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Thilo Rehren is Professor for Archaeological Materials and Director of the Science and Technology in Archaeology Research Center. After completing high school and national service in Germany he studied Earth Sciences, with an MSc dissertation on the mineralisation of a copper-silver mine in SW Germany, and a PhD thesis on the magma development of the Island Arc volcano of Nisyros in the Dodekanes, Greece. After a short postdoc training period at the Univeristy of Oxford he started his professional career at the newly-founded Institut für Archäometallurgie at the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum in Bochum, Germany. In 1999 he was appointed to a chair in archaeological materials at the UCL Institute of Archaeology in London, UK, where he built a major international research group of postgraduate students and postdocs. Following a five-year secondment to establish UCL Qatar as a postgraduate training and research Centre of Excellence in Museology, Conservation and Archaeology he joined the Cyprus Institute in 2017.
Materials, both natural and artificial, are central to human existence and development. Ever since the emergence of artificial materials such as plaster and ceramics some 10,000 years ago, followed by smelted metal some 7,000 years ago, high-temperature engineering processes play an absolutely fundamental role in any subsequent technical and economic development. Despite this, academic study and public perception of past societies are strongly biased towards burials, temples, palaces and finished artefacts, neglecting the skill and ingenuity that went into the multiple and often complex steps required to create these artefacts.
His research focuses on the reconstruction and understanding of the technological processes related to the manufacture of metals, glass, glazes and ceramics. For this, he combines concepts and methods developed by the materials and natural sciences in order to shed light on the tremendous achievements of past craftspeople and proto-engineers. His main approaches are the interpretation of data obtained by structural and chemical analyses of 'technical' finds, such as raw materials, intermediate and semi-finished artefacts, and waste products, in conjunction with archaeological and historical sources. He places particular emphasis on the integration of archaeological, scientific and historical information, and on investigating the correlation and cross-fertilisation between different crafts and industries in order to understand the evolution of technical understanding within the wider setting of varied cultures and societies.