Ancient tin production: Slags from the Iron Age Carvalhelhos hillfort (NW Iberian Peninsula)

Elin Figueiredo, João Fonte, Alexandre Lima, João Pedro Veiga, Rui J.C. Silva, José Mirão

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Provenance and production of tin in the Ancient World has since long been a major topic of discussion among archaeologists. In Western Europe, where significant tin ore (cassiterite) deposits are known, only a few remains of ancient tin production, such as tin slags, have been detected. In the present work, elemental and microstructural analyses by WDXRF, SEM-EDS and XRD were performed on recently recognised tin slags from the Iron Age Carvalhelhos hillfort located in NW Iberia, a territory that represents the largest extension with tin mineralisation in Western Europe. Elemental and microstructural characterisation of cassiterite collected in a pilot field survey in the region of the hillfort are presented and discussed, as well as two ceramic fragments that could be part of a smelting structure and an iron slag from the settlement. Results show that the tin slags have variable but high contents in Sn, similarly to Pre-Medieval tin slags found in other Western European areas, but also high contents of Ta and Nb, which specifically distinguish them from other tin slags, such as those found in SW Britain. Tin ores from the hillfort region frequently have Ta and Nb in cassiterite solid solution or as inclusions of columbite group minerals, relating well with the Carvalhelhos tin slags. Up to present, the Carvalhelhos slags are amongst the very few ancient tin slags known in Western Europe, and their study can contribute to a better knowledge on ancient tin sources and trade routes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • Archaeometallurgy
  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Iron Age
  • Roman transition
  • Slags
  • Smelting
  • Tin


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