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Bronze metallurgy in the Late Phrygian settlement of Gordion, Turkey


A detailed understanding of bronze production remains absent in most archaeological contexts, despite the fundamental importance of this alloy. Here, we present a comprehensive discussion of the bronze production remains from Late Phrygian/Achaemenid Gordion: crucibles, moulds and casting waste and their find contexts. A detailed microscopic analysis of crucibles is complemented by chemical characterisation of their main materials (ceramic and slag) in order to discuss the technical performance of the crucibles and to evaluate the materials used for the metallurgical process. Given the lack of contemporary parallels, repeated reference is made to the Egyptian crucibles from Pi-Ramesse, for which similarly detailed descriptions are available. The crucible analyses are then connected to the other production remains to obtain a more holistic understanding of the metallurgical process. Finally, these technical observations are interpreted in their particular archaeological context at Gordion and discussed from a wider perspective. The results presented here offer the first detailed overview of bronze production for ancient Phrygia, as well as the wider region. Through the inclusion of extensive online supplementary data, this paper offers a detailed technical overview of ancient (bronze) crucible analysis, of which very few examples are currently available in the wider literature.

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  1. 1.

    Gordion Project website:

  2. 2.

    In a subsequent article Young cites the evidence from the foundry as ‘...ample evidence for a local bronzeworking industry operating as early as the middle of the seventh century’ (Young 1958, p. 228). In fact, no direct evidence for local bronzeworking in the seventh or eighth century has ever been found at Gordion. An argument for its existence in these periods was instead based on the sheer number of typologically similar bronzes (especially fibulae) found in tombs (Young 1955, n. 6; see also Young 1981, p. 247).

  3. 3.

    All information on the foundry comes from the excavation of Trench NCTA3 by Jeanny Vorys Canby, Gordion NBK 39, Gordion Archives.

  4. 4.

    Avoiding quartz in the analysis of the ceramic part would result in a biased (lower) silica content for the ceramic w.r.t. the slag (where quartz is included either as part of the glassy matrix or as undissolved fragments), skewing comparisons between the two. Quartz content may indeed vary from frame to frame, depending on the dominant minerals present in the analysed area. As such, a single frame may be biased w.r.t. overall ceramic composition, but averaging of multiple frames counters this effect. Here, quartz fragments are relatively well distributed and smaller than the analysis frame, resulting in stable measurements of silica content for the crucible ceramic. This is apparent from the low variation in silica measured for each crucible (cfr. standard deviations and value ranges reported for silica in section 3.2 of the OSM: typically σ rel≈2%), and across the crucible assemblage (Fig. 7).

  5. 5.

    Due to differences noted between Gordion-23707 and Gordion-28236, and limited (three) samples analysed of this aberrant, marl-based fabric, the average composition in Table 2 has a high standard deviation w.r.t. the general population.

  6. 6.

    Relative increases in oxide ratios to alumina are calculated as: ΔMeO/Al2O3=\( \frac{\frac{{\mathrm{MeO}}_{\mathrm{slag}}}{{{\mathrm{Al}}_2{\mathrm{O}}_3}_{\mathrm{slag}}}-\frac{{\mathrm{MeO}}_{\mathrm{ceramic}}}{{{\mathrm{Al}}_2{\mathrm{O}}_3}_{\mathrm{ceramic}}}}{\frac{{\mathrm{MeO}}_{\mathrm{ceramic}}}{{{\mathrm{Al}}_2{\mathrm{O}}_3}_{\mathrm{ceramic}}}} \)

  7. 7.

    The dross layer was measured separately for five crucibles; averages here represent five times five measurements.

  8. 8.

    The pXRF analysis of these moulds took place in 2012 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology as a means of sorting through the assemblage for sample selection. This data was obtained using their recently acquired handheld XRF (HH-XRF) device (Bruker Tracer III SD, S/N: T3S165q, yellow filter11, 45 s live-time), which had not been calibrated for quantitative analysis. Raw spectra were visually inspected to look at presence/absence of elements, in order to assess variability in the assemblage.

  9. 9.

    This is especially true compared with that seen in Pi-Ramesse crucible slag: up to 600% ΔFeO/Al2O3 (Rademakers et al. 2013). Similarly, lime enrichment is ca. 10 times lower in the Gordion crucibles (cfr. ‘Charcoal and fuel ash contribution’).

  10. 10.

    In cupellation processes, a precious metal (e.g. silver) is molten with excess lead, which under oxidising conditions forms lead oxide (litharge). This litharge incorporates the base metals contaminating the precious metal, thereby purifying it (Bayley 1996; Bayley et al. 2008).


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Results presented in this paper are part of the first author’s PhD research undertaken at the UCL Institute of Archaeology (Rademakers 2015), which was funded by an ESR fellowship from the European Union: Marie Curie ITN (FP7-PEOPLE-2010) NARNIA project (grant 265010, led by V. Kassianidou). Unless otherwise noted, all analyses were undertaken at the Wolfson Archaeological Science Laboratories, UCL Institute of Archaeology. We want to thank Harriet White for her tireless support in the sample preparation lab and Kevin Reeves for his valuable help in the SEM lab. We would further like to thank Alison Fields for compiling field notes on the foundry evidence excavated by Young, and Peter Grave and Lisa Kealhofer for sharing their thoughts on the available Gordion ceramic data. Finally, the first author would like to thank Naomi Miller and the other staff at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology for their hospitality during his brief research stay there in the framework of this study. All modern archaeological research at Gordion (1950–2006) has been sponsored and supported by the University of Pennsylvania Museum; the College of William and Mary has been a co-sponsor since 1991, and the Royal Ontario Museum co-sponsored work carried out between 1994 and 2002. Excavation and survey at Gordion since 1988 has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH, a US federal agency), the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the National Geographic Society, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Kress Foundation, the IBM Foundation, the Tanberg Trust and by gifts from generous private donors. Anonymous reviewers’ comments have helped to strengthen this paper, and are greatly appreciated. Any remaining shortcomings are our own.

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Correspondence to Frederik W. Rademakers.

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Rademakers, F.W., Rehren, T. & Voigt, M.M. Bronze metallurgy in the Late Phrygian settlement of Gordion, Turkey. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 10, 1645–1672 (2018).

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  • Phrygia
  • Achaemenid
  • Bronze metallurgy
  • Crucible analysis
  • Moulds