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Early Iron - questions..[edit]

Dear Peterkingiron and other contributors to this entry

There is indeed a strong desire to see references for the earliest history of iron as described here! I am fully aware that this is a minefield of opinions rather than 'hard' facts, but I would argue that, as stated in the smelting bit, there is a very significant absence of evidence for early production (i.e. not artefacts, but production remains such as slag, furnaces etc.).

Therefore, rather blunt (my opinion..) observations such as Iron appears to have been smelted in the west as early as 3000 BC, but bronze smiths, not being familiar with iron, did not put it to use until much later., certainly not indicated by reliable evidence, should not be made.

The second statement: In the west, iron began to be used around 1200 BC, presumably as a replacement for bronze, which was becoming harder to come by due to shortages in copper and tin is even 'worse'. This idea was proposed (by Snodgrass) in the 1970's, and although an attractive idea, is certainly no longer the 'majority view', if not dismissed altogether. Whereas tin may have become somewhat scarcer, copper certainly did not, and the continued presence of bronze artefacts during the 'coming of the age of iron' clearly shows that this was not the (prime) reason for using iron. More likely, or at least a more important factor, may have been the improvement of (secondary) smithing techniques, leading to iron being preferred for more and more types of artefacts.

Anyway, can go on for hours, perhaps we can discuss more before changing the entry? As all things iron are so 'hotly' debated, I did not want to arrogantly change the text to reflect my opinions.. And as you indicate below, you thought the smelting bit could be placed here as well. Perhaps we could craft a text that discusses and reflects different possibilities? --x@x 14:20, 9 October 2006 (UTC)

Since, as you say, there is a lot of controversy here, I think the first step would be to build a list of references--as much as possible, this should be papers available online, so that all editors can see the same source material. The edits I've performed have been based on references that I found and added to the reference list; if I've contradicted earlier contents, it's because the references I found supported the changes I was making. In at least one case, the researcher who wrote the paper I was using completely changed his stance on the Chinese iron smelting timeline based on more recent evidence. Since I had two papers by the same author on the same topic saying significantly different things, I changed the article to match the later paper.
Since you sound like you have a different set of opinions than the ones stated in the article, why don't you list those here, with references, and then we can find the particular references to support the view stated in the existing article. Anything we can't find a good reference to support we can toss out, and the rest we can combine into a more balanced discussion of the controversial sections. Does that sound like a good plan? scot 14:58, 9 October 2006 (UTC)
I do not feel that I am sufficiently expert on prehistoric iron to make any contribution to this subject. My expertise relates to the early modern period, and to some extent Medieval and more Modern.
There is a problem with a number of the iron-related articles in that several including blast furnace contain discussions of prehistoric material. I would suggest that all this should be merged into a single article, perhaps The origins of iron smelting. In place of the sections removed from those articles should be a short (uncontroversial) statement with a cross-reference to the setailed article, using the 'main' template. Since this is a controversial topic, it is important that sources should be cited - either as footnotes or as further reading. This should not be limited to material immediately available on-line.
This is not the only area in the iron articles where there is an undesirable overlap, something that is liable to result in diffently articles making conflicting statements.

Peterkingiron 17:14, 5 November 2006 (UTC)

Dear Scot and Peterkingiron, I agree with both your suggestions. As the early (pre-500 BC) history and technology is very certainly my specialty, I will try to set up a start for 'the origins of..'. In terms of references that can be checked online, there is a small problem though. All relevant literature on iron is not online, but I can provide references to the litterature where needed. Secondary problem there is that none of my colleagues agrees fully on anything re the early history of iron.. Anyway, let us work on this, publish and be corrected.. --x@x 00:41, 19 November 2006 (UTC)

I have added detail to this article on the early modern period and references, but references are needed for the material on the prehistoric period.

