Chalybes and Tatara Steels
A new journey to the Chalybes country
The Chalybes were at the beginning of the first Millennium before our era the first iron smelters to produce steel. A first journey has not enabled us to formally identify the ore they treated and the technical process.
Some archaeologists have suggested on these two points a kinship with the used process developed at the end of Middle Age by the Japanese steelmakers inventors of Tatara steel. This second journey to the country of the Chalybes, with a detour to the distant Japan, seeks to answer the questions raised by the initial search.
The Chalybes country. This new journey situated the Chalybes country in Anatolia, in the west of Eastern Pontides, on the shore of the Black Sea in the region of the deltas of the two great rivers Kizilirmak and Yesiirmak, as located by ancient authors including the geographer Strabo, native region (Amasia) at the first century of our era. It then specifies the place of discovery (Gunpinari area) of the English geologist William Hamilton of an active construction of blacksmiths treating nodules iron ore picked up at the ground level. The discovery site identified as Gunpinari area is located a few kilometers from the Black Sea; It is dominated to a few tens of kilometres southeast by the volcanic regions of Gölköy and Ulubey who have provided over the last millennia materials of the hills descending toward the coast. The entire area has high seismic and tectonic activity (influences of Arabic, Eurasian and Anatolian plates) and a major event the formation of the Black Sea from the Pontic Lake which affects above all the country of the Chalybes. . The entire area has high seismic and tectonic activities (influences of Arabic, Eurasian and Anatolian plates): it ha known a major event with the formation from the Pontic Lake of the Black Sea which affecting particularly the country of the Chalybes.on the southern shore.
Geography and geology of the Eastern Pontides are then studied: steep relief on the sea, very humid Mediterranean climate, soil formed of volcanic rocks eroded and weathered allowing the development of a very specific vegetation: fruit trees, rhododendrons…and Pontic forest Special attention is given to the geology of the area of Gunpinari, today covered with orchards
The Tatara steel. The iron ores of volcanic areas of Japanese archipelago and Eastern Pontides have been the subject of many comparisons. But while the Japan steelmakers smelt iron sands since antiquity, , never or very rarely according to the archaeologists the iron sands presents in the rivers or off the coast of the Eastern Pontides were used. Besides. Strabo writes about the iron "mines" of the Chalybs, mines that Hamilton should never find, discovering finally iron ore nodules scattered at a small depth in the soil of Gunpinari.
During Middle Age Japanese steelworkers distinguished, two grades of iron sands, basic or acid, depending on whether they came by weathering erosion from volcanic andesites or from granite. More they observed that these two types of sand had the burning behaviour very different: difficult fusion for basic ones and easy for acid.
At the same time they adopted a Sri Lankan furnace type built by juxtaposition of small furnaces, wind-exposed at the top of the hills, naturally blowed during the monsoon. This furnace was gradually modified - to consume basic iron sand, - giving it on each side of a row of tuyeres induced drafted , - equiped with tetracted boshes, fettled with a consumable sand acid allowing the formation of a fluid slag. This highly sophisticated Tatara furnace is completely destroyed at the end of the operation which lasted two to three days.
Recent studies have shown that the refractoriness of the basic iron sands was due to a significant presence of titanium oxide.
The discovery of the secret. Several studies confirm the presence of significant levels of titanium oxide in the Pontic iron ores including the volcanic regions of Ulubey and Gölköy. Eroded and weathered, these minerals cover the slopes of the hills that descend to the shore of Black Sea, to Gunpinari and the country of the Chalybes. The nature of the soil, abundantly watered and covered with vegetation (trees and thickets), explains theformation at the hills top of iron nodules by the instability of titanomagnetite in organic medium and the concentration of the iron at the level of the root openings of plants.
This mode of nodules formation in strict limited quantities at a small depth under the ground level, explain the operating mode of the Gunpinari smiths, moving thei extraction and fusion site when there, all the iron nodules are extracted.
Also, the itanium oxide content of the nodules explains the smelting process.
This process implements the fusion of nodules in a basic bloomery with permanent scraping of scorias too infusible to give a slag. The metal is a steely iron sold to Constantinople.
This process was probably this one used three millennia earlier by the ancient Chalybes.
Conclusion, The secret of the Chalybes. From old Chalybes to the blacksmith of Gunpinari, it is the nature of the ore (an unsuspected titanium content) which allows smelters to express their expertise. "Besonderes erz oder besonderes know-how?". Exceptional ore or exceptional know-how? The question was already asked about the founders of Noricum (Truffaut2008, 251). It does not appear that we can place it in the case of the blacksmiths of Gunpinari and their old ancestors? Gunpinari ore was exceptional for its significant content in titanium oxide; but unsuspected founders, it has guided their know-how and allowed them to produce "the Chalybes steel".
Certainly the only ore does not steel, but the presence in the smelted iron ore of a secondary element :titanium oxide, manganese oxide, fluorite, (or paradoxically the absence of this element and the purity of the iron ore), allow the famous blacksmiths to express their talent.
These blacksmiths have been known and celebrated as early as the fifth century of our era. In 417, Rutilius Numatiamus, ancient governor of Rome (prefectus urbi) in 414, poet in his time, get back by sea to Narbonne his homeland. Off the coast of the island of Elba, famous for its metallurgical activity, he mind the regions that supplying Rome with steel, the metal of Chalybes : Isle of Elba, Noricum, Bituriges Cubi country, Sardinia.
"Occurit Chalybum memorabilis Ilva metallis
"Qua nil uberius Norica gleba tulit
"Non Biturix largo potior strictura camino
"Nec quae Sardoo cespite massa fluit
(Rutilius Numatiamus, De reditu suo, IV AD)
We know today that the famous ancient blacksmith were allowed to express their talent, and produce steel, thanks the presence of titanium oxide in iron ore smelted by the Chalybes and perhaps the Sardinians, thanks the purity of Elba Island iron ore, thanks the presence of manganese oxide in the Noricum iron ore and fluorite in the iron ore processed by the Bituriges Cubi,
Edmond Truffaut. Juillet 2014.
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