The SMELT/Low Birker Archaeological Excavation: A Tenth-Century Iron Production Site
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During the summer of 1999 I participated in the SMELT /Low Birker Archaeological Field School. The site, the Low Birker farm, is located in Cumbria, in the northwest of England. For six weeks we excavated what is thought to be a tenth-century large-scale iron smelting site operated by Viking settlers and their descendants. We excavated several furnaces, a slag heap, and a few other locations as well. The Low Birker site is unique in many ways. It is an example of a type of smelting technique, the tall-shaft furnace, which has rarely been found in England. It is also shows an intense amount of production concentrated in a small area. The site also contains many structures of undetermined use which remain to be studied. An explanation of the history of iron smelting and of smelting techniques is essential in understanding the uniqueness of Low Birker. The existing literature is rich in detail about smelting history and techniques, but there are some limitations. The literature focuses on regions and time periods quite different from the setting and era of Low Birker. Therefore, in this paper, I will include a short history of the region with my discussion of the features that make Low Birker unique in the history and geography of iron smelting.