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Space Science Technology

Almost All Bronze Age Artifacts Were Made From Meteorite Iron (sciencealert.com) 132

dryriver shares a report from Science Alert: According to a new study, it's possible that all iron-based weapons and tools of the Bronze Age were forged using metal salvaged from meteorites. The finding has given experts a better insight into how these tools were created before humans worked out how to produce iron from its ore. While previous studies had found specific Bronze Age objects to be made from meteoric metal -- like one of the daggers buried with King Tutankhamun -- this latest research answers the question of just how widespread the practice was. Albert Jambon, from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, studied museum artifacts from Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and China, analyzing them using an X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer to discover they all shared the same off-world origins. "The present results complementing high quality analyses from the literature suggest that most or all irons from the Bronze Age are derived from meteoritic iron," writes Jambon in his published paper. "The next step will be to determine where and when terrestrial iron smelting appeared for the first time."
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Almost All Bronze Age Artifacts Were Made From Meteorite Iron

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  • I'm clueless about this... what's the difference between meteoric iron and iron ore? Is it just purity? If so, why is it that meteoric iron is more pure?
    • by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @09:12AM (#55700797)
      Iron ore requires smelting at very high temperatures to extract the iron. Meteoric iron is in its metallic form already.
      • Correct! And iron ore contains no nickle. Iron meteorites and those with some iron contain nickle.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually no, temp is not a problem, if that was all it took, then more vigorous work at bellows would do the job. The technique of getting workable iron from ore using primitive methods is just different than with say copper or tin. You can't just smelt and pour an ingot. If you melt the iron at any point then it saturates with readily available carbon and produces useless material, the trick is to reduce the iron without melting it, for that you need to keep the temperature steady and limited. From that yo

        • Not exactly. If you smelt iron from ore or from iron-rich soil, the iron is what is left behind in the oven. In other words: you melt the ore from the iron. The iron you have left in the oven is very porous and brittle, and contains a huge amount of carbon (making it extra brittle). It therefore takes quite some work to convert this iron into any workable steel or iron.
          • Not exactly. If you smelt iron from ore or from iron-rich soil, the iron is what is left behind in the oven. In other words: you melt the ore from the iron. The iron you have left in the oven is very porous and brittle, and contains a huge amount of carbon (making it extra brittle). It therefore takes quite some work to convert this iron into any workable steel or iron.

            Not exactly. The iron never melted in an Iron Age smelter. It forms a loose porous mass of reduced metal saturated with slag called a "bloom". This is taken out and hammered to from "wrought iron", which can then be shaped and perhaps carbonized in the a forge to make a harder surface.

            Techniques to use melted iron - either directly as cast iron, or else by reducing it to eliminate the excess carbon - were developed much later. But it was easier to make smelters not quite hot enough to melt the iron anyway.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because of the nickel inclusions that are common, iron meteorites are more or less ready-to-go lumps of low grade stainless steel. The ancients could simply smash a piece off and then beat it into shape, no chemistry necesssary.

    • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @09:36AM (#55700907)
      People discovered how to work metal by finding "native" forms. Hunks of pure or nearly pure copper, silver and gold. Iron doesn't form these, you need to know how to smelt it. By the bronze age, they had learned to smelt copper and tin, but iron requires higher and more consistent heat than they had the ability to make. But, if you find native iron in the form of meteorites, you can skip that process and create tools.
      • People discovered how to work metal by finding "native" forms. Hunks of pure or nearly pure copper, silver and gold. Iron doesn't form these...

        Or rather, it is quite rare that it does. This is called telluric iron [wikipedia.org]. The only major deposit of this is in Greenland (and was used by the Inuit) but small deposits might exist elsewhere. Examining the artifacts would be needed to confirm that this was not from some unknown telluric iron source.

      • Oki, I give me few cents to that thread:
        Iron unlike copper etc. is not simply 'melted' out of ore.
        Iron only exists in various forms of iron oxices, which need to be 'reduced', you need heat and something that takes the oxide out of the iron ore (and in that process the iron is melted)
        For that you use cornon monoxide, aka burning charr coal ember, and obviously you need a hot fire.

        So the main diffence to copper smelting is not the heat alone but the amount of carbon monoxide you can produce in the fire,

    • by sgage ( 109086 )

      Purity, and chemical form. Iron ore is oxidized iron, and requires skill and energy to extract the pure metal. Meteoric iron is already the metallic form (usually mixed with nickel). Many museums have a meteorite sawn in half - you can see it's shiny solid metal inside, not a lump of rock. But not all meteorites are iron - some are actually rocky.

      • by RobinH ( 124750 )
        This is a more informative answer, thanks. So is it that Earth's iron has been exposed to too much oxygen over the billions of years and oxidized, but meteoric iron has not? I'm just trying to understand the why...
        • This is a more informative answer, thanks. So is it that Earth's iron has been exposed to too much oxygen over the billions of years and oxidized, but meteoric iron has not? I'm just trying to understand the why...

          Yes. Meteoric iron rusts away just like regular iron and turns to a lump of reddish iron oxide. Lots of historic meteor fall sites are full of red lumps of oxidized meteors. To make a useful tool you must recover a meteorite before this happens. A large chunk of meteor metal though could take a long time to completely oxidize, and if recovered from the desert (this is the Middle East) it could survive without rusting completely for thousands of years.

          • if recovered from the desert (this is the Middle East)

            Most of the "Middle East" isn't desert now, and wasn't during the "Bronze Age". Just to confuse your mistaken perceptions, the area that you're probably considering "Middle East" is also closely coincident with what the historians and archaeologists consider as the "Fertile Crescent".

