Archaeometallurgy of the ancient iron production in the Dogon area, Mali

Since 2002, the Archaeometry research group works on the ancient iron metallurgy of the Dogon people in Mali, in the framework The Bandiagara escarpement with the Dogon village of TÚli. Photo V. Serneels.of the international research program "Human population and palaeoenvironment in West Africa". The Dogon area, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, is known for its rich traditions and a remarkable archaeological heritage. This region is characterized by intricate cultural interactions, as witnessed by more than 30 languages existing today. This complexity is reflected by the incredible diversity of the iron metallurgy encountered in the field.

Our global research project aims to characterize and to comprehend these technologies, as well as the socio-economic structureA traditional blacksmith in Sissongo. Photo V. Serneels. related to the local iron production, the traditional smithing and consumption of the iron. It is our belief that  such an approach should integrate all aspects of the production chain, from the ore extraction to the iron smelting and its transformation to finished objects. It is of particular interest to study iron smelting technologies in an area where traditional iron making still took place a few decades ago, as we get acces to information that would be extremely difficult to identify by archaeological means alone.

For this project, we combine broad archaeological surveys to extensive archaeological and archaeometric interventions on selected sites. Archaeological excavations are undetaken in close collaboration with the Department of Anthropology of the University of Geneva, and the metallurgical remains such as slagsExcavation of smelting furnaces in Fiko. Photo S. Perret. or furnace remains are investigated by archaeometallurgical methods in the laboratory.

An increasingly important aspect of the field work concerns ethnoarchaeological and experimental research on smithing. The Dogon blacksmiths use ancestral techniques close to those of the ancient European craftsmen, such offering the possility to understand the formation of the smithing slags. This opportunity will lead to a better understanding of these frequent remains.


Department of Geosciences,
University of Fribourg

Chemin du Musée 6
CH - 1700 Fribourg

Tel. + 41 26 300 89 70
Fax + 41 26 300 97 65