Institute of Archaeology

Prof Thilo Rehren

Prof Thilo Rehren

Emeritus Professor

Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square

Institute of Archaeology

Joined UCL
1st Nov 2021

Research summary

Thilo has been studying archaeological materials using methods developed for mineralogy since the late 1980s, first concentrating on technical ceramics and their relationship to the increasing complexity of metallurgy from the Early Bronze Age to the early modern period. This led to fundamental work on cupellation, that is the separation of silver and gold from the base metals copper and lead, in large-scale production and in the small-scale workshop. From the latter, work on early chemistry developed, which has been taken up and further developed by his former student Dr Marcos Martinon-Torres. Related to this is also a series of studies on medieval and early modern metal smelting, from lead and silver to brass and gold, in the Old and New World.

During the investigation of a set of bronze-casting crucibles from the Late Bronze Age capital of Ramses the Great in Egypt Thilo discovered the first hard evidence for glass-making in that period, jointly with the excavator, Dr Edgar Pusch from the Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim. This led to a paper in Science in 2005, and a host of other peer-reviewed publications. Based on the experimental and analytical work of several of his PhD students, including Dr Satoko Tanimoto and Melina Smirniou, we now understand LBA glass-making in much more detail. Subsequently, Thilo has also made significant contributions to the study of Roman glass, in collaboration with colleagues and PhD students from Bulgaria and Jordan, such as Dr Fatma Marii and Anastasia Cholakova, and the investigation of the formation of the earliest Chinese glazes, jointly with his PhD student Min Yin.

At the same time, Thilo has returned to an earlier interest in arsenical copper and its production and use during the Early Bronze Age; here, he has recently published work on the smelting of speiss, an iron-arsenic alloy, based on work of Chris Thornton and Vince Pigott in EBA Iran. Related to this interest in early metallurgy is also his work with Miljana Radivojevic, a current PhD student, on the earliest evidence for copper smelting, world-wide, around 5,000 BC in Serbia.

Other research includes work on the production of crucible steel in tenth century AD Central Asia, the source of the feared and admired Damascene steel that played a major role during the crusades, and stimulated much basic research into the iron-carbon system in the early stages of metallurgy as a material science.


University of Oxford
Other Postgraduate qualification (including professional), Postgraduate Diploma | 1989
To be updated
Other Postgraduate qualification (including professional), Diploma | 1984


Thilo has extensive research experience across a wide range of regions, periods and materials. His main focus is on the reconstruction of past technologies linked to the production of metals and glass, which includes a strong interest in technical ceramics.  In ancient glass, he has worked extensively on Late Bronze Age glass making in Egypt, including providing the first demonstrable proof of actual glass-making during this period, studying Hellenistic and Roman to Late Antique glass chemistry, and investigating the relationship between glass and glaze compositions in early Islamic Central Asia.  In archaeometallurgy, Thilo has initially focused on the role that crucibles played in producing and manipulating metals and alloys. Based on this, he has then covered a number of furnace-based smelting processes and artefacts, too. His publications include original research on South American silver production spanning some 2,000 years; Islamic gold production and ore refining; medieval lead smelting and the role of lead in silver cupellation from the Early Bronze Age to the early Modern Period; Neolithic to Bronze Age copper smelting in the Balkans; the production of Roman and medieval brass and zinc; Islamic crucible steel production in Central Asia and its comparison to the early modern crucible steel production in India and Sri Lanka; and the earliest industrial production of pure platinum for coinage in early 19th century Russia. In addition to his role as Director of UCL Qatar, Thilo maintains close links with the UCL Institute of Archaeology, where he continues to supervise PhD students and to direct the Institute's cooperation with Peking University in Beijing, as Executive Director of the International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology.