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A study of resources, techniques and human ingenuity

This project aims to investigate the techniques for processing mineral raw materials and technologies involved in metal production across the North Aegean from prehistory up to the Hellenistic period. The region of study is confined to northeastern Greece, one of the richest in mineral deposits regions of the country. Evidence for mining and metal production is abundant and derives from mines and in form of metallurgical remains and installations excavated at several prehistoric settlements and city-states of Classical antiquity. By focusing on specific case studies it is intended to enlighten some technological issues related to raw materials acquisition, ore processing and producing metals. Eventually it seeks to address the role of metallurgical production on issues of social organisation, economy and culture. Hosted at the Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine (CReA-Patrimoine), Université Libre de Bruxelles, this project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 840894.

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The Full Story

Technologies to produce metals have been highly valued in most ancient societies since their end products were used to mediate powerful social and cultural messages associated to status and wealth. Gold fascinated ancient societies with its bright glittering; it was associated to the sun and was dedicated to gods in their temples and offered to rulers in their tombs. Silver played an important role in economic transactions in the form of coinage while copper and iron were important for fabricating useful tools and other utensils to cover everyday life needs. Procuring for these metals involved mining the mineral raw materials and processing them through metallurgy. Organisation of such activities although simple in the early stages became more complex when large scale metal production was necessary to supply ancient settlements and even more so with the growing needs of states and kingdoms.
The production of metals in the North Aegean has a long trajectory emerging in the Late Neolithic partly due to the considerable mineral wealth of this region but also due to its geographic location at a crossroads, open to stimulating external influences. From the early stages of transforming colorful minerals (malachite, azurite) into metallic copper with the use of primitive furnace designs to the large-scale mining for silver and gold of Classical antiquity sophisticated techniques had been developed for treating the local mineral ores. These achievements became possible due to contacts and exchange of technological information between the Balkan hinterland, the Aegean and Anatolia and a simultaneous increase in cultural complexity that triggered the demand and supply of base and precious metals.
The basic methods used in this project derive from archaeology, field survey and instrumental analysis of archaeological finds both in the field and the laboratory. Results will be useful for understanding issues of controlling and accessing strategic resources and evaluating technical skills, expertise and ingenuity in the ancient past. The project also explores the spread of metallurgical knowledge via trade networks connecting regions through exchange of ideas, artefacts and memories. Most importantly this study is about the lives of people who laboured, produced, travelled, exchanged and shared experiences in ways that seem surprisingly familiar in our contemporary world.

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Who we are


Nerantzis Nerantzis

Principal Investigator

He holds a PhD in Archaeological Science (University of Sheffield) and combines extensive fieldwork experience with a specialism in archaeometallurgy. He has been awarded consecutive research grants by INSTAP since 2012 for post-doctoral research at N.C.S.R. 'Demokritos'. He has also worked as a contract archaeologist at the Ephorates of Antiquities of Kavala, Xanthi, Rhodope and Lesbos. Between 2015 and 2017 he was employed as a research associate at the University of Lille, France. He collaborates with the following archaeological projects: Pistyros Systematic Excavation Project, Archaeological Programme of Abdera Xanthi (APAX), Excavations of the prehistoric settlements of Aghios Antonios, Perigiali and Diomedeia, northern Greece. Currently he holds a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship hosted at Crea-Patrimoine (ULB) conducting post-doctoral research.


Sabine Nodin


She received her degree in Archaeology and History and completed a Master’s degree at the School of Historical Sciences, University of Lille. Her dissertation was on ‘Lithic Tools Employed in Greek Ore-Processing Based on the Example of Thasos’. She gained fieldwork experience in the Palaeolithic cave ‘La Caune de l’Arago’ at Tautavel, France and Vryokastro, Kythnos and post-excavation work experience at Thasos where she also participated in archaeometallurgical experimental simulations. Her research is focused on lithic tools: stone crushing tools, pounders, mortars, pestles and millstones related to the processing of ores used in metallurgy. She has already studied a relevant assemblage from Thasos. In 2016 she received training in laboratory analytical techniques at N.C.S.R “Demokritos”.

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Whom do we work with


Athena Tsingarida

Project Supervisor - Université Libre de Bruxelles

Professor of Ancient Greek Archaeology and History of Art at ULB, Brussels. She is the supervisor and promotor of the project, specializing in Archaic and Classical Greece. Her research focuses on the fields of Ancient Greek Pottery, cultural interactions throughout the Mediterranean world and reception of Classical Art in 19th-century Europe. She co-directed an international research program on 'Pottery in ancient societies. Production, distribution and uses', and a joined research project with Professor Irene Lemos (University of Oxford) entitled 'Beyond the polis. Collective rituals and the construction of social identity in Early Greece (12th -6th c. BC)'. She undertook excavations and field study in Greece (Siphnos and Crete) and Syria (Apamea). She is currently co-directing (with Prof. Didier Viviers) the excavations, restoration works and study seasons in Itanos (Eastern Crete). She has published extensively and edited several volumes of the series Études d’archéologie, CReA-Patrimoine.


