Institute of Archaeology


Silver production

Silver is an important metal across time and space; from the Early Bronze Age onwards provides it both aesthetically pleasing and valuable artefacts, and since classical Antiquity it is a key economic driver, in the form of coinage. In contrast to iron and copper, however, its production and refining are not widely documented and understood, which may be a reflection of the more complex geological and metallurgical processes that lead to the production of pure silver.

Thilo Rehren's research has focused initially on the technical reconstruction of silver refining through cupellation, the oxidizing melting of silver-bearing lead-rich alloy which results in the effective separation of silver in metallic form from all impurities, apart from gold and bismuth. As part of this investigation Thilo has explored, jointly with the Belgian School in Greece, the silver ore washeries in the Lauriotike, refining the extant models of operation and resolving a long-standing dispute between two leading scholars over the exact nature of the ore mined and smelted in Antiquity.

More recently, Thilo has focused on silver production in South America, looking at pre-Colonial and contact period technologies in comparison to European models. An important aspect of my research here is on the environmental constraints, particularly on fuel supply in marginal and arid environments.

The combination of ore procurement and processing, smelting technology and refining practice enables me to look at silver production landscapes in a holistic way, incorporating the different drivers and constraints into coherent models for specific regions and periods.

Related outputs

  • Cohen, C.R., Rehren, Th. and Van Buren, M. (2009): An archaeo-metallurgical study of the use of European furnaces in colonial Bolivia, in: Archaeometallurgy in Europe II, 529-540
  • Mongiatti, A., Rehren, Th., Martinón-Torres, M. and Cech, B. (2009): Smelting of gold and silver ores in Renaissance Austria, in: Archaeometallurgy in Europe II, 60-67
  • Schultze, C., Stanish, C., Scott, D., Rehren, Th., Kuehner, S. and Feathers, J. (2009): Direct evidence of 1,900 years of indigenous silver production in the Lake Titicaca Basin of Southern Peru. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, 17280-17283
  • XIE Pengfei and Rehren, Th. (2009): Scientific analysis of lead-silver smelting slag from two sites in China. In: Mei, J. and Rehren, Th., Metallurgy and Civilisation: Eurasia and beyond, 177-183
  • Martinón-Torres, M., Thomas, N., Rehren, Th. and Mongiatti, A. (2008): Some problems and potentials of the study of cupellation remains: the case of post-medieval Montbéliard, France. ArcheoSciences, revue d'archéométrie 32, 59-70
  • Rehren, Th. and Eckstein, K. (2002): The development of analytical cupellation in the Middle Ages. In: E. Jerem & K. Biro (eds.), Archaeometry 98 (=BAR IS 1043), 445-448
  • Rehren, Th., Vanhove, D. and Mussche, H. (2002): Ores from the ore washeries in the Lavriotiki. Metalla (Bochum) 9, 27-46
  • Rehren, Th. and Kraus, K. (1999): Cupel and crucible: the refining of debased silver in the Colonia Ulpia Traiana, Xanten. Journal of Roman Archaeology 12, 263-272
  • Rehren, Th., Schneider, J. and Bartels, Chr. (1999): Medieval lead-silver smelting in the Siegerland, West Germany. Historical Metallurgy 33, 73-84
  • Pernicka, E., Rehren, Th. and Schmitt-Strecker, S. (1998): Late Uruk silver production by cupellation at Habuba Kabira, Syria. In: Th. Rehren, A. Hauptmann & J. Muhly (Eds.), Metallurgica Antiqua, 123-134
  • Philip, G. and Rehren, Th. (1996): Fourth millennium BC silver from Tell esh-Shuna, Jordan: archaeometallurgical investigation and some thoughts on ceramic skeuomorphs.- Oxford Journal of Archaeology 15, 129-150
  • Rehren, Th., Hess, K. and Philip, G. (1996): Auriferous silver in western Asia: ore or alloy? Historical Metallurgy 30, 1-10


  • Several funded and self-funded PhD and MSc students