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evidence for steel production in the Saxon era


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#1 owen bush

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Posted 17 December 2009 - 05:09 AM

I am wondering what evidence there for steel production during the Saxon era , that is oposed to iron production .
The blade sections that I have seen have mixes of phosphoric iron ,wrought iron and martensitic wrought steel .
so I was wondering if the steel was bloomery steel or carburised bloomery iron ?
I am working my way towards Making a pattern welded sword from authentic period materials and would like to be as accurate as possible .
I have some books on viking smelting and none of them mention steel as a product (as far as I can remember).
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#2 Jake Powning

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Posted 17 December 2009 - 08:02 AM

I had an article about a theory by some archeometalurgists from the University of Bradford about anglo saxon liquid steel,They believe that the anglo saxons where smelting cast iron and then melting it so that enough carbon burned off until it became solid and had a steel level of carbon left. I can't find the article but I have a link to a published article that you have to buy to read. also I think I have the name of the archeologist who wrote it, you might just give him a call. I mentioned this theory to Janet Lang and she was fairly adamant that it was "just a theory" so I'm not sure how widely respected the theory is. It makes a bit of sense from a smiths perspective, but whether they actually thought of it and did it is up for debate apparently.
This is one of the authors of the paper on the subject, he did a seminar talk about it in 2001-

'Anglo-Saxon Liquid Steel'
Ivan Mack
Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford

here's a link to a french website that will sell the paper to you -

http://cat.inist.fr/...&cpsidt=1152438

and here is a description of the paper from the above website -

"Titre du document / Document title

Liquid steel in Anglo-Saxon England

Auteur(s) / Author(s)

MACK I. (1) ; MCDONNELL G. (1) ; MURPHY S. (1) ; ANDREWS P. (2) ; WARDLEY K. (3) ;

Affiliation(s) du ou des auteurs / Author(s) Affiliation(s)

(1) Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford., Bradford BD7 1DP, ROYAUME-UNI

(2) Trust for Wessex Archaeology, Portway House, Old Sarum Park, Salisbury, Wilts SP4 6EB, ROYAUME-UNI

(3) Southampton City Museums, Tower House, Town Quay, Southampton SO1 1LX, ROYAUME-UNI
Rťsumť / Abstract

Prior to Huntsman's discoveries in Sheffield in the 1740s, steel production in Western Europe, and in England in particular, has been assumed to be by solid-state carburization of malleable iron, a process often referred to as cementation. Here we present archaeometallurgical data that Saxon smiths in 8th-9th century AD England were using decarburization of molten cast iron to produce steel of comparable quality to that produced by Huntsman 1000 years later. The evidence derives from metallurgical analysis of edged tools and stock iron, and crucially the analysis of pieces offerrous material that lack distinctive artefactual form. The evidence presented here will necessitate a re-assessment of Saxon ironworking technology and the early occurrence of cast iron fragments in the archaeological record, and has far-reaching implications for our (lack of) understanding of the development of iron technology."

Hope that helps, it will be interested to hear what you find out about all this.

#3 owen bush

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Posted 17 December 2009 - 08:28 AM

I had an article about a theory by some archeometalurgists from the University of Bradford about anglo saxon liquid steel,They believe that the anglo saxons where smelting cast iron and then melting it so that enough carbon burned off until it became solid and had a steel level of carbon left. I can't find the article but I have a link to a published article that you have to buy to read. also I think I have the name of the archeologist who wrote it, you might just give him a call. I mentioned this theory to Janet Lang and she was fairly adamant that it was "just a theory" so I'm not sure how widely respected the theory is. It makes a bit of sense from a smiths perspective, but whether they actually thought of it and did it is up for debate apparently.
This is one of the authors of the paper on the subject, he did a seminar talk about it in 2001-

'Anglo-Saxon Liquid Steel'
Ivan Mack
Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford

here's a link to a french website that will sell the paper to you -

http://cat.inist.fr/...&cpsidt=1152438

and here is a description of the paper from the above website -

"Titre du document / Document title

Liquid steel in Anglo-Saxon England

Auteur(s) / Author(s)

MACK I. (1) ; MCDONNELL G. (1) ; MURPHY S. (1) ; ANDREWS P. (2) ; WARDLEY K. (3) ;

Affiliation(s) du ou des auteurs / Author(s) Affiliation(s)

(1) Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford., Bradford BD7 1DP, ROYAUME-UNI

(2) Trust for Wessex Archaeology, Portway House, Old Sarum Park, Salisbury, Wilts SP4 6EB, ROYAUME-UNI

(3) Southampton City Museums, Tower House, Town Quay, Southampton SO1 1LX, ROYAUME-UNI
Résumé / Abstract

Prior to Huntsman's discoveries in Sheffield in the 1740s, steel production in Western Europe, and in England in particular, has been assumed to be by solid-state carburization of malleable iron, a process often referred to as cementation. Here we present archaeometallurgical data that Saxon smiths in 8th-9th century AD England were using decarburization of molten cast iron to produce steel of comparable quality to that produced by Huntsman 1000 years later. The evidence derives from metallurgical analysis of edged tools and stock iron, and crucially the analysis of pieces offerrous material that lack distinctive artefactual form. The evidence presented here will necessitate a re-assessment of Saxon ironworking technology and the early occurrence of cast iron fragments in the archaeological record, and has far-reaching implications for our (lack of) understanding of the development of iron technology."

