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Colin Merrony Bryan Hanks Roger Doonan

Seeking the Process: The Application of Geophysical

Survey on some Early Mining and Metalworking Sites

The production of metal, and the technologies of mining and processing associated with this production, are
an intensely debated component within the discussion of
the development of complex societies. The study of these
processes and technologies has developed signiicantly in
recent decades because of the application of scientiic techniques both in the ield and in the laboratory. The application of geophysical techniques for the discovery and investigation of mining and processing sites, while having a long
history within Bronze Age studies, has recently seen a surge
in interest as a result of continuing technological advances.
Building on the legacy of previous studies this paper discusses
a new program of geophysical survey on Middle Bronze Age
landscapes in the Southern Ural region of Siberia and looks
forward to the further application of these and related techniques in Siberia, Britain and throughout Europe.

At the heart of discussions of the Bronze Age and the

development of complex societies has been the view
that the development of early metal production technologies and mining methods provided a key stimulus (Yener 2000; Maddin 1988; Tylecote 1987; Linduf
2004). The production of metal as a mechanism by
which wealth accumulation could be achieved is seen
as an important element for the growth of systems
of trade and for the innovation and difusion of new
ideas and technologies (Chapman 2003; Kristiansen
1998: 73). This debate, already one of the most intensely active in prehistoric archaeology, has been
able to develop signiicantly recently as a result of
the large scale application of a wide range of scientiic techniques on many archaeological projects (Ottaway/Roberts 2008: 193).
The last 30 years have seen enormous developments in the technology available for archaeological
geophysics and a huge increase in the application of
a wide range of techniques on archaeological sites
(Becker 1990; 1995: 218220; Aspinall 1992: 233240;
Gafney et al. 2002: 1224; Gafney/Gater 2003: 16).
Many ield archaeologists, such as Barbara Ottaway,
have long encouraged the application of archaeo-

logical geophysical survey. One project which saw

the early application of caesium-vapour magnetometry to archaeology was Barbara Ottaways project
on the Galgenberg near Kopfham in Lower Bavaria
(Ottaway 1999). From this time on, during her professional career at Bradford and then Sheield University she encouraged the application of geophysical techniques (in particular luxgate magnetometry)
on early copper mining and bronze metal production
sites in many areas including Austria and the United
Kingdom as part of a number of PhD programmes
(Marshall 1995; Doonan 1996; Wager 2003). This legacy continues today in Sheield with current projects,
as geographically diverse as the Russian Federation
and the United Kingdom, applying magnetic survey
techniques across early copper mining and bronze
metalworking sites.
A major current project is a collaborative ield
study, bringing together a wide range of participants
including the authors and others from Russia, the
United States and the United Kingdom. This project
is focused on a group of Middle Bronze Age (c. 2100 to
1700 cal BC) sites in the area immediately to the east
of the Southern Urals (ig. 1) which may be termed
the Sintashta pattern. This group of sites has been
discussed since the 1980s as demonstrating major developments in social, economic and political organisation combined with a signiicant intensiication in
mining and metal production. This has ensured that
these sites and the associated Petrovka and AlakulFyodorovka patterns, within the southern Ural to
northwest Kazakhstan area, have received particular attention within the Central Eurasian Steppe region (Mallory 1989; Chernykh 1992; Kuzmina 2002;
Boyle et al. 2002; Jones-Bley/Zdanovich 2002; Levine
et al. 2003; Hanks et al. 2007; Hanks/Doonan 2008).
Although a signiicant focus has been placed on the
investigation and discussion of the Sintashta pattern, there remain large gaps in the evidence for the
organisation of metal production, trade and social
organisation with the only relatively complete published work to date on a settlement being that from
the site of Sintashta itself (Gening et al. 1992).
The Sintashta pattern is characterised by new
forms of nucleated, enclosed settlements (most com-


Colin Merrony Bryan Hanks Roger Doonan

Fig. 1: Location map showing the region of known Sintashta sites.

