Archaeometallurgy: The Study of Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy

Posted: 8 Oct 2012

Date Written: October 2012


Archaeometallurgy is an interdisciplinary and international field of study that examines all aspects of the production, use, and consumption of metals from ∼8000 BCE to the present, although this review is restricted to mining and metallurgy in preindustrial societies. Most of this literature was not written with an anthropological readership in mind, but many of its central themes are relevant to some current debates in anthropology. Since the 1970s, archaeometallurgists have been concerned explicitly with the materiality of metals and also with the highly variable value of precious metals across time and space. Exacting criteria have been developed for distinguishing past technology transfers from independent inventions. Archaeometallurgists have also done important work on the social construction of technology in precapitalist economies. In short, archaeometallurgy offers much that is of interest to anthropologists who study the growth and spread of knowledge, and of systems of value, before the capitalist era.

Suggested Citation

Killick, David and Fenn, Thomas, Archaeometallurgy: The Study of Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy (October 2012). Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 41, pp. 559-575, 2012. Available at SSRN: or

David Killick (Contact Author)

University of Arizona ( email )

Department of History
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

Thomas Fenn

KU Leuven ( email )

Oude Markt 13
Leuven, Vlaams-Brabant 3000

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