Buffalo State will be returning to the Iron Age Friday and Saturday with an iron smelting experiment spearheaded by the Art Conservation Department.
From 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Friday, October 5, and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 Saturday, October 6, graduate art conservation students, under the supervision of faculty members Jonathan Thornton and Aaron Shugar, will build an iron-smelting furnace on the lawn between Campus House and Lot Y.
Archaeology students from the University at Buffalo and members of the local blacksmithing organization will participate as well. The demonstration is free and open to the public.
"In the ancient smelting process, they would take iron ore, and heat it in a furnace with charcoal until the temperature was really hot and the ore converted to metal," explained Thornton, a professor who has taught objects conservation since 1980. "In ancient Greece and Rome, they were not able to melt iron as it formed because they couldn’t get the temperature hot enough. What they ended up with was a sticky blob, something like a black snowball. That blob is called a bloom." The bloom could then be hammered out into a dense and fibrous iron called "wrought iron" and forged into objects.
Using iron ore from Virginia, a bloom will emerge near the end of Saturday. Additionally, students will participate in early metalwork technologies, including iron forging and bronze casting. They will make lime by burning seashells and limestone in a kiln. Lime plaster was the basis for fresco paintings like those in the Sistine Chapel. Small ceramics will be fired using wood and sawdust in a simple pit.
Buffalo State hosts the Iron Age event every other year, and this marks the sixth one. Along with the dramatic factor of combining metal and fire, Thornton said the impetus behind the event is to show students how iron and other products of “pyrotechnologies” were made centuries ago.
"I’m teaching conservators who need to understand how things were made and how they work in order to be able to conserve and authenticate them," he said, "much the same way that doctors study anatomy to understand how all parts of the body work together."