyahu-Behar, which enabled the experiments to take place and provided the means for the scientific analysis. The authors are grateful to Lina Maria Campos Quintero and Maria Eniukhina for their valuable help in sampling, documentation, and photography during experiments. Warm thanks are due to Yoav and Tamar Hanan for providing us with the amazing infrastructure for the smelting experiments and for?their hospitality during these two seasons. We also thank colleagues from Ariel University: Konstantin Borodianskiy, Michael Korpushenko, and Natali Litvak, for their help in sample analyses, and Vincent Serneels (University of Fribourg), Nathinel Erb-Satullo (Cranfield University), and Sylvain Bauvais (CNRS) for fruitful discussions and help with finding some literature sources. We appreciate suggestions and comments made by an anonymous reviewer that helped to improve this paper to its current state.

FundersFunder number
Nathinel Erb-Satullo
Sylvain Bauvais
Cranfield University
Israel Science Foundation1047/17
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Université de Fribourg
Ariel University


    • Bloomery iron smelting
    • Experimental archaeology
    • Shaft furnace
    • Slag analysis
    • Southern Levant


    Dive into the research topics of 'By the hand of the smelter: tracing the impact of decision-making in bloomery iron smelting'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this