The iron metallurgy in Switzerland during the Iron Age
The finds related to iron working and production dating back to the Iron Age are scarce in Switzerland and it remains very difficult to describe this activity.
The first iron objects appear around 800 BC in Bronze Age contexts. They are very small luxury goods. During the first Iron Age (7th - 5th BC), iron remains very rare, used mainly for prestige weaponry. The magnificent knife from Estavayer FR has been found in the bed of a stream and is probably an cultual offering. Only a few pieces of smithing slags have been found on settlements (for example at Neunkirch SH and Faoug VD).
A very interesting metallurgical workshop of the 5th century BC has been excavated recently at Sévaz FR. Traces of iron smithing and bronze casting were observed and a few Greek sherds were found during the excavations, evidencing the high status of the craftsmen.
During the second Iron Age, iron became more and more common. Weapons (especially long swords) but also craft and argicultural tools are made of iron. Large hoards of iron tools and weapons have been found, for example at La Tène NE and Bern BE. They are probably related to a religious practice. On settlements of the 1st century BC, slags and other evidences for smithing are quite common (for example at Courgevaux FR). A well preserved workshop has been investigated at Rheinau ZH. The production of fibulae is well attested in this workshop.
But untill now, no firm evidence for iron production has been found for this period. The production of small quantities of iron during the beginning of the Iron Age can not be ruled out because the surviving remains can be overlooked. Concerning the production of the important quantities of iron of the late Iron Age, on the other hand, there is no satisfying explanation for the lack of evidence. The most plausible hypothesis is that most of the iron used in Switzerland has been imported from foreign countries. Until now, little is known about the Iron Age iron production but it is not unlikely that important centers of production were already able to supply long distance trade. Such could be the case in the Mediterranean area (Populonia and the Elban islands), in Central France (Burgundy) or in Austria (Noricum). Iron bars of different types have been found in Switzerland, eventually evidencing such a trade.