Osmium isotope analysis as an innovative tool for provenancing ancient iron: A systematic approach

Michael Brauns, Naama Yahalom-Mack, Ivan Stepanov, Lee Sauder, Jake Keen, Adi Eliyahu-Behar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The innovation of iron production is often considered one of the greatest technological advances in human history. A reliable provenancing method for iron is instrumental for the reconstruction of economic, social and geo-political aspects of iron production and use in antiquity. Although the potential of osmium isotopes analysis for this purpose has been previously suggested, here we present for the first time the results of osmium isotope analysis of ores, bloom and metal obtained from a set of systematic, bloomery iron-smelting experiments, utilizing selected ores from the Southern Levant. The results show that the 187Os/188Os ratio is preserved from ore to metal, with no isotopic fractionation. In addition, enrichment/depletion of osmium content was observed in the transition from ore to metal and from ore to slag. This observation has potential significance for our ability to differentiate between the various processes and sheds light on the suitability of various production remains for this method, which emerges as a robust and promising tool for the provenancing of archaeological ferrous metals.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0229623
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Brauns et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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