monly referred to as fortiied) in association with

elaborate cemeteries which contain large-scale animal
sacriice, complex tomb construction and evidence
for early chariot technology (Anthony/Vinogradov
1995). This has led to discussions of chiely leadership
and large scale territorial control (for broad reviews
of the region and period see Anthony 2007; Kohl 2007;
Koryakova/Epimakhov 2007).
Sintashta settlements have been grouped into
three chronologically ranked categories based on
aerial photographic evidence and small scale excavation. The earliest of these are the oval shaped settlements (e.g. Alandskoe, Bersaut, Rodniki/Stepnoye).
The middle category are rounded settlements such
as Arkaim, Sintashta I, Kamennyi Ambar (Olgino)
and Zhurumbai. The inal phase is made up of rectangular shaped settlements including Sintashta II,
Konoplyanka, Ustye and Chernorechye (Zdanovich/
Batanina 2002). Recent results have already begun
to alter some of these categorisations (Zdanovich/
Batanina 2007: 97102). These sites are widely spread
across the region. However, some of the sites are 40
to 60 kilometres apart which has led to a suggestion
that each site may have a territory with a radius of
approximately 20 to 30 kilometres (Epimakhov 2002;
2005; Zdanovich/Batanina 2002). This has led to the
idea that the enclosed settlements are able to function as efectively socio-economic and political entities. However, it should be noted that the spacing of
Sintashta sites is very irregular with several examples
with much smaller separation distances (for example

the 3 sites in the Karagaily Ayat river valley which

are only approximately 8 kilometres apart). This and
many questions relating to resource management,
mean that the standard view of Sintashta political
and economic organisation is very likely to be challenged in the future.
There are strong suggestions that the enclosed
sites may be associated with open settlements
(Zdanovich 1989), particularly as the habitable area
within each enclosed settlement is very limited.
It seems highly probable that additional domestic
structures would be situated outside the enclosed areas along with other structures for the management
of livestock, storage of food resources for the winter,
waste disposal and so on. Unfortunately no archaeological evidence exploring this matter has been published recently. This is particularly the case for the
management of livestock, as there appears to be no
evidence for animal enclosures or stalls within the
fortiied settlements. We are only now beginning to
see the exploration of areas outside the enclosed areas as for example with the recent luxgate magnetometer survey undertaken at the Kamennyi Ambar
(Olgino) settlement in 2005.
Evidence of metalworking items in cemeteries
(in addition to the animal sacriice, chariot technology and weaponry) has also been used to support the
hypothesis that Sintashta sites represent a strongly
hierarchical society (Koryakova 2002; Kristiansen/
Larsson 2005). Again the assumptions made may
well be challenged in the near future as the increas-

Seeking the Process: The Application of Geophysical Survey on some Early Mining and Metalworking Sites

ing amount of material recovered from Sintashta

cemeteries is more closely considered. For example
items relating to metal production (moulds, hammer
stones, etc.) are widely distributed across age and sex
categories (Epimakhov 2002: 144). However, cemeteries have produced very useful amounts of metal
objects and metal working items which form an important resource when considering Sintashta metal
production technology.
Many questions remain unanswered regarding
signiicant aspects of Sintashta settlement and social
organisation. This is partly because the discussion
of metallurgy dominates most interpretations of
both the emergence of the Sintashta pattern and the
models for its social complexity and organization.
Archaeological research continues to demonstrate
that each of the Sintashta house structures within
the enclosed areas of settlements contains one or
more wells (or cistern features) and cupola shaped
hearths (interpreted as furnaces), which are believed
to be principally connected with metal processing
including smelting (Gening et al. 1992; Zdanovich/
Zdanovich 2002). Other objects connected with metallurgy, such as pestles, slag and metal droplets, are
also routinely recovered from household contexts
These materials are found throughout all the enclosed settlements (although not in equal amounts).
This could be taken to suggest that metallurgy was
not a specialized activity undertaken by diferent individuals or groups within communities (Epimakhov
2002: 143). Material such as slag is also found outside
of the enclosed areas even though little investigation
of the areas outside of the enclosed areas has so far
been undertaken.
In parallel to the questions surrounding Sintashta
metal production has been a lack of evidence for mining or quarrying near the settlements. This has lead
to great speculation over whether Sintashta societies were exploiting localized ore resources for their
needs or were trading over (perhaps long) distances
for unprocessed ore and/or partially processed metals (ingots) for later on-site reining. The almost
complete lack of archaeological research outside of
the enclosed settlements (apart from cemeteries)
ensures that most of this discussion remains speculation and systematic full coverage surface surveys and
site catchment studies are urgently needed within
the zones surrounding the settlements.
The current collaborative project by American,
British and Russian teams at the Sintashta pattern
sites of Kamennyi Ambar (Olgino), Stepnoye and
Chernorechye have provided opportunities to apply
a variety of techniques including geophysical survey
in order to examine a number of important problems
surrounding Sintashta settlements. The settlement of
Olgino is situated to the east of the modern village of
Varshavka and close to two other Sintashta pattern
settlements (Konoplyanka and Zhurumbai) in the


