V.I. Zav'yalov, L.S. Rozanova, N.N. Terekhova

Investigations of blacksmith's craft in Russia
(The recent results) 1

1 The paper was realised with financial support of Russian Foundation for Basic Researches, project 01-06-80332

One of the basic methods in the studies of the history of blacksmith's craft in ancient societies is that of archaeometallography (archaeological metallography). Basically the method consists in metallographic investigation of blacksmith's production, and interpretation of the data obtained to reconstruct technical and technological processes that took place in the blacksmith's trade of one or another cultural and historical unity.

At present wide-scale investigations of the artefacts made of ferrous metal in Russia are carried out by the group of archaeometallography in the Laboratory of natural sciences, Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. The group unites three scholars: N.N. Terekhova, L.S. Rozanova, and V.I. Zav'yalov. Their activity covers the wide scope of problems, both in chronological aspect (practically since the introduction of iron tools till the New time, or the period over 3 thousand years long), and geographical one (the territory of European Russia).

The monograph published by the three authors "The essays on the history of ancient iron-working in Eastern Europe" (1997) should be considered an important event in the investigations of the early blacksmith's craft. It synthesises the results of long-term metallographic studies practised by national scholars. The book highlights the key points in the history of blacksmith's production and basic stages of its development beginning from the earliest attempts of the ancient population to use native - meteorite - iron, through mastering metallurgical methods of producing ferrous metal, and, finally, till the Early medieval blacksmith's craft. Comparative analysis of the iron-working techniques is presented in chronological, cultural, and ethnic aspects; the regularities in development of blacksmith's craft in different regions are traced. The conclusions are reliably confirmed by the experimental data that had produced the model samples for each successive stage of metallurgical and technological processes. The book has gained recognition in scientific circles and was appreciated in a number of reviews: they stressed that studies of the history of craft in Eastern Europe and adjacent territories at present seem to be impossible without taking into considerations the data published.

The analytical database has been complied comprising over 10000 analyses, which gives grounds to raise and solve the problems not only of technological, but of historical and cultural nature as well.

Recently (1995-2003) the group has concentrated the efforts on another promising circle of scientific problems: the investigations of traditions and innovations in blacksmith's production viewed as the results of ancient peoples' cultural interaction. From this standpoint we have considered such problems as the patterns the traditions were formed; the role innovations played in cultural contacts; the blacksmith traditions of the barbarian world and their influence upon the craft of the classical antiquity; specific features and interrelations of producing centres in the Middle Ages.

In the period in question the group has carried out two major projects concerning the correlation of traditions and innovations and based on the materials originating from the Finno-Ugrian sites. The first one was entitled "Cultural and historical relations of the Finno-Ugrians according to the data of metallographic investigations". The project has summed up the studies of blacksmith's production of different Finno-Ugrian peoples in Eastern Europe since the Early Iron Age till the epoch of the Middle Ages. It was established that the innovations introduced in metalworking during the century-long history of the Finno-Ugrian tribes as a result of numerous contacts had not been enrooted and further developed among the local population. The Finno-Ugrian peoples' production generally looks strongly conservative. Their cultural and manufacturing patterns turned to be indifferent, as far as the innovations in blacksmith's craft was concerned. The situation changed and the innovations adopted only if their bearers were incorporated into the local population 2.

2 See publications on the subject in page "Bibliography".

The second project was formulated as "Specifics and interaction of producing centres in the period of Middle Ages: Urban and rural craft". The data obtained have led us to the conclusion that not only the geographical and chronological positions different trade centres occupied were of importance for their interaction, but also such factors as stability of the local traditions, and the degree to which they were involved into the exchange network. It is worth stressing that Slavic and Russian colonisation which was undoubtedly the key factor in the history of East European population in certain regions seems not to have been of definite significance in the sphere of production, and, consequently, could hardly influence the interaction of rural and urban craft.

