Primitive technologies

How was jewelry fabricated in prehistoric times? I’ve read Jean
Auel’s books about Ayla, a Cro Magnon with a brain of gold; she
described such technologies as flint-knapping, and funneling air
into a wood fire to increase the temperature. Now I’m wondering how
the ancients extracted precious metals from ore, what they used as a
drawplate, how they soldered, etc.

If you know of a website or book on primitive technologies, please
let me know.


A book that covers gold is “Noble Metals” part of the Time-Life
series on planet earth (1984) . ISBN 0-8094-4504-2 and also as ISBN
0-8094-4045-0… A library may have it ( although my copy was sold
by my local library in a disposal sale in perfect condition?). For a
web site on technology see Anders Sderberg’s site in Sweden:

There is also stuff currently on Eutruscan gold but I don’t have it
offhand right now.


Janet, metal jewelry is not known [yet!] before about 6,000 B.C.,
and then it was made from native copper and perhaps some rare native
lead. Oddly enough, really early gold jewelry has yet to be
discovered. The processes of melting and smelting took a little
longer to discover (but certainly were known by ca. 3800 B.C.,
judging from the fascinating copper artifacts found in the Cave of
the Treasure, along Israel’s Dead Sea coast).There are several
interesting (and theoretical) stories about how this might have
happened. Suffice it to say that by 2500 B.C., the jewelry from the
Royal Cemetery at Ur shows that Mesopotamian [i.e., ancient Iraqi]
jewelers were capable of almost every jewelrymaking process that we
know today – lost-wax casting, forging, soldering, inlay,
granulation (probably), wire-making, repousse, etc. I never tire of
adding that the earliest uses of metals (including iron) were for
jewelry, not weapons, and for a very long time.

For more on this, consult Jack Ogden’s books (he’s on the Orchid
list) and get a copy of Roger [P. R. S.] Moorey’s classic volume,
Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries (published by Oxford’s
Clarendon Press in 1994, and reissued by Eisenbraun’s more

I enjoyed Jean Auel’s books, too. I’m glad she didn’t depict Ayla
as a smelter, along with everything else she did, because there’s no
evidence for that type of metalworking in Ayla’s time.

The Iceman’s copper axe.
The Man in the Ice

And a few more places to start you off.
Regia Anglorum - The Village of Wichamstow
Dispelling some Myths about the Old Copper Culture

Books on Ashanti Goldweights, Etruscan, Thracian, Scythian,
Pre-Columbian metal work

There is at least one website that has some people recreating the
casting techniques from the norse era. There
is On Divers Arts an 12th century artisans treatise that gives a
detailed description of a jeweler’s shop setup, The Pirotechnia
which is a early 16th century treatise on metalwork. Both of these
books are available as inexpensive Dover reprints.

For anything really ancient, there are some pretty good educated
guesses based on archeology, but it pretty much boils down to some
surprisingly sophisticated results from very “primitive” technology.
Remember, most of the ancient metalwork was done on a open charcoal
forge, or a charcoal fired kiln.

A search turns up a lot of good general info sites.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
@Ron_Charlotte1 OR

Hi, Janet.

I remember National Geographic running an article on copper
smelting. The two guys producing the finished copper did so with a
wood tube that they mouth-blew onto a hot-ember bed. Took the better
part of a day to produce about two handfulls of refined copper out of
the ore. Different issue of NG ran an article where they knapped a
butchering knife out of flint and had at a dead zoo elephant to see
if it would work.

Saw some interesting copper neck ornaments in Tennessee State Museum,
Nashville. Indigenous peoples of the region wore them.

I can’t remember the author’s name, but there’s a book out there
with flint knapping in the title.

Grobet File made a book, tracing the origin of files to Roman times.

Incas and Mayas did depletion gilding, with crocodile dung as a
graded abrasive, cyanides derived from bugs and berries.

I could peck out more, but I gotta go.

Dan Woodard

I was In Egypt some time ago - being hustled into buying a carpet as
usual - when my guide found out that I was a goldsmith. He rushed
me round to his cousins workshop and a saw was thrust into my hand
and I was asked to prove my credentials by cutting out a diamond
setting in a ring shank.

Having done that they then gave me a small bottle of paraffin and a
mouthpiece and asked me to solder a shank and a setting together.
“That’s how we make our children do it! The old way!”

I’d learnt my soldering at a night class in Richmond UK and there
was a shortage of torches - so the teacher had shown me how to make a
paraffin wick torch and I’d practiced it.

Ten minutes later I was a confirmed “primitive” goldsmith and was
lionized by the entire street.

Tony Konrath
Key West Florida 33040