Hope that helps, it will be interested to hear what you find out about all this.


Thanks Jake,
I remember Janet saying same .
You can be fairly sure that more than one kind of cat skinning was going on .I have seen many tenth through 16th century blades that do show signs of piling so the cast theory probably only holds true for specific place and specific period as it certainly wasn't taken up by all .

Edited by owen bush, 17 December 2009 - 08:29 AM.

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#4 Jeff Pringle

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Posted 17 December 2009 - 10:21 AM

Archaeologists donít usually differentiate between iron and steel, or didnít, I think the fact that bloomeries can be run to make steel directly is recent knowledge from experimentation that may not be in the literature yet. ;)
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#5 Alan Longmire

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Posted 17 December 2009 - 11:24 AM

Archaeologists donít usually differentiate between iron and steel, or didnít, I think the fact that bloomeries can be run to make steel directly is recent knowledge from experimentation that may not be in the literature yet. ;)


Ditto. Archaeologists tend to be fairly ignorant of metallurgy in general. In the literature of iron and steel production as early as 1849 there was knowledge of direct reduction of ore to steel in small bloomery-type shaft furnaces in Styria (the province of Austria-Hungary, NOT Syria)in antiquity, but that seems to have gone totally unnoticed by archaeologists. Pretty much if it didn't appear in either Theophilus or Diderot it was ignored. Anyone who has operated a bloomery knows it's possible to get natural steels. In practice it is difficult if not impossible to tell the difference between piled carburized wrought (shear steel) and tamahage/oroshigane type natural steel.

Then there's always those Ulfbehrt swords that seem to be crucible steel from the same region ca.1100... ;)

#6 omalley

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Posted 17 December 2009 - 04:20 PM

Archaeologists donít usually differentiate between iron and steel, or didnít, I think the fact that bloomeries can be run to make steel directly is recent knowledge from experimentation that may not be in the literature yet. ;)


i was just reading about blooming steel in a 1902 article on methods of primitive iron/steel production. i think the trick is finding the guys who actually paid attention to what they were looking at rather than what they were being told they were looking at. it was a little disconcerting to read though, given the author's thesis was basically "brown people are too dumb to make steel". positively kiplingesque.

I was looking up the saxon stuff for owen, and about the only information i can find is that there aren't nearly enough discernible smelting/smithing sites to meet the projected needs of britain, so it appears either they A) managed to survive on recycled roman steel, which seems to be the main academic view, B) imported most of it (which doesnt explain why british steel and iron have nearly uniform P values and similar compositions of the inclusions region to region) or C), which i think is the most likely, they were doing pit smelting like our viking short stacks, and archaeologists are mistaking the smelts for ceramics kilns, and that most of their iron got recycled so the tooling you'd associate with a blacksmith shop probably got welded up into a plow blade or something when it got too old to use.

i thought i had an article on my compy about saxon metalwork, but the only one i'm finding is the non-ferrous one, and the one on pattern welding. if i can find teh one that goes into detail on their irons and steel (assuming it actually exists and my brain is remembering facts this time) i'll send you a message or something. I tend to troll JSTOR when i'm bored so i have a lot of weird stuff.
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#7 Lee Sauder

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Posted 17 December 2009 - 09:20 PM

Owen-
As you've recently experienced, working steely bloom is a bit of trouble. From my reading (as well as my smelting experience) it seems most cultures (other than Japan) decided it was more efficient to smelt to iron, and carburize what you needed to in a separate step, either in a crucible, or by cementation, or by remelting in a hearth.

I think the process postulated in the "liquid steel in Saxon england " article is pretty goofy. To me, he artifacts suggest carburizing iron by melting in the hearth (grappage, or orishagane,or Aristotle steel, or whatever you want to call it). I don't think the Bradford people were aware that's possible, at least when they wrote that article.

Especially since (I think?) you're in the UK, you might find it useful to join the Historical Metallurgy Society, where you can find lots of very knowledgeable and occasionally helpful people.

#8 Adlai Stein

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Posted 18 December 2009 - 07:03 AM

Didn't they find clay tubes for carburazation at Birka or someplace like that? I know I have that info someplace but no idea where.

You may want to check this book out. It's a bit pricet and is on my wish list. the break down a lot of the metalurgy of indiviual pieces.

http://www.britishmu...g/invt/cmc23233

British Iron Age swords and scabbards are here catalogued in detail for the first time. They are grouped on the basis of typologies of components and are discussed with special reference to their decoration, context and chronology. Artefact studies have been neglected for many years, and this subject was last tackled in a paper published in 1950. Since then, the material available for study has tripled, from 93 to 274 items, and new archaeological discoveries include several elaborately decorated scabbards. Illustrations include 71 full pages of line drawings, while additional contributions examine the technology of some of the swords and provide a discussion of their enamelled decoration.

Edited by Adlai Stein, 18 December 2009 - 07:10 AM.

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#9 Petr Florianek

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Posted 18 December 2009 - 07:11 AM

I have also read that pilled structure and pattern welding are direct conclusions of using thin carburized strips




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