There is fragmentary knowledge of iron ore sources exploited in the past for many regions including the Southern Levant. This missing information has the potential to shed light on political, economic, craft-production, and trading patterns of past societies. This paper presents the results of smelting experiments performed in graphite crucibles and a muffle furnace, using 14 iron ore samples from the Southern Levant, in an attempt to determine their suitability for smelting using ancient techniques. A range of analytical techniques, including optical and electron microscopy, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, X-ray powder diffraction, and portable X-ray fluorescence were used to comparatively investigate the mineralogy and composition of the precursor iron ores and their smelting products: Iron bloom and slag. Several parameters attesting to the ability of a given ore to be successfully reduced and consolidated into a solid metal mass were quantified. The generated results highlight the significance of a ‘correct balance’ between iron oxides and other major elements in the smelting system in order to form fluid slag and a well-consolidated bloom. These data contribute to the understanding of factors, potentially influencing choices of iron ore exploitation by past human societies in the Southern Levant.
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