The advent of iron metallurgy changed the course of prehistoric Thailand. There is, however, little information on the nature of iron production and the extent to which locally abundant and easily quarried lateritic iron may have been the ore source. For northeast Thailand archaeological sites, the presence of both iron slag and laterite iron nodules within and surrounding these sites has widely been assumed to represent localized smelting using locally sourced iron ore. This interpretation is, however, based on untested laterite-equals-ore and slag-equals-smelting equations. This paper tests these assumptions by examining the chemistry of the lateritic iron nodules from two archaeological sites. At one site, the laterite is not a credible ore source and iron working probably comprised only smithing. Local laterite at the other site may be a usable ore. We conclude that, in northeast Thailand, the use of local laterite as an ore source cannot be assumed and that presence of both laterite and slag is not necessarily evidence for prehistoric smelting.
The definitive version is available at www3.interscience.wiley.com, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/gea.20326