Karagaily Ayat River valley. Settlement and mortuary activities in the valley are well documented for
the Middle and Late Bronze Age phases along with a
number of Iron Age and Medieval mortuary sites. The
appearance of three Sintashta settlements in such
close proximity to each other immediately raises
questions about their relationship. For example do
they perhaps represent three separate relocations of
a single smaller community after the degradation of
resources in an immediate site catchment area (approximately 45 km radius), or are they three separate communities occupying the sites contemporaneously? Questions such as this can only be answered
through more intensive investigations of the settlements and their relationships within their local environments. However, such settlement distributions
appear to challenge the model of larger catchment
zones between autonomous Sintashta settlements.
The main focus of collaborative work in this
area (20052007), in conjunction with A. Epimakhov
(Southern Ural State University) and L. Koryakova
(Ural State University), has been the settlement of
Olgino itself and its immediate locale, including the
Kamennyi Ambar 5 cemetery. Large areas of magnetometer survey were conducted over both the settlement area and across the nearby cemetery. Further
surveys were also conducted over a possible area of
early mining/quarrying to the north-east and across
other burial features (ig. 2). Here the discussion will
cover the surveys on the settlement and mining areas. For a complete discussion of all the results from
the geophysical survey see Hanks et al. (in prep.) and
for further information on the investigation of the
possible mining/quarrying site see Hanks and Doonan (in press).
The largest survey was across the settlement area
which had been interpreted as a rounded (middle
category) settlement from the results of air photographs. This survey included the whole of the settlement (as identiied from aerial photographs) as well
as the available area of land to the west of the site
(situated between the settlement and the river) and
extending approximately 80 metres eastward beyond
the margin of the settlement (ig. 2).
The magnetometer survey revealed very good information in relation both to the enclosing boundary
of the settlement and to internal features including
features which are consistent with hearths or furnaces within house units and some possible internal dividing boundaries; substantial magnetic dipoles near
the centre of the settlement consistent with structures or deposits of burnt material or metal; and an
internal dividing boundary ditch.
As can be seen in igure 3 there is a clear boundary (a ditch) to the settlement which has most likely
developed in at least two phases. The boundary of the
settlement is clearly rectangular in shape. There is a
faint linear anomaly running north-west to south-


Colin Merrony Bryan Hanks Roger Doonan

Fig. 2: Map of the Kamennyi Ambar area (showing the relative positions of the Sintashta sites).

east near the centre of the settlement (1 in ig. 3)

which appears to be a continuation of the northern
part of the enclosing boundary ditch (2 in ig. 3). The
southern part (3 in ig. 3) of the enclosing boundary then looks like it has been added on. The weaker
anomaly (1), which was probably originally the southern boundary of the settlement, has probably resulted
from a ditch which has fallen out of use and has then
been deliberately backilled as the settlement had extended to the south and an internal division was not
required. While the geophysics results cannot be used
to guarantee that this sequence of events is correct
(and certainly do not give any idea of date or timescale) the data strongly supports this interpretation.
One further complicating factor relating to the
interpretation of the enclosing boundary ditch is
the north-east corner of the settlement. As is clearly
indicated on the interpretive diagram the enclosing
ditch, which is a single feature around most of the perimeter of the settlement, appears as a double feature
in the north-eastern corner. The results provide a