There is also a section included in the smelting article, which would be better if it appeared here. This may express views that conflict with that here. Peterkingiron 09:33, 21 April 2006 (UTC)

Largely, I agree, but I prefer paper references since they will not go away! If possibly give the reference in such form that it can be found in a catalogue in a good library AND with a netadress where it exists on the net.Seniorsag (talk) 16:11, 13 February 2016 (UTC)


As noted above, the early paragraphs remain unreferenced. I have therefore reinstated that template. Peterkingiron 22:16, 26 April 2006 (UTC)


I'm stashing some reference links here for future work:

scot 03:14, 21 July 2006 (UTC)

Need to merge in Sponge iron, that appears to be the same as a bloom, and produced by similar means. Mention also meteoric iron (high nickel content) which was the first type of iron to appear in archeological records.

  • Early use of iron in China. It was long though the Chinese started with blast furnaces and cast iron, decarburizing it to get steel and wrought iron, but new evidence suggests that the Chinese picked up bloomeries from the steppe nomads, and then later developed the blast furnace themselves.

scot 14:31, 21 July 2006 (UTC)

I want any reference to Chinese decarburizing, in my references there is no mentioning of Chinese decarburizing, but that that development was what made blast furnaces practical and that that development was in Europe, and that Chinese only used cast iron from the furnaces. The trick in blast furnaces is to lower iron melting point below iron oxide melting point with carbon and then outside the furnace decarbonize the iron.Seniorsag (talk) 16:18, 13 February 2016 (UTC)

scot 04:08, 24 July 2006 (UTC)

Here and in the article a bloom is referred to as sponge iron. However, the Sponge Iron page refers to sponge iron as the result of direct-reduction iron smelting, a very different product to a bloom. This appears to be the modern industrial use of the term. Is this an ambiguity in the vocabulary, or an error in the writing? This issue should be clarified.

Bhael (talk) 19:21, 5 January 2016 (UTC)Bhael


Some one possibly Dincher has added a cross-refernece to 'Early iron Smelting' in Smelting. That article has had some specific references added as 'References', but I do not think that is appropriate. Some time ago, there were a lot of articles covering similar ground and sometimes contradicting each other. This is highly undesirable. We should have a hierarchy of articles, so that a general one, such as Smelting refers to another giving more detail, which may in turn refer to another giving even more detail. I merged various sections in other articles to create History of Ferrous Metallurgy. If we have detailed articles referring to broader ones as the place for more detail, we are going to go back to the anarchic situation that I tried to sort out. It seems perfectly legitimate to me for a wide-ranging article not to cite its sources directly, provided these do appear in the specific one to which it refers. Comments please. Peterkingiron 13:35, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Late iron bloomerys[edit]

I have as a curiosa seen that even in 20th century they were still working bloomerys in parts of Africa. The process is wasteful but easy to work in small scale. If I find the reference again I will add it to the article. Seniorsag 14:53, 20 June 2007 (UTC)


From the beginning of the Iron Age, in the second millennium before the Christian era, iron was obtained from ores using the bloomery process, which comprised the following stages:

  • a) Introduction of the crushed mineral and charcoal into a cavity or low furnace.
  • b) Combustion of the charcoal, aided by a strong air current to reach sufficiently high temperatures (around 1200oC) and production of a high-reduction gas (CO).
  • c) Progressive reduction of the mineral using the reducing gas, which produced a solid yet spongy lump of iron and liquid slag that had to be separated from the metal.
  • d) Compacting and purifying of the bloom through hammering and the subsequent shaping of it by smithy work.

The skills and innovative spirit of the people who carried out these operations resulted in changes to them over the course of centuries. Innovations in the system affected the shape, dimensions and construction materials used to build the furnaces, the way of filling them with ore and charcoal, the procedure used for adding air, the way and point in time of separating the slag, etc. These changes progressively improved the productivity of the system and the quality of the end product. Iron-making technology spread from the Middle East to Central and Western Europe, and at some point in time difficult to determine, it made its way to the eastern Pyrenees, where iron ore was abundant. The route of its arrival may have been by land (through ancient Gaul) or by sea, by sailors from the eastern Mediterranean (Phoenicians or Greeks) who not only brought their goods to the Iberian Peninsula, but also brought their technology with them.

