Calmet - Iron and Steel industry in ancient India
The discovery of iron dates back to as early as 1200 BC. The first form of iron known to ancient man was wrought iron. The Iron Age in India is denoted as the Indus valley Civilization. Telluric iron is the native form of iron. This was in metallic form on the earth surface and was similar in texture to the iron from meteors. It contained about 6-8% Nickel.
Formation of iron and steel industry:
Extraction of iron in India finds its roots way back in the 4th century BC which was continued even until 19th century AD. Still many places in Rajasthan stand as artifacts to this legacy of iron production. Many foreign kings have recorded incidents where they were gifted by their Indian counterparts with swords and ingots that were made of Indian iron and steel.
Applications: Ornament making:
Ancient Indians used Hematite iron which is an oxide of iron to make ornaments and jewelry. In ancient days, iron was far more expensive than gold and therefore it was mainly used in making beaded ornaments.
Artillery and warfare weapons:
This iron cannot be forged under reduced temperatures. So it was produced at high temperatures and a spongy mass mixed with slag is formed as a result. This is subjected to hammering in order to remove the slag and then shaped into desired forms for various purposes. Iron was used to prepare arrowheads and swords for the warfare.
Buildings and monuments:
Iron and steel remarked the modernization of civilizations. An iron pillar weighing about 7 tonnes dating back to 400 AD is still found in the national capital Delhi marking the age old traditions practicing the use of iron in various ways. Several other monuments are the iron beams at the Konark Sun Temple dating back to the early 9th century.
Ancient records show that Indian iron and steel was exported for many centuries to far countries like Greece and Rome. Indian iron had a great demand in many parts of the world that foreign monarchies gave a fortune to India for this metal. Iron and steel trade was a faring business in ancient India. Indian iron and steel was preferred in many countries and several world famous bridges and monuments have been raised using Indian iron.
The first form of steel that was used in India was called the Wootz steel. It was found plenty in the southern parts of India in Karnataka. It is called as Ukku in Kanada and was later called as wootz by the English people. It is an ancient crucible steel used to make weapons like swords and daggers. It has high carbon content and the tiny carbon crystals embedded in iron, gave it a curvy pattern when made into swords. This steel was produced in a large number of smelting furnaces. Small clay pots were used into which iron mixed with charcoal was put. At controlled temperatures, steel ingots were produced which was further processed to form swords. This wonderful art of making wootz steel vanished by the middle of 19th century when it was replaced by imported steel from England during the British rule in India.
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