Uncovering a high-end iron age blacksmith shop in Oxfordshire to create new history.
A workshop from the iron age has been unearthed in Oxfordshire, where skilled blacksmiths were working with metal approximately 2,700 years ago. The site contained various tools and materials, including bellows protectors and small fragments of metal that were produced during the forging process.
Radiocarbon tests date it between 770BC and 515BC, during the earliest days of ironworking in Britain. From about 800BC, the art of forging iron became widespread in the British Isles for tools and weapons and the iron age takes its name from the mastery of this metal.
The archaeologists informed the Guardian that they were amazed by the early dates and the evidence.
This was not your average blacksmith shop, but a talented manufacturer of impressive and upscale iron items, ranging from swords to chariot wheels.
Some of the findings consist of the footprint of the blacksmith’s workshop and its internal components, featuring a distinct hearth and iron bar used for creating artifacts. Additionally, there is a fully preserved tuyere, which directed air into the hearth and served as a shield for the bellows against the intense heat of the fire.
DigVentures, a social enterprise focused on archaeology, carried out the excavation while exploring the lower area of Wittenham Clumps, a notable landmark in South Oxfordshire. In the year 2021, the group discovered a large iron age settlement consisting of roundhouses dating back to 400-100BC.
The vast expanse of green land would have kept everything hidden if the Earth Trust, an environmental organization responsible for the area, had not made the choice to renovate its visitor center. The application for the project included a dig for archaeological purposes.
The site director of DigVentures, Nat Jackson, commented on the recent discoveries, stating that the variety of evidence is impressive. They have found almost everything that would have been in a blacksmith’s workshop, except for the tools. Uncovering something like this is an exciting experience, as it gives us a glimpse into the past and the work of one of Britain’s earliest master blacksmiths.
Archaeologist Maiya Pina-Dacier from DigVentures noted that the discovery provides a unique opportunity to observe the highly skilled work of a craftsman during a significant moment in history – the introduction of ironworking in Britain.
She stated that finding a tuyere was one of the most thrilling discoveries. While examples from later periods, such as the Saxon, Viking, and medieval periods, are commonly found and cause excitement, finding a complete tuyere from the first few centuries of the iron age is extremely rare, not just in Britain but in all of Europe.
She explained, “The size of the tuyere is indicative of the size of the hearth. During the iron age, most everyday tools were relatively small. This is because producing small items requires less energy and can be difficult to control. However, producing larger objects, such as swords and cartwheels, requires a larger hearth. These types of artifacts were only able to be made by highly skilled blacksmiths. This workshop was a very prestigious and exceptional blacksmithing operation.”
Gerry McDonnell, a specialist in archaeometallurgy, analyzed the discoveries and called them “remarkable.”
DigVentures was established in 2012 as a group of archaeologists with the goal of promoting public involvement in the field of archaeology.
A selection of the artifacts will be on display for the public in February at a no-cost pop-up exhibit. The exhibit will also feature discussions and workshops at the Earth Trust visitor center located in Abingdon.
According to Anna Wilson from Earth Trust, these findings are essentially creating new historical knowledge right in front of us, and uncovering more secrets about this unique location.