While it has been advanced by many European and European-descent scholars that the iron age began in Eurasia circa. 1000 BCE, recent archaeological discoveries in Nigeria suggests that iron smelting and blacksmith work was performed at a much earlier time — as early as 2000-2500 BCE — at high-levels of production and involving wide trade distribution among the ancient Igboland peoples in West Africa.
|A row of 10 Igbo iron-smelting pyramids at Nsude, Enugu State of Nigeria, Africa.
Carbon dating information has been unattainable to date.
|Egyptians artisans smelted copper and gold for artistic, architectural, and even military purposes.|
At one point in Western scientific literature, it was thought that sub-Saharan Africans did not invent iron independently. This notion was abandoned more than a century ago. German scholar, Ludwig Beck, who published a five-volume history of iron between 1884 and 1903, wrote in his first volume: “. . . [w]e see everywhere an original art of producing iron among the numerous native tribes of Africa, which is in its entire essence not imported but original and . . . must be very old.” The American linguist Christopher Ehret asserts the following:
Africa south of the Sahara, it now seems, was home to a separate and independent invention of iron metallurgy . . . To sum up the available evidence, iron technology across much of sub-Saharan Africa has an African origin dating to before 1000 BCE.
“More and more numerous datings are pushing back the beginning of iron production in Africa to at least the middle of the second millennium BC, which would make it one of the world’s oldest metallurgies,” states Hamady Bocoum, Senegalese archeologist. Gaston Maspéro, a French Egyptologist, concluded that ancient Egypt learned iron works from Africans to the south. This sentiment was corroborated by the German Felix von Luschan, who also thought sub-Saharan Africans originated iron technology, as did the British metallurgist William Gowland.
The more recent scholarship of Dr. Pamela Eze-Uzomaka, Nigerian scholar, states that the study of the prehistoric iron smelting site at Lejja, Nigeria has found the existence of a thriving iron smelting community with hundreds of furnaces, tuyeres and slags visible from the surface at the main village square. Interrupted by modern history, this iron smelting Lejja site has been reported by Dr. Eze-Uzomaka as extinct, no active iron smiths in the community. The debris from the iron smelting site has, however, been radiocarbon dated to approximately 2000 BC.
Traditional iron working involved considerable technical and artistic skill as well as brawn. However, to the Igbo, a lot more was required, namely, the possession of esoteric powers. Such esoteric powers were deemed inevitable as iron was believed to possess inherent mystical qualities. Iron was ‘charged’ and consequently dangerous to all persons except those who had the uncommon gift of knowing how to handle it. The core of this knowledge was ‘acquired by blood’; that is, it was inherited by birth.
- Scenes from Papyrus Book of Coming Forth by Day of Hunefer, cir. 1300 B.C. Dover Edition: 1967, pp. 283, 289, 368 (reference to retrieving Amen-Ra’s iron from a double bight, two bodies of water. See West Africa’s river bights of Biafra (nka Bonny) and Benin; see also, double feather plums of Osiris representing two river bights).
- Eze-Uzomaka, Pamela. Iron and its influence on the prehistoric site of Lejja (whitepaper available as free download, last visited 10/13/14).
- Joku, Onwuka N, Magic, Religion and Iron Technology in Precolonial North-western Igboland, Journal of Religion in Africa XX, 3 (19
Special Regards to The African History Network