Multimetal smithing: An urban craft in rural settings?

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


Title Multimetal smithing: An urban craft in rural settings?
Person and role
Description Multimetal smithing should in its broadest sense be defined as the use of more than one metal and/or different metallurgical techniques within the same chronologically or spatially limited crafts milieu. Complex metalworking of this definition has long been linked to the study of centrality, central places and urbanity in Scandinavia. It has been extensively argued that fine casting and smithing, as well as manufacture utilizing precious metals was exclusively undertaken within early urban settings or the “central places” pre-dating these. Furthermore, the presence of complex metal craftsmanship has been used as a driving indicator of the political, social and economic superiority of certain areas and sites, thereby enhancing and explaining their identity as “centralities”.
Recent research has come to challenge the universality of this link between urbanity, centrality and complex metalworking as sites in predominantly rural settings with evidence of multimetal smithing are being identified. This shows that the relationship between the craft and centrality(urbanity) must be nuanced and that perhaps multimetal craftsmanship should be reconsidered as an urban indicator.
The thesis project “From Crucible and onto Anvil – centralized multimetal smithing and decentralized multimetality in Scandinavian early urban society” started in 2015 and focuses on sites housing remains of multimetal craftsmanship dating primarily from 500-1000 AD. Within the project a comprehensive survey of sites will be used to evaluate the presence of multimetal craftsmanship in the landscape. Sites in selected target areas will also be subject to intra-site analysis of their metallurgical remains focusing on workshop organisation, the array of metalworking techniques utilized and the chronological variances of multimetal smithing.
A key aim in the project is to elucidate the conceptual aspects of complex metalworking. The term multimetality is used to analytically frame all the societal and economic aspects of multimetal craftsmanship. Through this inclusive perspective both the craftsmanship and the metalworkers behind it are positioned within the overall socioeconomic framework. The metalworkers, their skills and competences as well as the products of their labour are viewed as dynamic actors in the landscape and on the arenas of political economy of the Late Iron Age.
The survey has already revealed many interesting aspects concerning multimetal smithing and urbanity. Although the sites with evidence of multimetality do cluster against areas of early urban development there are also other patterns emerging. Multimetal craftsmanship – both as practice and concept – was well represented in both rural peripheral settings and urban crafts-milieus. This means that the role of multimetality as part of an “urban conceptual package” is crucial to investigate. Such an approach will have the dual ends of properly understanding the craft and its societal implications, but also further the knowledge of the phenomenon of urbanity as a whole. Was multimetal smithing part of an “urban package” that spread from the central areas into the rural landscape? Did the multimetality – in practice and as a concept – differ between urban and rural crafts-milieus? How should the presence of multimetal crafts-milieus predating urban development be understood? How does early urbanity relate to the chronology of multimetal craftsmanship?
This paper aims to counter these questions using examples from the survey of multimetal sites conducted within the thesis project. A comparison between selected sites in rural peripheral settings, centralized pre-urban areas and urban crafts-milieus will also be presented. The purpose of this is to evaluate the role of multimetality within the “urban package” and discuss the role of crafts in general and complex metalworking in particular, in the establishment and consolidation of urban arenas of interaction in Late Iron Age Scandinavia.

2016 Sep 3

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • Archaeology
Related organisations
2016 Sep 3

Event (Conference)

Title22nd Annual Meeting of EAA (European Archaeological Association)
Web address (URL)
Degree of recognitionInternational event

Related research output

Andreas Svensson, 2016 Sep 3, p. 80-81.

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract

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