Refining metal was an important technological advance in every civilization. Africa was no exception. Iron tools were stronger than copper or bronze tools, so iron tools and the technology to produce them were very valuable. Producing iron began by mining the iron ore. The iron itself was bound up with other minerals in rocks. The trick was separating the iron from the unwanted minerals. That was the function of the furnace shown below. This process is known as smelting.
1. Layers of iron ore were alternated with layers of charcoal fuel inside the furnace. Temperatures inside the furnace would reach about 2000º F.
2. A tuyère (twee•YAIR) was a clay pipe that allowed air to flow through the furnace.
3. The bellows—usually made out of an animal skin with a wooden plunger attached— increased air flow in the furnace, thus raising the temperature.
4. The intense heat would cause a chemical reaction, separating the iron from the impurities.
5. The iron would collect and form what is called a bloom. After cooling, the bloom was removed. An ironsmith then worked the bloom into the desired too l or weapon.
1. What advantages would iron tools give a civilization?
2. Comparing and Contrasting Use the Internet to research the history of modern ironworking techniques. What improvements have been made, and how do they benefit our life today?