rather complex picture which is further confused by

the fact that the area of an excavation conducted in
2004 cuts through this double section. The apparent
phasing on this site is unusual for a Sintashta pattern
site and this suggests that the length of occupation of
this site may be particularly informative.
The second set of features deined in the geophysical survey which we should consider are discrete positive magnetic anomalies which lie in straight alignments within the northern part of the settlement
area. These are moderately strong features and are
consistent with possible hearths or furnaces or with
large pits, which may mark the central area of house
units. These features are visible on igure 3 as dark
shapes 3 to 4 metres in diameter, some of which also
have surrounding light (negative) shadows (they are
marked as black dots on the interpretive diagram in
ig. 3). Also visible as magnetic anomalies within the
northern part of the settlement area are a few linear
positive anomalies which appear to run on the same
alignment as the rows of features discussed above.

Seeking the Process: The Application of Geophysical Survey on some Early Mining and Metalworking Sites


Fig. 3: Greyscale plot of magnetometer results for the survey of the Olgino settlement (Kamennyi Ambar).

These linear anomalies are consistent with the foundations of internal boundary walls and are also shown
in black in the interpretive diagram.
This survey strongly suggests that there is a
clearly deined spatial patterning within the northern part of the settlement enclosure. The features interpreted above as possible hearths, pits or furnaces
show a clear linear arrangement suggesting that the
household units within the settlement are arranged
in straight lines parallel to or perpendicular to other
lines forming something of a grid pattern. The southern part of the settlement area does not show such
patterning. However, it is likely that this is a later
phase of enclosure on this settlement and may not
contain such regular features. It is also possible that
the southern part of the settlement area has sufered
greater erosion/disturbance (it has certainly partly
been eroded by the nearby river).
Close to the centre of the enclosed area of the
settlement (just north of feature 1) are three areas
of strong magnetic anomalies. These are substantially stronger than the features outlined above, and
two are clearly magnetic dipoles. These anomalies
are consistent with bodies of burnt material. These
anomalies could represent large pits illed with suitably magnetic material. These anomalies are marked
4 on igure 3.
The results of the geophysical survey have enabled a reinterpretation of the layout of the site
(Zdanovich/Batanina 2007: 97102) which had originally been deined from aerial photographs (Zdanovich/Batanina 2002). A continuing programme of excavation by the Russian team will no doubt reveal
further information about the spatial organisation
of this site and the activities taking place within its

To the north-east of the site an area was initially identiied during a walk-over survey as a possible mining area. This was subject to a small sample
geophysical survey covering 800 m2. This showed no
magnetic anomalies and so further investigation was
conducted in 2007 by more extensive ield survey and
some small sample excavations. This area proved not
to be a source of metal ore but possibly the source
of stone used within the nearby settlement. While
this initial survey did not reveal any early metal ore
mining it very quickly showed the potential for associated archaeological features within the landscape
surrounding the settlement and reinforced the case
for extensive ield survey and site catchment studies.
The project is also undertaking extensive survey
in an area on the northern edge of the Sintashta pattern distribution area (approximately 130 kilometres
north of the Karagaily Ayat River valley) in collaboration with Dmitri Zdanovich (Center Arkaim). This
work is in the valley of the River Ui at the settlement and cemetery site of Stepnoye, the settlement
of Chernorechye and its nearby cemetery of Krivoe
Ozero (approximately 15 kilometres south-east of
Stepnoye; see ig. 5). The site of Stepnoye is particularly striking as it contains the largest Middle Bronze
Age cemetery in the southern Urals region, which
consists of at least 45 kurgan structures dating from
the Middle to Late Bronze Age. This area is among the
most mineral rich areas of western Siberia and consequently ofers great potential for the deinition and
examination of early mining sites.
No signiicant excavation of either settlement has
been undertaken in the past. The Krivoe Ozero and
Stepnoye cemeteries have been partially excavated,
with the Stepnoye cemetery currently undergoing a
programme of excavation. In 2007 preliminary mag-


