Martha Goodway, Associate Editor

The Titanic seems to dominate the news in many categories, including ours. Plates and rivets recovered from the wreck of the Titanic as well as pictures of parts still underwater are being closely examined to determine the quality of the materials used in construction of the hull. This is being done with several questions in mind, among them whether these materials contributed to the sinking of the Titanic after its collision with an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912.

The wreckage was located on the sea floor in 1986. A study of several hull plates retreived at that time was done at the University of Missouri-Rolla and is reported by Katherine Felkins, H. P. Leighly and A. Jankovic in the January 1998 issue of JOM, the Journal of the Mining, Metals, and Materials Society, pages 12-18. "The Royal Mail Ship Titanic: did a metallurgical failure cause A Night to Remember?" can also be found in a hypertext-enhanced version at

Felkins et al. concluded from the very low nitogen content (0.0035%) that the plates were open hearth steel, and from the high sulphur (0.069%) and phosphorus (0.045%) contents that an acid-lined hearth had been used. The microstructure indicated no heat treatment subsequent to air cooling after rolling. MnS inclusions were aligned with residual banding from rolling but averaged only 40x60Ám rather than being strung out as would happen at higher rolling temperatures. The manganese level (0.47%) was low for so high a sulphur content, resulting in poor impact strength properties. For an impact energy of 20 Joules, ductile-brittle transition temperatures as high as 56 C were measured transverse to the rolling direction, well above the seawater temperature at the time of the collision, which was -2 C.

Another report, "Metallurgy of the RMS Titanic," by Tim Foecke of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST-IR 6118, dated February 4, 1998) includes information on two rivets. The New York Times feature story by William J. Broad in the January 27, 1998 issue (pages C1, C3), "Faulty rivets emerge as clues to Titanic disaster," comes to a conclusion that Foecke in his report is not prepared to make until more rivets can be examined. Underwater photographs do suggest, however, that instead of rupturing the hull plates, the iceberg had caused the heads of the rivets to be sheared off. At least 37 empty rivet holes can be seen in these photographs, and bent but not fractured hull plates. Foecke estimated from cross sections of the rivets that the slag content by volume was about 9%, rather than the expected 2 or 3%. They were preformed from wrought iron, the slag lines showing an even spread of the metal in the preformed head but at the other end where the rivet had been set the metal was so sharply bent that it was folded back into an angle somewhat greater than 90 degrees. Because of the highly directional nature of tensile strength in wrought iron, it is thought that the initial failure occurred at this point in the rivet, allowing the hull plates to separate. It is planned to salvage more rivets (there were more than three million in the ship) in August 1998.

Jéróme Bonhóte has written a book, Forges et Forets dans les Pyrénées Ariégeoises, with a preface by Georges Bertrand, that addresses the historical impact of metallurgy on the forests of the Pyrenees. It has 320 pages and is available for 248 francs plus 30 francs for shipping from Pyrégraph éditions, Rue Gambetta, F-31160 Aspet, France; telephone 33-5 61 88 41 75, fax 33-5 61 8841 77.

Donald B. Wagner’s book mentioned in an earlier column, The Traditional Chinese Iron Industry and its Modern Fate [ISBN 0-7007-0951-7], is now being distributed in the US by the University of Hawaii Press, 2840 Kolowalu Street, Honolulu HI 96822; telephone 808-956-8255, fax 1-800-650-7811. The price is $29.00 plus $3.50 shipping, and they take both Mastercard and Visa.

Come September 1999 we will have what is becoming the traditional September scheduling conflict. Peter Northover is organising a conference on "Founders, Smiths and Platers: Metal Forming and Finishing from the Earliest Times" to celebrate the 20th anniversay of the Materials-Based Archaeology Group of the Department of Materials at Oxford. It will be held at St. Catherine’s College, September 20-24, dates which will conflict with the 14th International Bronze Congress in Cologne. For more information on the Oxford meeting contact Peter Northover, Department of Materials, Oxford University, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PH, UK; peter.northover@

The next World Archaeological Congress, WAC4, is to be held January 10-14 in Cape Town, during the southern hemisphere’s summer. Has anyone planned a symposium or a workshop on an archaeometallurgical topic for this Congress? Let us know. The website for the Congress is

James Thorburn has a tour of ancient mining areas in Northern Spain and Portugal planned for June, to the mines of Devon, Cornwall and Wales for August 14-24 with a possible extension to southern Eire, and to Mexico for September 22 to October 6. For further information write Atalaya Tours Ltd., Deinionfa, Capel Dewi, Aberystwyth, SY23 3HR, UK; telephone and fax 44-1970-828989.

Professor Ernst Pernicka has removed from Heidelberg to Freiberg, where he has established a new institute, the Lehrstuhl für Archäometallurgie, in the Fakultät für Werkstoffwissenschaften und Werkstofftechnologie of the Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg. His address is Gustav-Zeuner-Strasse 5, 09599 Freiberg (Sachs.), Germany; telephone 37-31-39-3353, fax 37-31-39-3657.

Amongst more weighty decisions, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the Vice President of the United States and the other members of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents recently approved changing the name of the Conservation Analytical Laboratory to the Smithsonian Center for Materials Reserch and Education (SCMRE). The Center’s postal address has been change to its street address, in the hope of speeding deliveries. Help us test delivery time by sending your archaeometallurgical news or comments to:

Martha Goodway, Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education, 4210 Silver Hill Road, Suitland MD 20746, USA; tel. 301-238-3700 x164; fax 301-238-3709; e-mail