Thilo Rehren

Thilo Rehren

Research Interests

Materials made or processed through pyrotechnology are an integral part of the last ten thousand years or so of human culture, and often form the majority of the material remains recovered from archaeological excavations. My interest lies in reconstructing and understanding of the processes used in the production of metals, glass and glazes, world-wide. Metal and glass artefacts are made typically through a combination of inexorable physico-chemical requirements (fixed laws of Nature), and organisational or behavioural aspects which are culture-specific and can therefore vary widely. Stripping out the fixed parameters in the technology gives access to the variable ones - revealing culture. I approach the interpretation of these materials and technological processes through data obtained by microscopic (optical and electron microscopy) and chemical analyses (by electron microprobe, X-ray fluorescence and other methods) of 'technical' finds, such as raw materials, intermediate and semi-finished artefacts, and waste products, where possible in conjunction with archaeological and historical textual sources. By identifying and defining the physico-chemical constraints I hope to isolate the culturally determined variables which can then be interpreted within a historically and theoretically informed research agenda. Current projects include work on glass and metal production in the Egyptian Late Bronze Age, the Iron Age to Classical Antiquity in SE Europe and the Mediterranean, and the Medieval Period in Europe and Central Asia. 

Research Directory Records

Current Projects

The materials I am studying are drawn from a range of sources, including museum collections, surveys, rescue and research excavations. Currently, my primary involvement in archaeological fieldwork is the excavation of a Late Bronze Age (Ramesside) industrial and military complex in Qantir/Pi-Ramesse in the eastern Nile delta, directed by Dr. Edgar Pusch of the Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim. Since 1997, this has led to major new discoveries concerning the production of glass in New Kingdom Egypt, as reported in numerous papers and conference presentations, and a two-volume monograph following an AHRC-funded sabbatical in early 2007. The glass and faience-related research is still ongoing, and current work centres on the remains of the largest known pre-modern bronze casting installations, and the identification of lime kilns in Pharaonic Egypt.

Until recently, I co-directed several excavation seasons in Eastern Uzbekistan, focussing on the investigation of the early Islamic steel-making industry, and glass and glazed pottery production in and around Akhsiket, a major site in the Ferghana Valley. This project was undertaken in cooperation with Dr. Abdulhamid Anarbaev from the Institute of Archaeology, Uzbek Academy of Sciences, Tashkent, and funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

Collections-based current research includes the study of urban metallurgy in SE Europe, in co-operation with the Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, in Sofia, the 13th Ephorate for Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in Volos, Greece, and the Department of Archaeology, University of Belgrade. Of particular interest at the moment is the study of the earliest metal smelting documented so far, from c 5000 BC in Belovode, Serbia, and the development of arsenical copper as a major alloy into the Early Bronze Age, from Serbia through Turkey into Iran.

More recently, I have gone back to South American metallurgy in Peru and Chile, building on earlier work in Ecuador and Bolivia. In Peru, I have joined a team from UCLA to study pre-Colonial silver production in and around Puno, and in Chile I am working with Dr Blanca Maldonado, currently an Alexander von Humboldt-Fellow based in Mannheim, to study early copper smelting in northern Chile.

My involvement in Chinese archaeology began with a collaboration some years ago with Professor MEI Jianjun from the Institute for Historical Metals and Materials at the University of Science and Technology Beijing; at present, I am Visiting Professor there, co-supervising the doctoral research of CHEN Kunlong on early bronzes and LIN Yi-Xian on early glass in China. Yi-Xian is now a Newton International Fellow at the Institute, extending her resaerch into early glass and pigment use for ebads in NW China. A formal co-operation agreement of the UCL Institute of Archaeology with the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Emperor Qin Shihuang has led to an ongoing doctoral study of the composition of the metal implements of the army by one of their staff, Janice LI (supervised by Marcos Martinón-Torres). Due to this involvement in Chinese archaeology, I have been asked to be the Executive Director of the ICCHA.

Educational Background

  • 1984 Diplom-Mineraloge, TU Clausthal (Mineralogy, Economic Geology, Non-ferrous Metallurgy)
  • 1988 Dr. rer.nat., University Freiburg (Petrology and Volcanology of Nisyros, an island in the Eastern Aegean)
  • 1989 Six month postdoc at the Department of Materials, Oxford University (Dr. JP Northover, Chris Salter)
  • 1990 to 1999 Research Scientist at the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, Institut fuer Archaeometallurgie, Curator of the museum's Geological Collections
  • 1998 Dr.-Ing. habil., TU Bergakademie Freiberg (Crucible metallurgy in Antiquity)
  • 1999 Professor for Archaeological Materials and Technologies at the Institute of Archaeology UCL.