Colin Merrony Bryan Hanks Roger Doonan

Fig. 4: The interpretation of the aerial photographic evidence

for the Olgino settlement (Kamennyi Ambar) by Zdanovich and
Batanina. A is a simpliied version of the original interpretation
(after Zdanovich/Batanina 2002). B is a simpliied version of the
interpretation which appears to take some consideration of the
results of the magnetometer survey (after Zdanovich/Batanina
2007). Comparison with igure 3 shows that this interpretation is
still somewhat at odds with the evidence from the magnetometer
survey. Also clear is that the features interpreted as Late Bronze
Age structures overlying the Sintashta site are not visible in the
magnetometer data.

limitation large areas were surveyed in 2008 using

luxgate magnetometry. However, in addition to this,
large areas were also covered by a resistivity survey
utilising a twin-probe array.
This approach proved successful at Stepnoye
where the results from the surveys complimented
each other. As can be seen from igure 6, the resistivity survey has produced very good results regarding
the boundaries and internal features of the settlement. The enclosing boundary is a particularly clear
feature and, while there is some masking of archaeological features by the efect of modern features such
as tracks and old cultivation marks, there are many
deinable internal features.
The magnetometer results show nothing of these
features. However, they do show some interesting
contrasting features. There is one strong positive
magnetic anomaly in the north-western part of the
survey area. This feature lies within the area of settlement deined by the resistivity results just inside the
enclosing bank, near the north-west corner of the settlement. This feature is compatible with a large burnt
feature such as a furnace or kiln or perhaps a large pit
illed with burnt material. If this is a structure such as
a kiln it is quite large for a Sintashta period feature.
It would also be most unexpected for there to be just
a single feature of this nature within a Sintashta settlement therefore making its further examination a
matter of great interest. It is, however, possible that
this is a later feature coincidently situated in the
north-west corner of the Sintashta settlement. For
this question to be resolved the feature would need
to undergo excavation.
The second feature of interest in the magnetometer results is the linear dark feature (positive magnetic
anomaly) visible in igure 6 running north-eastwards
from the south-west corner of the magnetometer
survey area. This feature ends after running for approximately 80 metres. There is then a gap and then
another area of positive magnetic readings. The linear
Fig. 5: Map of Stepnoye/Chernorechye area showing the relative
positions of the two settlements along the Ui river course and the
recently identiied possible early mining sites.

netometer surveys were conducted on both sites

which proved largely unsuccessful. In order to examine the reasons for this soil samples were taken for
magnetic susceptibility analysis. These were compared to samples from Olgino. It was clear from the
samples that the soils and sediments at Stepnoye and
Chernorechye consisted of coarser sandy material
and this proved to have a very low magnetic susceptibility compared to the Olgino samples. This probably demonstrates that levels of iron oxide at Stepnoye and Chernorechye are much lower than levels
at Olgino and consequently archaeological deposits
have a much lower potential to become magnetised
by the actions of past human groups. Even with this

Seeking the Process: The Application of Geophysical Survey on some Early Mining and Metalworking Sites

Fig. 6: Greyscale plot showing the results of the geophysical surveys on the Sintashta settlement site of Stepnoye (note the area
covered by the magnetometer survey is smaller than the area covered by the resistivity survey: A, B, C, and D mark the limits and
location of the magnetometer survey).

feature is running through the settlement area as deined by the resistivity survey and ends just inside the
enclosing boundary of the settlement. The gap coincides with the enclosing boundary of the settlement
and then the additional positive magnetic feature to
the north which lies outside the settlement area. It is
not clear what is causing this feature although a small
sample excavation in the area outside the settlement
revealed an area of deeper soil containing signiicant
amounts of slag and artefactual material. It is possible that the linear positive magnetic feature and the
additional area outside the settlement are part of a
natural feature which has become illed with a deeper
soil causing the magnetic anomaly. The settlement
may then have been built over this natural feature.
However, this interpretation is not entirely convincing as the low magnetic properties of the soils and
sediments at Stepnoye do not strongly support this.
It is hoped that in future further excavation may shed
light on this. The presence of slag and artefactual
material outside the settlement is a welcome conirmation that archaeological features and deposits are
present outside these enclosed settlements.
One of the additional activities in 2008 was a preliminary reconnaissance in the area around Stepnoye
to explore the possibilities of early mining sites. Very