        • Jesus, have you never seen a falling meteor? The intense heat would have smelted the iron and nickel, iron isn't on Earth and oxidizes
          • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @01:47PM (#55702607)

            Jesus, have you never seen a falling meteor? The intense heat would have smelted the iron and nickel, iron isn't on Earth and oxidizes

            The intense heat does melt the surface of the meteor, in fact in vaporizes some of it (which you see, in part, in the meteor trail).

            But if you have seen a falling meteor you will have notice that this fiery part of the descent lasts just a few seconds at most. And then ordinary air cooling as it falls quickly cools the surface down to ambient. The intense heat does not have time to penetrate very far, so most of the meteor is extremely cold when it lands on Earth.

      • But not all meteorites are iron - some are actually rocky.

        90 to 95% of meteorites are "stony", not "iron". However, without fairly sophisticated petrology (art/ science of describing rocks) such as cutting thin- or polished- sections of the specimen, identification of "weird stone sample WS1234" as a meteorite was a lot harder than identifying an iron-nickel meteorite as a particular class of "weird".

        to this day (well, about 2000), it has been routine for geology exams to include a "stony" meteorite in the

  • it's possible that all iron-based weapons and tools of the Bronze Age were forged using metal salvaged from meteorites.

    You don't say! "Before we could make X on our own, we used whatever X was lying around"?

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      You don't say! "Before we could make X on our own, we used whatever X was lying around"?

      I'd love to see someone demonstrate that they can create "Fe". Think carefully before you respond.

      • As someone else pointed out above the iron in meteorites is metallic. If you didn't have that you'd have to smelt iron ore. Which required higher temperatures than bronze.

        Though oddly enough once you can smelt iron it's easier to get iron ore than it is to get copper and tin or arsenic which you need for bronze.

        So once you can smelt iron it's actually easier to get hold of the ore so you can make weapons in volume. And iron plus carbon gives you steel which is harder than bronze.

        I.e. if you're a militaristi

      • You can't make a knife out of "Fe", or out of any other quoted two characters of the alphabet. You can make it from metallic iron if you have any, though.
      • In the old times, before chemistry, making metals pure enough to be more useful then just a colored rock was a skill.

        How would we know that we could probably get a strong metal out of an orange rock. The ore rarely shows properties of the refined product. So when people found more pure iron from meteorite and find their properties useful, and the fact they will rust over time, and show properties of the ore, for someone to try to make better.
        No they are not doing atomic fusion to make iron atoms, but the

      • I'd love to see someone demonstrate that they can create "Fe". Think carefully before you respond.

        But we can! It's just still extremely expensive, but can be done. And once we'll learn how to milk fusion and fission to the last bit of energy, it's pure Fe that we'll have in excess.

    • Well, it sounds like kicking in an open door, but there could have been two scenarios:

      • 1. For whatever reason ore got heated (because people accidentally built an oven out of ore or bog iron, for example), and later on they thought it was useful,
      • 2. People knew iron before ore and started looking for more resources.

      Glass was probably invented the first way. If you want to make iron, you will heat a clay oven so hot that sand in the clay turns to glass. Glass droplets were found in old finding sites, sugges

      • It's possible that the second scenario happened, but given the vastly different nature of iron meteorites and iron ores, I wonder how plausible it is, unless someone made a connection somehow between a rusted meteorite and a solid piece of high-grade iron ore and got an "aha!" moment of sorts.
    • it's possible that all iron-based weapons and tools of the Bronze Age were forged using metal salvaged from meteorites.

      You don't say! "Before we could make X on our own, we used whatever X was lying around"?

      The entire point of the article is that evidence is showing that the time when we could make our own is now moved from what history had previously assumed to a much later date.

  • Misleading title (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @09:26AM (#55700861)
    All artifacts are made from meteorite iron? Does that include clay pots? The write up is accurate, do a better job with the title.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    That is all.

  • You say they were made from "meteorites" but all we really know is that the metal didn't come from earth. [onsizzle.com] ;)

  • In the Bronze Age - the period before we had discovered how to smelt iron - we had to use naturally occurring iron if we wanted iron artefacts. Well, no shit Sherlock. That's why it was still the Bronze Age and not the Iron Age.
    • In the Bronze Age - the period before we had discovered how to smelt iron...

      The Bronze Age is the period where nearly all metal tools were made of bronze -- which is the primary observable fact.

      Claiming that this was entirely a "period before we had discovered how to smelt iron" is a conclusion that must be derived from actual data, not simply asserted.

      There were iron artifacts being made during the Bronze Age. It could have been the case that iron smelting existed and was conducted on a small scale, but simply had not supplanted bronze. Without examining the actual evidence we wou

  • by antek9 ( 305362 ) on Friday December 08, 2017 @10:01AM (#55701009)
    New studies suggest that all the ancient weaponry actually came from loot boxes that the alien cult named Activision spread all over the inhabited world in order to extract revenue from planet Earth. Not content with microtransactions in the form of animal teeth and leather, it taught their subjects how to make shiny coins from metallic stones.

    Just saying.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Like, *everyone* had a +4 axe made from star iron! Thats a whole lot of loot. How did anyone manage to make their saving throws?

  • Because when people figured out how to smelt iron, that was the Iron Age.

  • TFA would come off as more sciencey if artifacts was spelled correctly in the title.
  • This is really news!

  • That is well known since 50 years or more, but nice that a 'new study' confirms it again.

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