Exceptional Iron Age Blacksmith’s Workshop Find Is ‘Forging New History’

Archaeologists have uncovered rare evidence of an Iron Age blacksmith’s workshop that was in use around 2,700 years ago.

The remains were unearthed by a team from DigVentures, a social enterprise organizing crowdfunded archaeological excavation experiences, downslope from the Wittenham Clumps—a pair of wooded chalk hills in Oxfordshire, England, that are iconic landmarks in the area. The ancient workshop dates back to the earliest days of ironworking in Britain, according to researchers.

Excavations at the site have revealed a workshop containing artifacts such as pieces of hearth lining, hammerscale (a byproduct of the iron forging process), iron bar and the exceptionally rare discovery of an intact tuyere—a nozzle through which air is forced into a smelter, furnace or forge.

These finds provide evidence of a relatively large ironworking operation, the archaeologists said.

“We’re thrilled whenever discoveries at Wittenham Clumps shine a light on the deep history of human activity in this area,” Anna Wilson, head of experience and engagement at Earth Trust, an environmental charity that manages the land where the site lies, said in a press release.

“Nearly 10,000 artifacts were recovered during the dig, and as we continue to hear more on the analysis of them the story gets more and more captivating. These new discoveries are literally forging new history before our eyes and revealing more of the ancient mysteries behind this very special place.”

Artist’s impression of the Iron Age blacksmith’s workshop. Remains of the workshop were uncovered during excavations in Oxfordshire, southern England.


Radiocarbon dating revealed that the workshop dates to around 771-515 B.C.—not long after ironworking first arrived in Britain around 800 B.C.

The evidence at the site, including the large size of the hearth, suggests that this was no ordinary village workshop. Instead, the archaeologists believe that it belonged to an “elite” or “master” ironworker who produced swords, tools, wheels and other high-value objects.

“It’s exceptionally rare to find a complete tuyere, especially one that’s as old as this. Although there are examples from later periods, including Saxon, Viking-age, and medieval pieces, this is one of the only known Iron Age ones in the country, if not Europe. The fact that it dates not just to the Iron Age, but to the first few centuries of ironworking in Britain, is remarkable.” Gerry McDonnell, a specialist who examined the finds, said in the press release.

“What’s more, the size of it suggests we’re looking at a hearth that was much larger and more specialized than that of your average village smithy.”

Most of the artifacts produced in the Iron Age were not very large and would only have required a relatively small hearth to produce. Larger hearths, on the other hand, would have taken much more skill and resources to control.

“The only reason a blacksmith would need a bigger hearth would be if they were forging something long like swords or trade bars, or big [items] like cart wheels. And these wouldn’t be done by your average village smithy who would normally take care of everyday objects and repairs. The fact that this early Iron Age smithy had a specialist tuyere shows us this was much more likely to have been a serious operation by a highly skilled, master blacksmith.” McDonnell said.

Even though the Iron Age is named after the fact that ancient humans mastered the production of this metal, archaeological sites that provide direct evidence of ironworking are very rare—particularly ones from such an early period.

“It’s always exciting to uncover the remains of ancient buildings that were occupied thousands of years ago, but it’s even more special when we find such direct evidence of who lived there and what they were doing inside,” Nat Jackson, site director for DigVentures who led the excavations, said in the press release.

“In this case, the range of evidence is remarkable. We’ve got almost every component of the blacksmith’s workshop; the building, internal structures, hearth lining, tuyere, even the tiny bits of metal that fly off when the blacksmith is hammering the metal. The only thing we haven’t found is the tools. It’s an incredible thrill to uncover something like this. It basically allows us to peer back in time and see what could have been one of Britain’s earliest master blacksmiths at work.”

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