quickly this work has identiied six potential early

mining sites all with surface outcrops of ore. There
was time to undertake a rapid preliminary examination of these sites and this work suggests that these
sites yield rich, yet limited in size, ore deposits. This
explains clearly why the sites are unattractive to
modern industrial scale exploitation and conirms the
high potential for early evidence to still survive on
these sites and perhaps at further sites in the area.
It was not possible to explore these potential early
mining sites and their surroundings using geophysical
survey methods during 2008. However, this is clearly
a potential future use for geophysical techniques. If
there is any kind of ore processing on or near these
sites then magnetometry in particular could yield
useful results.
A signiicant amount of slag has already been recovered from the excavations at Stepnoye itself and
an initial examination of this has shown that this is
the product of copper metallurgical processes. However, this preliminary analysis has revealed interesting variations in the material suggesting these slags
come from only part of the ore processing sequence.
Unless other classes of slag are forthcoming from the
settlement then it seems that the Sintashta metallurgical tradition may have been a segmented process with only the latter steps of production being
undertaken at Stepnoye. Given the rarity of metal
processing material from Olgino and the apparent
abundance of material from Stepnoye, it is strongly
suggested that the level of metal processing is not
simply equal across all Sintashta sites. The immediate
implication of this is that future surveys in the vicinity of Sintashta sites must anticipate other types of
metallurgical sites which, to date, have not been recognized. The combination of large scale ield survey
and the application of geophysical techniques in the

Fig. 7: Magnetometer survey underway on the steep slopes of the

copper mining site on Ecton Hill, Stafordshire, U.K. (photograph
R. Doonan).


Colin Merrony Bryan Hanks Roger Doonan

from the University of Leicester (David et al. 2008:

1938). We are also seeing the exploration of new
forms of detector with the advantages of vector-ield
instruments being explored with 3-axis luxgates (ig.
8) for example at the University of Sheield. These
developments are now being combined with Global
Positioning System (G.P.S.) technology to provide
greater lexibility in survey methods. Consequently
archaeological geophysics has a positive future and
will continue to play an increasing role in prospection
and in the investigation of archaeological landscapes.
Building on the legacy of the last 30 years we will see
increasingly powerful instruments and systems becoming available providing further options for the
exploration of early mining and metal working sites.
This, combined with new instruments for chemical
analysis such as portable X-Ray Fluorescence technology and large scale multi-disciplinary integrated
projects, suggests an exciting future for the study of
the archaeology of early metal production.

Fig. 8: 3-axis luxgate gradiometer with integral G.P.S. being tested

at Castleton, Derbyshire, U.K. (photograph A. Staford).

vicinity of possible mining sites and on open settlements will hopefully rapidly yield useful information
with which to address these questions.
Western Siberia is not the only early mining and
metal producing area that is currently being studied.
Many other sites are being examined including a current project at Ecton in Stafordshire in the U.K. Here
again large scale geophysical survey is being applied
to a known early mining site in order to explore the
possible areas for ore processing sites. As can be seen
from igure 7, however, the hills of the western Peak
District do not ofer such comfortable geophysical
surveying conditions as are found on the Sintashta
sites of Western Siberia.
Just as thirty or more years ago technological
developments provided a huge stimulus for the increased application of geophysical techniques for the
examination of archaeological sites, we are now again
in a period of signiicant development and innovation
within archaeological geophysics. Total-ield instruments such as alkali-vapour magnetometers have
gradually grown in their application as these instruments have become more available. However, there
have also been several innovations recently developing the delivery systems for existing types of equipment, for example the use of carts, sleds or hand held
multiple sensor arrays. These vary from multiple
magnetometer systems from manufacturers such as
Geoscan, Bartington and Foerster to multiple sensor
platforms such as the new cart system from Geoscan
Research Ltd or the GEEP mobile sensor platform

The authors would like to thank their Russian collaborators, D. Zdanovich, E. Kupriyanova, L. Koryakova and A. Epimakhov and the students and staf of
Ural State University, Southern Ural State University,
Chelyabinsk State University and the University of
Pittsburgh for their support in carrying out the research discussed within this paper. We also gratefully
acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Russian and
East European Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

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