Institute of Archaeology


Crucible Technology

Crucibles play a central role in the development of early metallurgy and glass making. Traditionally mostly seen as simple vessels to melt and cast metals, Thilo Rehren's research has shown that crucibles played a much wider role in developing and producing alloys such as brass and crucible steel, and in developing modern chemical science. Conversely, demands from metallurgy and glass production stimulated the development of refractory ceramics, during the Roman period, and resulted in a change of heating mode from internal to external, during the Late Iron Age.

Thus, the formal and functional analysis of crucibles provides unparalleled insights into critical aspects of the development of metallurgy, such as the mastery of specific temperature requirements, or specific chemical conditions necessary to produce special alloys.

The collection over several decades of disparate case studies eventually enabled the development of a systematic pattern of crucible technology, and to discuss aspects of cross-craft interaction and specialisation.

Related outputs

  • Thornton, C.P., Golden, J., Killick, D., Pigott, V.C., Rehren, Th. and Roberts, B.W. (2010): A Chalcolithic Error: Rebuttal to Amzallag 2009. American Journal of Archaeology 114, 305-315
  • Martinón-Torres, M. and Rehren, Th. (2009): Post-medieval crucible production and distribution: a study of materials and materialities. Archaeometry 51, 49-74
  • Rehren, Th. (2009): From mine to microbe - the Neolithic copper melting crucibles from Switzerland. In: A. Shortland, I. Freestone and Th. Rehren (eds) 2009, From Mine to Microscope, 155-162. Oxbow Books, Oxford
  • Thornton, Chr. and Rehren, Th. (2009): A truly refractory crucible from fourth millennium Tepe Hissar, northeast Iran. Journal of Archaeological Science 36, 2700-2712
  • Martinón-Torres, M., Freestone, I., Hunt, A. and Rehren, Th. (2008): Mass-produced mullite crucibles in medieval Europe: manufacture and material properties. Journal American Ceramic Society 91, 2071-2074
  • Bayley, J. and Rehren, Th. (2007): Towards a functional and typological classification of crucibles. In: S. La Niece, D. Hook and P. Craddock (eds), Metals and Mines - Studies in Archaeometallurgy. Archetype, London, 46-55
  • Martinón-Torres, M., Rehren, Th. and Freestone, I. (2006): Mullite and the mystery of Hessian wares. Nature 444, 437-438
  • Rehren, Th. (2003): Crucibles as reaction vessels in ancient metallurgy. In: P. Craddock & J. Lang (eds), Mining and Metal Production through the Ages, 207-215 and 147-149
  • Rehren, Th. and Papachristou, O. (2003): Similar like white and black: a comparison of steel-making crucibles from Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In: Th. Stoellner, G. Körlin, G. Steffens & J. Cierny (eds), Man and Mining, (=Der Anschnitt, Beiheft 16, Bochum), 393-404


  • Gerda-Henkel Foundation (field work)
  • Marie-Curie EST programme (student funding)
  • Several funded and self-funded PhD and MSc students