Frederik Rademakers

Into the crucible. Methodological approaches to reconstructing crucible metallurgy, from New Kingdom Egypt to Late Roman Bulgaria

My research focuses on the study of metallurgical crucible assemblages, which I approach through a number of case studies from the Eastern Mediterranean.

As a first case study, I am investigating the metallurgical activity in Qantir – Pi-Ramesse, the capital of Ramses II. This is a well-established context in the Late Bronze Age (13th century BC), where copper metallurgy is taking place in a setting of large scale high-temperature processes, including glass, faience and Egyptian Blue production, under royal control.

My second case study takes me across the Mediterranean, into Late Phrygian/Achaemenid (6th-4th century BC) Gordion. This is again a large urban centre: the capital of the Phrygians and an important trade centre under Persian rule. The specific setting however is different from that of Qantir – Pi-Ramesse, though it is also very well documented as to archaeological context.

The third case study lies further north, in the Balkans, and brings me into the Late Roman period (2nd-5th century AD). Material from urban contexts such as Serdica and Nicopolis ad Istrum, important Roman provincial centres, will be investigated. Evidence here is scarcer, though also well documented, and this case study will serve to illustrate a more common situation in archaeology.

The main research material consists of crucible remains, and to a lesser extent metal remains, which are investigated using optical microscopy and SEM(-EDS) to reconstruct the technological processes and material use. Metal prills are extracted from the crucibles for lead isotope analysis, to be related to lead isotope analysis of metal remains (scrap, ingots and objects).

For each of the three case studies, my aim is to reconstruct and contextualise the metallurgical activities. This involves the reconstruction of the technical processes, material use and the organisation of metal production both on the site and regional scale. No relation exists between these sites and each case study stands on its own: results from the technological reconstruction are interpreted within their particular archaeological and regional/historical context.

The overarching goal of this research is to evaluate methodological approaches to the study of crucibles and crucible assemblages by comparing the results for these three examples, not in terms of technology, but by evaluating the influence of varying crucible typology, preservation, abundance, contextual information, and sample availability. Despite their informative value and common occurrence in (urban) archaeological contexts, crucible assemblages are not often studied in detail and a general approach for researchers has not been defined. Therefore, a final aim is to formulate more general recommendations for examining ancient crucible assemblages.

Funding organisation

  • European Commission – FP7 Marie Curie Initial Training Network


Educational background

  • BA, Mechanical Engineering, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 2008
  • MA, Geotechnical and Mining Engineering, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 2010
  • BA, Archaeology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 2011

Rademakers, F. W., Rehren, Th. and Pusch, E. B. (forthcoming): Bronze production in Pi-Ramesse: alloying technology and material use, in Ben-Yosef, E. and Goren, Y. (eds.): Mining for Copper: Essays in Honor of Professor Beno Rothenberg, Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv

"Heterogeneity in the crucible. Some methodological issues for reconstructing ancient crucible metallurgy", Frederik Rademakers and Thilo Rehren. Poster presented at the 40th International Symposium on Archaeometry, 19-23 May 2014, Los Angeles, USA

"Tin oxide in crucible slag. From slag crystals to technological choices in bronze production", Frederik Rademakers and Thilo Rehren. Poster presented at the Historical Metallurgy Society 50th Anniversary Conference, 14-16 June, 2013, London, United Kingdom

"Bronze production in Pi-Ramesse: Alloying technology and material use", Frederik Rademakers, Thilo Rehren and Edgar Pusch. Paper presented at the Timna Park International Conference - Mining for Copper: Environment, Culture and Copper in Antiquity, 22-25 Aprill, 2013, Timna, Israel

“Urban bronze metallurgy in Pi-Ramesse”, Frederik Rademakers, Thilo Rehren and Edgar Pusch. Poster presented at 39th International Symposium on Archaeometry: “50 years of ISA”, 28 May – 1 June 2012, Leuven, Belgium

“Ancient urban copper metallurgy in Qantir – Pi-Ramesse”, Frederik Rademakers, Thilo Rehren and Edgar Pusch. Paper presented at International Conference on Copper and Trade in the South Eastern Mediterranean, 5-7 May 2012, Krakow, Poland

  • Crucible fragment from Qantir, showing slagged interior surface.
  • High-tin bronze prill, indicative of alloying at Qantir. (BSE SEM image)
  • Slag in Qantir crucible, showing cubic crystals of oxidised copper in a pore to the right and oxidised tin (white) to the left. (BSE SEM image)

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