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4 December 2012
Secrets of an Iron Age blacksmith

The scarcity of direct archaeological evidence leaves many questions about how Iron Age smiths practiced their craft. New finds at Beechwood Farm, Inverness, may help to reveal these ancient techniques, and provide new perspectives on metalworking in northern Scotland. As well as ironworking debris in the form of slag, the site has yielded an unusual find: the remains of a clay-lined furnace, a feature that only rarely survives in the archaeological record.
     Early prehistoric artefacts have also been recovered, including a selection of pottery sherds and quern stones used for grinding grain into flour, showing that activity on the site stretches back into the Neolithic.
     Dr Dawn McLaren described the recovery of ironworking furnaces and hearths as 'much rarer' than iron slag. Sites from this period that feature in situ ironworking evidence, such as furnaces, are scarce. A large clay-lined pit appears to be a hearth or furnace designed to achieve the high temperatures needed to work iron.
     Excavations at neighbouring Culduthel also revealed smelting furnaces, suggesting that iron working was more widespread in northeast Scotland than previously thought.

Edited from Current Archaeology (28 November 2012)

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