Man first knew about Iron almost 6000, years ago, the history of iron dates back to 3500 BC. But during that early period man did not get it from the earth as he does now. Amazingly it came from the sky !
Iron is never found in its native state as are copper and a few other metals. But when a meteor has managed to survive its swift dive through our earth’s atmosphere and comes crashing down as a meteorite, it is found to be made of stony matter usually mixed with iron, or iron alloys and nickel. Meteorites are very rarely made of metal alone. The history of iron is a long one and we shall explore it in detail below.
Iron from Meteorites
Primitive man found that iron which came to him in this strange way could be hammered and worked just as he was used to working native gold, silver and copper. But iron became harder than any of those metals and was greatly valued because it was so rare. Also it seemed to come as a gift from above. It fact it was called the “metal from heaven.”
Long before they knew how to smelt iron from its ores, various peoples made implements from the iron of meteorites. This metal was so precious that jewellery was made out of it in very ancient times. Iron beads dating back to 4000 B.C. were found in a cemetery in Egypt. Long ago in Rome, wedding rings were made of it, and an iron blade which has lasted for 5,000 years has also been unearthed by archaeologists.
History of Iron
At a much later period, when the Spaniards conquered South America, they found the inhabitants using meteoric iron. The Eskimos used it until the 1700’s. The way we know that certain articles are made of meteoric iron is that analysis shows they contain up to 8 per cent of nickel while man-made iron smelted from the ores found on the earth never contains such quantities of nickel.
No one knows for certain when, or just how iron was first smelted. When man first learned how to extract iron from its ores (essentially, as we know, a combination of iron and oxygen) the discovery was so important that it ranks with fire making and the invention of the wheel as one of the great milestones in human progress.
Knowing how to smelt iron gave primitive man a far richer supply of metal than he had ever had before, and it was the hardest metal he had ever known. Gradually he learned how to make it into weapons and tools. It is believed that the early making of iron began in some parts of the world some 3,000 years ago. The reason for this belief is that at that time Egyptian armies had many more iron weapons than could possibly have been made from the relatively rare meteoric iron.
Because it was so serviceable and its ores were so widely distributed, people began to use iron more and more. Civilization took a giant step from the Bronze to the Iron Age which began about 1400 B.C., although the date varies some according to the particular country we are talking about. Iron crowded out bronze, just as in modern times steel, a form of iron, has largely replaced its “parent”—iron.