Dr Gillian Juleff


Fieldwork is at the heart of archaeology and, like all archaeologists, I enjoy getting out into the field to gather new data. This may be through surveys and excavations, or through experimental work. My more recent fieldwork has been focussed on India and Sri Lanka. Generally, if funding allows, I prefer to take students with me whether they are from Exeter or from the country I am working in.

In the summer (monsoon season) of 2007 I conducted a series of experimental smelts in Sri Lanka. The aim was to extend our knowledge of how the wind-powered furnaces of Samanalawewa functioned and to gather new data on temperatures and air flow regimes. The furnaces were built on the same archaeological iron smelting site that was used for the original 1994 smelts. The site is situated on a west-facing hilltop in the southern foothills of the Central Highlands. In the course of the work we also conducted further reconnaissance survey walks in hills to the east of Samanalawewa to examine the long range continuation of site distribution patterns observed in the core area.

In 2010, with the UKIERI Pioneering Metallurgy project, I led a six-week archaeological survey in Northern Telangana in what was Andhra Pradesh but is now part of the new state of Telangana. The aim of the survey was to locate, record and sample sites associated with past iron and crucible steel production. The team comprised staff, students and researchers from Exeter; the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore; Central and Osmania Universities in Hyderabad and the National Degree College of Dharmapuri. Even with excellent local support, fieldwork in this remote part of India is challenging and has to be well-planned. The methods followed can best be described as reconnaissance-style, visiting known locations and making detailed narrative field notes supported by GPS tracking and location points. Alongside the archaeological survey of surface evidence we also conducted an ethno-metallurgical survey, recording interviews with local blacksmiths and recording their workspaces and working practices. A total of 245 locations of interest were recorded, of which 183 relate directly to past iron and steel production. An interim report describing the survey has been published.

In 2013 I returned once more to Sri Lanka to conduct a further series of experimental smelts at Samanalawewa. On this occasion the aim was to demonstrate the technology for Sri Lankan engineers, metallurgists and technologists. While the experiments were conducted with the same approach as earlier campaigns, using locally available materials and adhering closely to the archaeological evidence, it was an exciting departure to be conducting fieldwork for a non-archaeological audience. The campaign was initiated by the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL) and generously sponsored by Colombo Dockyard Plc, Sri Lanka’s largest heavy engineering company.