Current Students

  • Umberto Veronesi The alchemy of early Modern glass: Philosophy, modern science and the market at Oxford's Officina Chimica (principal supervisor Marcos Martinon-Torres)

Past Students

  • Persian Crucible Steel Production in Central Iran (Rahil Alipour, PhD 2017)
  • Archaeological and archaeometric analysis of Neo-Assyrian palace ware (Alice Hunt, PhD 2012)
  • A geography of iron smelting in highland Tanzania (Edwinus Lyaya, PhD 2013)
  • Metal workers and smelting precincts: an archaeometallurgical investigation of copper production in the Northern Lowveld, South Africa, c.AD 700 - 1900 (Thomas Thondhlana, PhD 2013)
  • The earliest high-fired glazed ceramics in China: Scientific studies of the proto-porcelains from Zhejiang during the Shang and Zhou periods (c.1700-221 BC) (Min Yin, joint supervision with Ian Freestone)
  • The origins of metallurgy in Europe: Metal production in the Vinča culture (Miljana Radivojevic, PhD 2012)
  • Defining and Interpreting Specialization and Standardization: the Bronze Weapons of the Terra-cotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty,China (Janice (Xiuzhen) Li, PhD 2012)
  • The technology and organisation of zinc production in Chongqing, China during the Ming and Qing dynasties (Wenli Zhou, PhD, 2012)
  • Investigation of Late Bronze Age primary glass production in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean (Melina Smirniou, 2011)
  • Roman Silver Production at Rio Tinto. The case study of Corta Lago (Lorna Anguilano, PhD 2012)
  • 12th century copper production in the Harz Mountains, Northern Germany (Bastian Asmus, PhD, 2011)
  • Early Islamic Ceramics and Glazes in Akhsiket, Uzbekistan (Christy Henshaw, 2010)
  • Assaying and Smelting Noble Metals in Sixteenth-Century Austria a Comparative Analytical Study (Aude Mongiatti, PhD, 2009).
  • The Winds of Change: an Archaeometallurgical Study of Silver Production in the Porco-Potosi Region, Southern Bolivia AD 1500-2000 (Claire Cohen , PhD, 2008).
  • Glass, Glass Cakes and Tesserae from the Petra Church, Jordan (Fatma Marii, PhD, 2008).
  • Experimental study of Late Bronze Age glass making practice (Satoko Tanimoto, PhD 2007).
  • The evolution of a craft: The use of metal threads in the decoration of late and post Byzantine ecclesiastical textiles (Anna Karatzani, PhD 2007).
  • Ironworking in Northwest Wales: An Evolutionary Analysis (Michael Charlton, PhD 2006, joint supervision with Stephen Shennan).
  • Technology and Organisation of Early Cycladic Metallurgy: Copper on Seriphos and Keros, Greece (Myrto Georgakopoulou, PhD 2005, joint supervision with Cyprian Broodbank).
  • Chymistry and Crucibles in the Renaissance Laboratory: An Archaeometric and Historical Study (Marcos Martinon-Torres, PhD 2005).
  • Early Iron Production in the Levant: Smelting and Smithing at Early 1 st Millennium B.C. Tell Hammeh, Jordan and Tel Beth-Shemesh, Israel (Xander Veldhuijzen, PhD 2005).
  • Iron Production in Iron Age Zimbabwe: Stagnation or Innovation? (Shadreck Chirikure, PhD 2005, joint supervision with Andrew Reid).
  • The organisation, transportation and logistics of hard-stone quarrying in the Egyptian Old Kingdom: A Comparative Study (Elizabeth Bloxam, PhD 2003).
  • The First Farming Communities of the Adriatic: Pottery Production and Circulation in the Early and Middle Neolithic (Michela Spataro, PhD 2002, joint supervision with Ruth Whitehouse).
  • Crucible steel in Central Asia: Production, Use, and Origins (Ann Feuerbach, PhD 2002, joint supervision with Peter Ucko).
  • Silvia Amicone Pottery Technology at the Dawn of the Metal Age: a View from Vinča Culture (second supervisors Patrick Quinn and Miljana Radivojevic)
  • Loϊc Boscher Reconstructing the arsenical copper production process in Early Bronze Age Southwest Asia (second supervisor Ian Freestone)
  • Anastasya Cholakova Glass supply and consumption in the Byzantine Empire (second supervisor Ian Freestone)
  • Maninder Singh Gill Technical studies on medieval Islamic glazed tiles from northern India (second supervisor Ian Freestone)
  • Qiyan Hong The technology study of Early Iron workshops in South Henan, China (second supervisor Lukas Nickel)
  • Siran Liu Gold and Silver Production in the Historical Periods of China (second supervisor Marcos Martinon-Torres)
  • Kristina Franke Metallurgy of the 3rd millennium in Upper Mesopotamia and the Jezirah (joint supervision with David Wengrow)
  • Stafrianou Orfanou Bronze offerings from the Temple of Thavlios Zeus, ancient Pherae, Volos (second supervisor Corinna Riva)
  • Frederik Rademakers Urban Metallurgy in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean: Case Studies from New Kingdom Egypt, Iron Age Phrygia and the Late Roman Balkans (second supervisor Richard Bussmann)

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