8 thoughts on “Bronze-Age Artifacts”

  1. No one’s quite sure when iron was smelted by human hand for the first time, but further research using these techniques and tools could be a big help in pinpointing the switch from meteoric iron to iron ore.

    Iron working (that is, making iron tools from terrestrial iron ore) seems to be one of the most disruptive technologies of ancient times. The Hittites appear to be the first to learn of the technology and kept it a state secret for centuries. Then the widespread use of iron tools is thought to be one of the triggers for the Late Bronze Age collapse the worst known collapse of civilization in history (that is, since writing was invented) with invading armies either of outsiders or refugees using iron weapons (which were considered inferior quality to the bronze of the day, but were more numerous) destroying many cities throughout the eastern Mediterranean region around 1200-1150 BC with only the Assyrians and Egyptians surviving the assault mostly intact.

    In other words, the reason the origin of iron working is so hard to determine today is because it started life as a great secret and then, when widespread usage came about, triggered a collapse of the very civilizations that would have written down its history.

  2. In many ways iron and pre-industrial steel were awful materials to work with and make things out of, that is, prior to the efforts of Bessemer and Gilchrist and Thomas (“basic Bessemer”, no the process was not more simple or fundamental, rather the lining of the steel-making apparatus was a chemical base for binding with phosphorus as an impurity).

    You could smelt “iron” to get a brittle high-carbon alloy that barely melted at the temperatures you could get with blowing in air with a bellows. You could heat it to reduce the carbon content, but that raises the melting point to this pasty mess. The other thing you could do was pound on it to get the silica slag out of or better disperse the slag in the metal to get a tougher implement or sword blade. Then there was “crucible steel” where you had to build this one-use brick furnace and really use a lot of hand-pumped air and a lot of fuel to get a small amount of unmeltable steel that you again had to pound into shape.

    So you could make a few high-quality steel items after an enormous amount of fuel and sweat, or you could make “iron” things that were brittle to near uselessness — did they make plows from cast iron? That is, until 1856.

    1. It’s a shame ductile iron wasn’t discovered earlier. This involves about 1% of some alloying elements (magnesium or cerium) that cause the carbon in cast iron to precipitate as spherical nodules rather than as feathery dendrites. The nodules act as crack stops rather than as crack initiators/propagators, as the dendrites do.

      Ductile iron only came on the market after WW2, surprisingly late.

  3. When people tell me how difficult life will be on mars I am consoled by the fact that once knowledge is acquired (a really big hurdle) applying that knowledge (which includes scaling it up) is relatively trivial.

    Most people are very limited in their individual knowledge, but the fact that the knowledge exists is the key issue. The amazing stupidity is believing that our own ignorance somehow limits what a social group can easily do.

    We’ve already discovered iron meteorites just sitting on the surface of mars and otherwise abundant iron must be removed from mars regolith to produce soil. We’ve had the knowledge to use mars iron since the tail of earth’s bronze age. In some ways, making steel on mars is even easier than on earth because of the make up of martian air.

    Why do people conflate the difficult with the trivial? Yes, we may not be able to do some things for awhile that are not required for survival even though the knowledge exists, but this does not constitute a show stopper.

    The show stopper is the limit of general imagination. Like ‘knowing’ we can’t land and reuse a rocket. (Did you see Elon reading young Seldons notebook? ha!)

    Go back through history and realize how much we ‘knew’ that just wasn’t so and yet take for granted today. We are losing trillions of dollars in opportunity cost. This is humanity’s greatest stupidity.

    People are so focused on their own personal limits (with jealousy and greed) that they would limit the achievements (and wealth) of the whole of society.

    The poor of today have more wealth than the kings of old, yet this makes no impact on most people today regarding what we are missing out on tomorrow and so few do anything about it.

    Later, people will discount the achievements as obvious. It’s pitiful.

    1. “(Did you see Elon reading young Seldons notebook? ha!)”

      We’ve been fans of “Young Sheldon” ever since it started, but that scene was especially funny to us.

    2. We also can’t discount serendipity. Answers will arise to problems known and unknown as those activities take place. But those answers wont just be confined to activities on Mars but could be applied in other environments as well. It is all unpredictable and while some discoveries might be trivial, others wont.

      It is one thing to learn from books, when there are books that exist on a subject, but even with books, the best way to learn is through doing.

      1. Experience matters. I used to work with some brilliant young programmers that believed everything they read in a book. It only took a few days for them to implement an error trapping ‘solution’ in millions of lines of code. Ten years later, they’re still fixing the problems this introduced. Being the new guy (and being me) they failed to heed my warnings.

        They did the same thing later with a multi-user ‘solution.’ By that time I could argue my point (over night) with programmers on a three state conference call (and three bosses.) The only guy that apologized to me for being right was the guy that proposed the alternate solution which gave us an intermittent problem [I had to] fix on a case by case basis because it was data sensitive for the next couple of years until I left the company.

        Rand is right, I’m just like Trump. It doesn’t matter when I’m right. I’m just not persuasive. Time is my only ally (and has seldom let me down.)

        1. I made a pretty good living for the last few years of my IT career, as a rescue programmer brought in once management realized the young geniuses couldn’t do what they claimed, and some fat geezer was worth a try. I used to wear a Mighty Mouse T-shirt to work. Most people didn’t get it.

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