The members of the group also continue their investigations in accordance with some themes having been started before. Thus, L.S. Rozanova and N.N. Terekhova investigate the blacksmith's production of the Early Iron Age in the North Caucasus and the Volga and Kama basins, the results are presented in a number of publications. The problems concerning blacksmith's craft of Medieval Rus' remain traditional subject of the investigations carried out by the entire group. In this field a novelty should be pointed to, namely, the studies of the archaeological materials dated from the 14th - the 16th cc. undertaken recently, parallel to the traditional investigations of the collections of pre-Mongol period.

The investigational aspect related to the correlation of traditions and innovations in the blacksmith's craft recently actively developed in the group is also mirrored in V.I. Zav'yalov's studies of the Permian tribes' iron-working. The scholar has come to the conclusion, that at the turn of the 1st and the 2nd millennia AD the Permian blacksmiths had got certain technological impetus from their western neighbours. It was this event that played the key role for the subsequent century-long period of functioning the local production.

The group has also concentrated their joint efforts on the new cultural and historical region - the Lake Beloe zone. The interest has been induced by the complicated ethnic and cultural processes that took place there in the early 2nd millennium AD; in the material aspect they were represented by new types of iron artefacts, and in producing one by introduction of new technologies.

In the last five years of the 20th c. archaeometallurgical investigations were actively developed in some regions of Russia. Yu.A. Semykin (Ul'yanovsk) has carried out an important work on the blacksmith's craft in the Volga Bolgaria. The results were summed up in his doctoral thesis "Ferrous metallurgy and metal-working of the Volga Bolgaria (the early Bolgar and pre-Mongol periods)", successfully defended in the Institute of Archaeology, RAS, in 1997. In his conclusions the author has pointed out that the development of iron metallurgy and blacksmith's production in the Volga Bolgaria should be divided into several stages that coincided with those of the ethnic history of the Volga Bolgars. Formation of traditions in their metallurgy and iron-working was strongly influenced by the production of the nomad Bolgar population that entered the Khazar kaganate, with some evidences of the producing traditions typical of the Finno-Ugrian groups integrated into the early Volga Bolgaria.

As far as the above theme is concerned, of special interest seems to be the chapter "Ferrous metal-working in Bolgar" by Yu.A. Semykin in the monograph "The city of Bolgar. Metallurgists, blacksmiths, and casters" (1996). One of the merits demonstrated by his works is the use of experimental data, the author carried out the physical modelling of the technological processes related to the medieval metallurgy and iron-working. It is worth mentioning that at present this is probably the only case of active use of experimental works in investigations of the history of blacksmith's trade.

The works conducted by T.Yu. Zakurina (Pskov) concern early iron-working in this town, they represent the important contribution to the investigations of ancient Russian urban craft. The author has published a series of papers in which she discusses the iron-working archaeological associations and the topography of the traces of metallurgical and iron-working production in the territory of ancient Pskov. The results obtained by T.Yu. Zakurina during her long-term investigations were synthesised in her doctoral thesis "Iron-working craft in Pskov (the 10th - the 17th cc.)", successfully defended in 2000. In this work a set of indications were suggested for identification of iron-working archaeological associations. This approach enabled T.Yu. Zakurina to review and classify systematically the materials from Pskov concerning iron-working. A representative selection of iron artefacts (totalling 214 samples) underwent metallographic analysis, which has permitted the author to reveal the dynamics in introduction of the technological patterns and various technological schemes used for their manufacturing. T.Yu. Zakurina's works are characterised by such positive features as drawing complex data of various types (written, archaeological, place-name sources combined with metallographic analyses). The approach in question resulted in establishment of the dynamics of craftsmen settling against the background of the town's territory growth during the period under investigation. The indications of specialisation in iron-working production were pointed out. Having analysed the items made of iron, the author registered the decrease observed in quality of work since the 14th c., this fact being interpreted as the tendency toward the growth of production volume to the detriment of its quality. T.Yu. Zakurina has classified Pskov as the producing centre with highly developed iron-working craft.

