AMOS: Phase 3 (2024-2027)

Metals, Minerals, and the Life Cycle

As a distinct group of materials, metals and minerals have sparked curiosity and ignited interest about their provenance and their use and reuse in scientific, technological, cultural, and socio-economic settings and for magico-medicinal purposes. We use the concept of life cycles to probe into the complex intertwining of both issues in the histories and historiographies of metals and minerals. In this context, life cycle encompasses a) the journey of metals and minerals from exploration, discovery, extraction, processing and smelting (for metals) and beneficiation (for minerals), and reclamation; b) their use in different geographical and cultural contexts and for different purposes (i.e., alum from the island of Lesbos in the Eastern Mediterranean was used as a fixative for dying fabrics in Italy, but also to preserve leather, to treat paper, and in candle making); throughout the lives of individuals and communities.

  • Provenance: How this group of materials informed boundaries drawn between different geographies of knowledge and their knowledge fields in Europe, Asia, and Africa
  • Use and re-use: the legacy of metals and minerals, their repurposing and recycling
  • Reciprocity between provenance and use histories.

In nearly all pre-1700 historical cultures, metals and minerals were not just linked but intimately intertwined with Agriculture and the Making of Science. Cultures across Asia, Africa, and Europe pondered over the mysteries of how soils generated metals, mineral veins grew beneath the earth like trees on earth, ores spread seeds, and salts were extracted from water or plowed from the ground. Scholars singled out metals and minerals as a group distinguishable from plants, vegetables, animals, or humans because of their stable properties and long material persistence. At the same time, craftsmen, farmers, laborers, and artisans probed their uses and re-uses: They struck coins, carved statues and gems, and made everyday tools such as pots, plows, or hoes from gold, iron, silver, copper, and their alloys. Some minerals and metals were recognized as extraordinary and utilized as agents to heal or poison bodies, to add color to textiles and ceramics, to treat paper or make pigments for painting. 

"Metals and Minerals" is the third phase of Agriculture and the Making of Science after "Soil/Earth" and "Water."