Stratis Papadopoulos

Ephorate of Antiquities of Drama

Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Drama. He holds two doctoral degrees, one in Prehistoric Archaeology (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and one in Byzantine Archaeology (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens). Between 1993 and 2017 he directed numerous excavation projects at Limenaria, Skala Sotiros, Aghios Ioannis, Aghios Antonios, Theologos, Perigiali, Diomedeia, Ancient city of Thasos and several sites in Kavala and Drama prefectures. Currently he directs the ongoing Systematic Excavation Project at Pistyros, Kavala. Between 2000-2009 he was an Associate Professor at the School of Classical Studies and the School of History and Ethnography at Democritus University of Thrace. Between 2012-2013 a Visiting Professor at the Department of Landscape Archaeology at the Technical Institute of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. He has published numerous excavation reports and articles on prehistoric and classical archaeology, pottery studies and ethnology.


Yannis Bassiakos

N.C.S.R. 'Demokritos'

Researcher in Geology (N.C.S.R. ‘Demokritos’) specialized in archaeomining/metallurgy at the “MPI für Kernphysik”/Heidelberg. He has discovered the ancient goldmines on Siphnos, Aegean in 1981, thus confirming Herodotus report for antique gold production there. Also specialized (PhD) on ESR-dating of speleothems/shells/teeth and reconstruction of evolving landscapes. His research themes include a) archaeomining, archaeometallurgy, provenance and prehistoric smelting experiments b) ESR, geoarchaeology, active fault dating, archaeoseismology and sea-land interaction for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. He has coordinated or contributed at a large number of national-, foreign-, or EU-funded research projects. Since 2008, Editor-in-Chief for the International Journal "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences". He has edited books and published extensively, over 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals and over 230 presentations in international conferences.


Effie Photos-Jones

University of Glasgow

Honorary Research Fellow in Archaeology, University of Glasgow, UK. She is an archaeological scientist specialising in the technical characterisation of archaeological materials with long experience in archaeometallurgy and the industrial minerals of antiquity. Founder of Scottish Analytical Services in Archaeology, she conducted several projects in Scotland and Ireland. She is the PI of the Greco-Roman-Antimicrobial Minerals project funded by the Wellcome Trust (Seed Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences) that sets minerals known in antiquity for their medicinal applications into a modern pharmacological context. Also the PI of NERC-FENAC and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland funded projects, currently running in parallel under the same research theme. She is the author of numerous articles on archaeometallurgy and industrial minerals and over 200 technical reports. She is the Editor of Pontingair Press (launched in 2011) with five book titles in its series: Early Materials and Practices.


Eleni Filippaki

N.C.S.R. 'Demokritos'

Director of the group for Paleo-environment and Ancient Metals Studies (PAMS) of the Archaeometry Laboratory, Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, N.C.S.R. ‘Demokritos’. She studied geology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and received her PhD in 2002 from the Faculty of Geological Sciences, National Technical University of Athens. She has worked on contract at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research. Between 1994 and 2001 she worked on contract in the frame of NATO for a Science and Stability Program being responsible for the installation and operation of a new plasma device. She has long experience in the instrumental analysis of metals, ceramics and other archaeological materials by applying SEM/EDS, X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence and optical microscopy. She has published numerous articles in journals and conference proceedings.

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Dissemination of Results

Lecture at CReA-Patrimoine, ULB

On Friday 12th of March a lecture based on project results will be delivered on occasion of the CReA-Patrimoine Postdoctoral Research Day. Two case studies will be presented, namely prehistoric copper and silver production from Promachon-Topolnica and Thasos and precious metals extraction in antiquity with a focus on the example from Pistyros.


Conference Participation at the 7th Balkan Symposium on Archaeometry

On Wednesday 23/09 we participated to the 7th Balkan Symposium on Archaeometry hosted at the University of West Attica, Athens.
Title of the oral presentation: ''Which ore to smelt? Cultural shifts and changes in raw materials acquisition for the iron bloomeries of Thasos'' (N. Nerantzis and E. Photos-Jones).


Presentation at the Royal Museum of Art and History, Brussels

On the 12th of December 2019 we presented results of the project drawing from preliminary analysis of silver production debris from the archaeological site of Pistyros, Kavala in northern Greece. The evidence suggests that silver was extracted and purified on the site probably to be used for the striking of coinage.


Workshop Organisation

On the 2nd of December 2019 we organised and hosted at ULB a Workshop on Archaeometallurgy. Guest speakers covered all stages of the production of metals in ancient times, from locating the mineral deposit, to mining, smelting, alloying, casting, melting, finishing and the use/deposition of the final objects.


Conference participation at the 7th Symposium on Archaeometry of the HSA

7th Symposium on Archaeometry of the Hellenic Society for Archaeometry, “ArchaeologyArchaeometry: 30 years later”. Title of the oral presentation: «Processing of mineral resources and the organization of metal production in Thasos from the Late Neolithic to the Early Iron Age» (N. Nerantzis and S. Nodin)

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