I cut and pasted this from here: CONTRIBUTIONS to SCIENCE, 1(2): 225-232 (1999) Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Barcelona The Catalan process for the direct production of malleable iron and its spread to Europe and the Americas Estanislau Tomàs* Societat Catalana de Tecnologia
I hope someone can work this into the article J8079s (talk) 19:51, 21 June 2009 (UTC)

Different meanings[edit]

There appears to be some ambiguity of nomenclature associated with the word Bloomery. In the early middle ages, probably earlier, bloomeries were used to smelt iron ore. In the late middle ages and early industrial period, the primitive blast furnaces produced pig-iron, which was then further treated to form bar-iron. The first stage of this retreatment, sometimes called finery, produced a slab of iron, charcoal and slag, commonly called a bloom, which was initially hammered to remove any surface charcoal and slag, producing a half-bloom. These Finery forges were still called Bloomeries through the eighteenth-century. These discrepancies should be made clear for people using Wikipedia, and especially for me who is not a metallurgist. Katbun (talk) 12:41, 25 January 2011 (UTC)

Do you know of any suitable sources we can use?--Charles (talk) 13:58, 25 January 2011 (UTC)

Bloomeries in Medieval Europe[edit]

-Removed misleading last sentence ("Molten iron was not desirable until the advent of the blast furnace") in the first paragraph. Blast furnaces were developed as a result of an increase in demand for cast iron, not the contrary).

-Made various corrections to the unsourced second paragraph :

  • a bloomery is defined by its inability to melt iron, so it does not produce a range of irons up to cast iron, as clearly explained in the first reference.
  • Low-carbon iron is not called "wrought" when extracted from the furnace, wrought describes the hammering process.
  • The next few sentences were describing the Chinese and Japanese method of pattern welding different steels together. These steels were obtained from furnaces producing over 2 tons of steel each per week-long firing. They are not comparable to any bloomery. European smiths carburized their iron and then wrought it into steel. (talk) 15:00, 13 July 2012 (UTC)
Thanks. Can you find us references for this please?--Charles (talk) 17:05, 13 July 2012 (UTC)
Done. (talk) 12:00, 14 July 2012 (UTC)

Catalan = Bloomery + Trompe?[edit]

I have made a serious study of your iron-history articles, and I think the illustration of the Catalan furnace in this article is misleading to the new student. From my other reading, the Catalan was a bloomery with compressed air supplied by a falling-water trompe. The wiki article "Trompe" states that a trompe is a "signature attribute" of a Catalan Forge. This is not mentioned on this page, and the selected illustration omits the trompe.

If this "signature attribute" comment is correct, then the illustration of a Catalan Forge on this page should be replaced with the one on the "Trompe" page, which shows the trompe in detail.

And thanks for all the work on sorting out iron-making history. It is difficult to make practical sense of it and your (collective) efforts are deeply appreciated. Mashiro (talk) 00:07, 1 September 2014 (UTC)

Difference between bloomeries and blast furnaces[edit]

Neither from this article or the wiki article on blast furnaces is it clear to me what the specific differences between the two are.

Both use forced air via tuyeres, both are charged at the top and product emerge at the bottom via similar chemical reactions.

From reading both articles something like the following comparison table would be useful (these are my comparisons from reading the articles, so may not be accurate, could an expert please expand, correct and add to the article):

Bloomery Blast furnace
Batch operation Continuous operation
Low temperature (below iron melting point) High temperature produces molten iron
Low volume forced air High volume forced air/oxygen, increases combustion temperature
Produces solid iron particles with high levels of impurities Produces higher purity molten iron

Lkingscott 08:49, 4 January 2017 (UTC)

External links modified[edit]

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