EMU Volume 20 – Chapter 5

The Contribution of Mineralogy to Cultural Heritage

Chapter 5. Mineralogy of slags: A key approach for our understanding of ancient copper smelting processes

D. Bourgarit

Copper was the first metal to have been smelted (extracted from its ore) some seven thousands year ago in the ancient Near East. For most pre-industrial periods, the documentation of copper smelting chaine operatoire relies mainly on investigations by archaeometallurgists of the metallurgical waste recovered during archaeological excavations, namely the copper slags. Copper slags are mostly an assemblage of crystals of oxides (iron, manganese, etc.), olivine (fayalite, etc.) and/or pyroxenes embedded in a polymetallic more-or-less glassy matrix. The mineralogy of the slags is directly related to the initial charge and the working conditions prevailing in the pyrometallurgical reactor. This chapter aims to give an overview of how copper slag mineralogy is investigated and the type of information it yields in order to help our understanding of past metallurgies and societies.

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