Excavations at Politiko Phorades: A Bronze Age Copper Smelting Site on Cyprus. (News and Notes)

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Cyprus, one of world's richest countries in copper per surface area, served as a primary source for this metal throughout the ancient Mediterranean. A team of archaeologists from Glasgow, Scotland and Nicosia, Cyprus, has now completed excavations at the smelting site of Politiko Phorades (Knapp et al. 1998; 1999) (FIGURE 1). The geological setting, the pottery and several [sup.14]C dates place the Phorades workshop in the earliest phase of the Late Bronze Age (LBA--c. 1600-1200 BC), making it the earliest primary smelting workshop ever excavated on Cyprus. Although the LBA was the earliest era in which Cypriot copper was exploited intensively, before these excavations we had virtually no evidence of mining or primary smelting from this period. Moreover, answers to any question related to the extraction, smelting or distribution of Cypriot copper ores during this critical phase were entirely speculative.


Over three field seasons we recovered more than 3.5 tons of slag, along with large fragments of furnace lining, tuyeres and gossan. The metalworkers at Phorades used river-channel deposits to construct an artificial bank where they went about their work. Layers of gravel formed flat surfaces on top of the bank's cobble core. The waste product from smelting is slag, and in time a small slag heap piled up against the creek's bank (FIGURE 2). The size and composite nature of the cobble bank may indicate a sequence of activities rather than a single phase, whilst numerous tiny snail shells found within the bank may signal the seasonal nature of smelting.


Archaeometallurgy at Phorades

All slags recovered from Phorades were `planoconcave' in shape (previously unattested on Cyprus). Preliminary analyses show that these slags contain a large amount of metallic copper sulphides and so derive from an initial phase of smelting that yielded matte (a copper-iron sulphide), not copper. Matte is an intermediate product and thus extremely rare in archaeological excavations--we found one small piece at the site. Matte had to undergo further treatment before being converted into black copper, which itself had to be refined again to produce a more pure copper metal. The presence of matte demonstrates that Phorades was a primary smelting workshop.

Over 6000 fragments of furnace rims, walls and bases belonged to cylindrical structures with a flat base and well defined rims (FIGURE 3). Where preserved, the furnace's outer surface is smooth and the base perfectly flat, suggesting that the furnace was free-standing or else constructed in the round and set into a pit. We recovered 50 almost complete tuyeres and over 600 fragments. These highly refractory, tube-shaped objects forced air into the furnace and facilitated the extreme temperatures (1200-1300[degrees]C) required to smelt copper ores. …