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Meroitic Iron Production (Sudan)


Dr Jane Humphris, a research fellow at UCL Qatar investigating early iron production in Sudan, travelled to the Meroitic site of Hamadab in 2012 to join the ‘Hamadab and Meroë Royal Baths’ project of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI). Led by Dr Pawel Wolf, archaeological research at the site of Hamadab has been ongoing for a number of years, and continues to reveal much about life at this urban settlement. One aspect of the site that had remained unexplored until now are the extensive remains associated with a major iron producing industry. 

In addition to a significant (and largely unexplored) archaeometallurgical potential, there exists an emotive debate as to whether iron production in fact entered sub-Saharan Africa from Meroë, or was instead independently invented at one or more locations to the south and/or west. Hence this new research, the first in decades to attempt to understand of Meroitic iron technologies, will both generate data from which a much enriched view of the role and impact of technology during Meroitic times, and allow for a broader consideration of the position of Meroitic iron production within debates surrounding the origins of iron in Africa.

Excavations at Meroë

The fieldwork began with an extensive ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey. The results of this survey were combined with data produced during a pervious megnetometry survey, in the hope that the locations of ancient furnaces would be revealled. In total, six large trenches were excavated both within and close to the iron production remains, and nearly 700 archaeometallurgical and associated archaeological samples were collected and shipped to UCL Qatar for laboratory anaysis. These samples included numerous charcoal samples which which were collected for wood species identification and radiocarbon dating. To ensure that the research produces a sound chronological framework for the iron production remains, radiation dosimeters were placed within the sections of the trenches. These will be collected next season and will allow for the callibration of luminescence dates which will compliment the radiocarbon sequence. 

As of 2013, laboratory analysis of findings is underway, with Dr Humphris continuing excavations in Sudan.