University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Pitt-Rivers Archaeological Science Seminar Series > A New Way of Making Silver: Experiments in Medieval Islamic Metallurgy based on the Manuscript of Al-Hamdani

A New Way of Making Silver: Experiments in Medieval Islamic Metallurgy based on the Manuscript of Al-Hamdani

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Large-scale minting of early Islamic silver coins (8th-10th centuries AD) helped to fuel economic growth across Eurasia and North Africa. Until recently, this silver was thought to have come from the extensive mining of lead-based ore, but the discovery of matte (sulfide) inclusions in pure unalloyed silver dirhams disproves this theory, as sulfides to not survive the process required to separate silver from lead. It points to the parallel existence of an extractive technology for rich silver minerals that did not utilize lead. These findings overturn long-standing assumptions about the history of silver metallurgy, but it also raises practical questions concerning the control of purity. It was long believed that the only way to purify silver in ancient times used lead (cupellation). Close study of the treatise of Al-Hamdani (Arabia 10th cent. AD) reveals a hitherto unknown purification process and provides an explanation. The results of experimental reconstruction and the process’ wider implications for the study of silver will be presented.

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This talk is part of the Pitt-Rivers Archaeological Science Seminar Series series.

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