The project

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This archaeological research project is led by Louise Iles of the Department of Archaeology, University of York and the School of Anthropology, University of Arizona. The project is called “EnvIron”, and is funded by a Marie Curie Fellowship grant until July 2015. The research will explore the possible link between increasing iron production and environmental degradation in the Pare Mountains of northern Tanzania through the second millennium AD.

Technology is deeply intertwined with environmental issues, and this is no less true for the early industries of iron-making that spread across the globe from the first millennium BC. The development of iron metallurgy heralded an significant shift in human history. The new materials of iron and steel have been popularly credited with contributing towards political, social, economic and environmental changes across the globe, and they are closely associated with the expansion of agriculture, the growth of urban centres, and the rise of complex political systems.

However, whether in the forests of Europe, Asia, the Americas or Africa, an expanding iron industry is often associated with triggering ecological deterioration – a reflection of an ever-increasing demand for fuel and the over-exploitation of wood resources. But is this hypothesis correct? Did early iron smelters decimate their local forests? Is it as simple as that? What can we learn from this about how to minimise the impact of new technologies on our current environments?

This research will explore the relationship between iron and the environment using the tools of archaeological survey, excavation and archaeometallurgical analysis. The iron technology and fuel requirements of Pare’s emerging iron industry will be reconstructed and mapped through time, then combined with environmental records from the region, as well as information about the social organisation of past local communities. Together, this will allow us to understand the impact of metallurgy on this landscape, with ramifications for our understanding of human-environment interactions on a global scale.