The spread of iron metallurgy into Europe has been a long lasting debate since the beginnings of iron production are hardly comprehensible. Apparently, the southern part of Eastern Europe played a major role in the introduction of this complex pyrotechnology doubtless due to its integration into the Circumpontic network and the proximity to the Near East. The research project aimed to highlight the development of the earliest use of iron in Eastern Europe.


In order to investigate the temporal and geographical distribution of early iron objects and metallurgical residues in Eastern Europe, a database has been developed comprising of about 300 objects from the 3rd millennium BC to the 8th century BC so far. The systematic compilation of sites with early iron objects, iron slags (smelting or smithing?), furnaces and smithing hearths could lead us to a better understanding of the spread of ferrous metallurgy and it’s cultural and economic development in Eastern Europe.

The oldest eastern European iron objects from the third millennium BC belong to the Yamnaya culture and Catacombnaya culture. Due to their age, these early and middle Bronze Age objects are discussed in more detail.

In addition, a critical review of the allegedly most ancient iron artifacts from the early and middle Bronze Age in the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean has already been carried out. At the current state of research, the Near Eastern and Mediterranean objects have hardly any significance concerning the iron metallurgy and this earliest “iron horizon” actually seems to be an archaeological construct.

This result is remarkable because Eastern Europe, especially the Cis-Ural region, shows the highest concentration of early and middle Bronze Age “iron objects” in western Eurasia. If these eastern European artifacts actually consist of metallic iron and their dating is correct, we have to rethink the innovation process and the development of iron production.

Iron objects, whose raw material was made from smelted iron ores in bloomery furnaces, occur more frequently in the North Pontic steppe and forest steppe in the context of Late Bronze Age cultures such as Belozerka, Bondarikha and Srubnaya. In the Carpathian-Dniester region as well, a stable presence of iron processing is documented since the end of 11th century BC.

The objects of the late Bronze Age and earliest Iron Age were evaluated in a more statistical manner to explore the information from the database according to: spatiotemporal distribution, quantity, classification (jewelry, equipment and weapons) etc. Furthermore, as far as possible, we tried to answer questions about technology transfer, interactions between various regions, the exchange of objects and separate developments in the spectrum of iron objects.

The research project was realized in close collaboration with Irina Shramko and Stanislav A. Zadnikov (V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Ukraine) and Maya Kashuba (Institute for History of Material Culture of Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia).

Related Publications

Maya Kašuba, Enrico Lehnhardt, Irina Sramko and Stanislav Zadnikov, “Eisenmetallurgie in der Bronzezeit Osteuropas. Die archäologischen Quellen und ihre Interpretation”, in: Praehistorische Zeitschrift, 94,1 (2019), 1–52

Enrico Lehnhardt, Artur Błażejewski, Pawel Madera and Julia Meister, “Pielgrzymowice – A Przeworsk Culture Iron Smelting Site from the Roman Period in Silesia”, in: Przegląd Archeologiczny, 67 (2019)