Metallurgy and Multidisciplinarity: Interview with Marc Gener Moret

What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of Cambridge and why?

“Opportunity”, probably. Everything seems to be possible, here, if you are up to the challenge. You find yourself submerged in an ecosystem composed of talented, committed and enthusiastic individuals, interacting in a most constructive fashion and supported by an environment devoted, in many ways, to providing them with the tools and motivation to carry on with what they put their minds and hearts to. Communicating with this community is a daily wonder. It is fantastic to be part of this.

What was your path to your postdoc at Cambridge?

A bit accidental, to be frank. For some time I had been looking for financial support to carry on a project that allowed me to start a bit of a systematic approach to the study of historical iron in the Iberian Peninsula, a subject rather under-researched despite some notable efforts on latter years. I finally got a Marie Skłodowska Curie Action grant to develop a project on the technology of Iron in the Iberian Peninsula in pre-Roman times (IBERIRON), which was initially supposed to take place elsewhere. But then, the person going to be the supervisor of the project, Prof. Marcos Martinón-Torres, moved to Cambridge to the McDonald Institute. I was offered the option of  continuing with the project under different supervision, but I didn’t have to think about it much: for me, an important part of the project was the opportunity to work with him, and the undeniable appeal of Cambridge did the rest. Transferring the project was a little administrative nightmare, but we managed and here I am now.

Can you tell us a little about you, and your research interests? What drew you to archaeometallurgy?

This is a good question. You know, I am a physicist by trade. I specialized in Optics and Solid State physics. My PhD has nothing to do at all with archaeology or archaeometry. But, as fascinating as the study of the laws of the universe may be, as I approached the end of my PhD I found myself missing a fundamental aspect in my research:  a deeper human perspective. I understood it was a factor I was going to need if I wanted to keep my passion for research. So, after my PhD, I dropped my line of work entirely, never to look back, and tried to find a way into a field that possessed that human factor, something I could feel passionate about and where my skills could be of use. Archaeometallurgy had just that perfect combination of these elements. Having a longstanding interest in various fields of history and archaeology helped, of course. The rest was pretty straightforward, I strove to find jobs in the area while learning as much as possible along the way. And I was lucky enough, I have to say, as here I am.

Such a career has shaped my research towards multidisciplinarity, of course. I have a deep interest in ancient technology and its associated technological knowledge, but above all in the role of these elements in the shaping of the human mind and, through it, the world. My research focuses on the study of historical metals technology, processes and functionality, and in how they affect the interactions of humans with their environment. I worked with many metals, but my true specialization is the technology of iron, particularly in its applications to weaponry and conflict, with special attention to contributions from the field of functional analysis of historical weapons.

Sources tell me that you know how to swordfight. How did you first learn, and is it something you’re still doing in Cambridge? How does your hobby intersect with your research?

It intersects quite a lot. My knowledge of historical swordfighting principles and techniques is fundamental when analyzing the functional aspects of metals technology applied to weaponry. To understand why a sword is the way it is, one must understand how it is used. The fact that it is almost obscenely fun is… well, it is a great bonus.

I first started to deal with the use of historical weapons in my university years, but it got somewhat serious by the time I started my PhD. This was about twenty years ago, with Japanese sword arts. I moved the historical European swordfighting in 2002, and have been practising, helping develop and teaching swordfighting techniques, based in the historical Spanish school of fencing, since then.

Since moving to Cambridge, though, I had to step down a bit my training. I brought my practise swords with me, but right now I work alone. There are some local groups, but they specialize in weapons different than the ones I practise with, and the fact that my work here is very absorbing is also an important factor. I need to organize myself better!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Aside from fencing, you mean? Well, I really enjoy the company of friends and family, so I try to spend time with them and build shared experiences. This is my primary occupation in my spare time. I also love stories. No matter the format, I just like good stories, so I get them through books, movies, series, graphic novels, videogames… Not that I have much time for them, lately! I also like to be aware of what’s going on in the world, when I can. Usually, to my dismay.

Know more about Marc’s work by visiting his institutional profile in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge.

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