This project conducted fundamental research into deposits and smelting sites in the southwestern Baltic region. In the course of the project, the group analyzed, recorded and mapped sites that may have met the prerequisites for independent iron smelting.
“Rarus ferri, frequens fustium usus” – “They rarely use iron weapons, more often clubs”. This is how Tacitus characterizes the Aestii [Tacitus, Germania, lib. XLV], a people that is generally identified as the inhabitants of the eastern Baltic coast, or more precisely, as the western Baltic groups inhabiting the region between river Passage in the Southwest and river Daugava in the Northeast. However, the archaeological findings contradict Tacitus’ statement: iron weapons, equipment and other objects appear not only during the Roman Imperial Period, but also throughout the Iron Age. However, the question of the origin of the raw material iron has so far been little explored. It was therefore a primary objective of the project to develop an overarching state of research on “iron as a raw material” on the basis of literature, maps and archival materials for the region of the former province of East Prussia. Smelting remains and deposits of iron ore were the focus of the investigation, but also the early iron objects of the region, which have been observed since the Bronze Age, were taken into account. All results were recorded in a comprehensive catalog.
In pre-war research questions on iron production were an exception. It was assumed that “evidence of local iron smelting from the pre-historic or early historic period of time [in East Prussia] was not known” (Kossinna 1931, 18; translated by H. Eilbracht). The research period up to 1945 remained poor: “Slag finds are known. More detailed information is missing.” (Weiershausen 1939, 156; translated by H. Eilbracht). Even modern research in the region, which is today part of Lithuania, Poland and Russia, has only recently turned to these questions. Therefore, the beginnings, the intensity and the quality of iron smelting on site are still unclear. Current Lithuanian investigations show that, at the latest during the Roman Empire, the iron ore was locally smelted, although only a few smelting sites in the old East Prussian part of the country are known in total . The settlement complex Žardė-Bandužiai south of Klaipėda, where a number of smelting furnaces have been discovered, is particularly important.
The main part of the sites is however characterized by finds of iron slag. For this group of finds, a safe distinction between processing and smelting slags has so far generally been lacking. However, such a distinction is indispensable for the unambiguous identification of smelting at the site. Therefore, for selected sites, the study also carried out material studies and scientific analyzes on the slag and ore findings in cooperation with the respective national institutions. For this purpose a research stay in Lithuania took place in 2015 (H. Eilbracht, A. Bartrow). Museum collections in Vilnius, Klaipėda and Kretinga, as well as numerous archaeological sites were visited. Thanks to several research visits of colleagues from Lithuania (A. Selskienė, Zentrum für Physikalische Wissenschaften und Technologie, Vilnius) and Belarus (E. Kasjuk, Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften, Minsk) as Topoi fellows in 2014 and 2016, these important connections in the region were strengthened. A publication of the results for the territory of the former province of East Prussia is being prepared.
Additionally, several research-group meetings and international workshops on the topic took place (e. g. “Eisenverhüttung an der Zeitenwende“)
The Topoi project on “iron smelting in the Baltic” supplements the research carried out as a long-term project led by the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin in conjunction with the Zentrum für Baltische und Skandinavische Archäologie in Schleswig (Project leaders: M. Wemhoff and C. von Carnap-Bornheim). Archaeological and archival research on Iron Age settlements in the region has been conducted at both institutions since 2012.