Utilisation des isotopes du fer pour le traçage des métaux anciens : développement méthodologique et applications archéologiques

Abstract : The objective of this work was to develop the use of iron isotopes for ancient, essentially ferrous metal tracing. Our methodological approach was based on three major directions. The first one consisted in the assessment of the potential influence of metallurgical processes on iron isotope compositions of the reduction products. For this purpose, we measured the iron isotope composition of materials from experiments of iron ore reduction in bloomery furnace performed in a major site of iron production during the Roman period (Montagne Noire, SW France). The second direction aimed at validating this new tracer through the iron isotope measurement of ores, slags and iron artefact samples from a well-defined archaeological context, and whose provenance was previously investigated by elemental analyses. We thus measured the isotopic composition of iron bars discovered in Roman shipwrecks found offshore Les-Saintes-maries-de-la-Mer (Bouches-du-Rhône, France). Thirdly, we estimated the relevance and limitations of our new tracing approach by applying it to the study of two different archaeological fields, on which no previous provenance study had been performed. These were the ancient iron production from North East Togo and the Medieval lead-silver production in Morocco (Anti Atlas Massif). The results demonstrate that the isotopic composition of slags and metals produced reflect that of their corresponding ores because no iron isotope fractionation occurs along the entire chaîne opératoire of iron production. Moreover, and in contrast to several elemental tracers, iron isotopes are not impacted by iron contribution from the smelting device during the reduction process, which allows to establish provenance links directly between an iron artifact and a specific ore. The application of this tracing method in a well-studied archaeological context has allowed to validate the provenance assumption of several archaeological artifacts. Furthermore, iron isotopes may provide a more discriminative tracer than trace elements because a temporal and geographical distinction is possible between close iron production sites. The tracing is thus more precise. Finally, our results suggest that iron isotope analyses could also be used in the study of non-ferrous metal production. This work offers many perspectives in provenance studies of museum pieces given the very small amount of material needed, in the setup of a database of iron isotope compositions of archaeological iron ores and the establishment of a common tracing approach for both ferrous and non-ferrous metals.
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Jean Milot. Utilisation des isotopes du fer pour le traçage des métaux anciens : développement méthodologique et applications archéologiques. Sciences de la Terre. Université Paul Sabatier - Toulouse III, 2016. Français. ⟨NNT : 2016TOU30367⟩. ⟨tel-01891936⟩

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