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Testing the New World: early modern chemistry and mineral prospection at colonial Jamestown, 1607–1610

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Rehren, Thilo 
Straube, Beverly 
Martinón-Torres, Marcos 


Abstract: The paper presents new research on an assemblage of metallurgical crucibles used in the assay of minerals at colonial Jamestown. The aim of the study is to explore the range of chemical operations carried out at the site of the first permanent British settlement in America, for which little is known in the documents. The results show that the colonists used high-quality Hessian crucibles to perform tests on different types of complex polymetallic sulphides. This was done to (1) prospect for potential silver and copper ores and (2) to find suitable sources of zinc and tin to be alloyed into brass and bronze through cementation with imported copper offcuts. This study makes a relevant contribution to the growing field of the archaeology of early chemistry and mineral prospection as well as the archaeology of early European colonies in the New World. In particular, material culture can shed fresh light on how European settlers reacted to the many challenges of a new and unfamiliar natural environment and how they tried to make sense and exploit it for financial profit.



Original Paper, Archaeometallurgy, Jamestown, Fire assay, Colonial archaeology, Early modern

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Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

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Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Arts and Humanities Research Council (1738300)