The discussed period is characterised by organisation of archaeometallographic laboratories in the peripheral scientific centres. Such attempts were made in Yoshkar-Ola, Syktyvkar, Ufa, Izhevsk, but they mostly turned out to be unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the active work of S.E. Perevoshchikov (Izhevsk) in the field of archaeometallography should be mentioned. The scope of his interests covers the archaeological cultures of the Volga and Kama interfluve dating back from the Early Iron Age till the Middle Ages. To our regret, mainly the abstracts of his lectures have been published yet, and this hampers comprehensive evaluation of the results obtained. S.E. Perevoshchikov's long-term works were presented in his doctoral thesis "Iron-working production of the population of the Volga-Kama interfluve in the epoch of the Middle Ages (technological aspect)", successfully defended in 2000, in 2002 the work was published as a monograph. The metallographic analyses of the iron artefacts from the sites of the 5th - the 13th cc. situated on the Middle Vyatka and in the Sylva basin were introduced in scientific circulation, as well as those dated from the 12th - the 18th cc. and attributed to the Udmurt, Mari, and Russian population. The author dwelt upon the reconstruction of the historic picture of development of iron-working practised by the peoples in the Kama basin within the considerable chronological span.

N.M. Zinyakov (Kemerovo) performs wide-scale investigations concerning ferrous metallurgy and metalworking of West Siberian peoples. His long-term studies were synthesised in his thesis for degree of doctor of science; the basic points were published in the monograph "Iron metallurgy and blacksmith's craft of West Siberia" (1997). The author made an attempt to show the level of development of iron industry and evolution of blacksmith technology in the archaeological cultures of West Siberia within wide chronological borders, to identify the historic trends, regularities, and specific features in progress in production of iron-making and iron-working in the region in question. N.M. Zinyakov had chosen wide chronological span - since mid 1st millennium BC till mid 2nd millennium AD, that is, from the very beginning of industry of iron among the local tribes of West Siberia till settling of the Russians in the area. Unfortunately, it seems that it was too wide borders that has hampered the author to trace the process of development of iron-working as an integral phenomenon: the material is presented in separate territorial and chronological essays mostly not enough related to each other. In the book by N.M. Zinyakov no due attention is paid to such important problems, as formation of traditions and manifestations of probable innovations in the sphere of production. Nevertheless, the importance of N.M. Zinyakov's work is beyond doubts, since he has introduced into scientific circulation extensive analytical data, and it should be specially noted that the results of analytical tests are exhaustively documented by drawings and photographs; the scholar has singled out historical ore-bearing and metallurgical regions; revealed and reconstructed the basic types of iron-making furnaces.

Of great interest is N.M. Zinyakov's investigation of the archaeological material obtained in the course of excavations of the medieval fortified settlements Talgar and Almaty (Kazakhstan). In the book devoted to these investigations the detailed information concerning the metallographic analyses is published accompanied by the illustrations of high quality.

To our regret, the information available on the activities of other archaeometallurgic laboratories is insufficient and fragmentary. After the period of active investigations carried out in the 80-s - the early 90-s in Ural University (Yekaterinburg) by A.P. Zykov concerning the history of medieval blacksmith's trade of the Transuralian peoples the scale of work has been considerably reduced. The attempts aimed at organizing archaeometallographic laboratories in such archaeological centres as Ufa and Volgograd have been unsuccessful yet.

Generally, the last decades of the 20th c. were characterised by the increasing activity of archaeometallographic investigations in Russian Federation. It seems of importance that the specialists involved gradually abandon too special subjects and raise more general historic problems, including the emergence and progress in craft, the correlation of traditions and innovations in production, the impetuses historic events gave the improvement of manufacturing. The wider is the scope of studies of ancient metal, the more obvious is the necessity of maintaining cooperation and close contacts among the specialists interested in the analysis of the wide circle of the sources related to the questions discussed above.

E-mail to: v_zavyalov@list.ru

© V.I.Zavyalov, L.S.Rozanova, N.N.Terekhova, 2003

© L.I.Avilova (translation), 2003