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Metalwork wear analysis: The loss of innocence

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Andrea Dolfini, Rachel Crellin



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Metalwork wear-analysis has now been practised for almost two decades. In this paper the authors present the achievements of the discipline and critically assess the methodologies currently applied by practitioners. Whilst the achievements and contributions of the discipline to the wider study of archaeology, and to European prehistory in particular, are numerous, it is argued that an increase in scientific rigour and a focus on addressing limitations and open problems is required if metalwork wear-analysis is to flourish as a scientific field of research. Experimentation with higher magnifications and novel microscopic techniques is encouraged, alongside more standardised and explicit analytical protocols for analysis. More details and targeted descriptions of analytical protocols for experimental work are required: experiments must be designed to answer specific questions and address lacunas in knowledge. While at present the majority of practitioners focus their analyses on copper alloys from European prehistory, and most specifically from the Bronze Age, the authors suggest that a far wider range of materials are suitable for analysis including copper alloys from the Americas and iron alloys from historic and ethnographic collections. Expanding the range of materials studied would open the field up and give it far wider relevance to archaeology and material culture studies. Finally, it is argued that the discipline will advance more quickly if practitioners share their reference collections and databases of experimental marks digitally. The authors suggest that the creation of digital reference collections, open to all, would provide metalwork analysts with the opportunity to lead related fields of research such as lithic microwear and residue analysis, where individual reference collections are the norm and cross-comparability of analysis is therefore hindered.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dolfini A, Crellin RJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Archaeological Science

Year: 2016

Volume: 66

Pages: 78-87

Print publication date: 01/02/2016

Online publication date: 14/01/2016

Acceptance date: 19/12/2015

Date deposited: 25/01/2016

ISSN (print): 0305-4403

ISSN (electronic): 1095-9238

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2015.12.005


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Funder referenceFunder name
ECF-2014-122Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship