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Author J.M. Ney-Grimm has little background in the subject of Bronze-Age swordmaking. However, she is the kind of author who likes to flesh out her writing with vivid descriptions of the activities being performed by her characters. She dove into researching the subject, and published an article on Sarah A. Hoyt’s blog detailing what she found. The extraction and smelting of the tin and copper are described particularly well – with illustration and YouTube videos. It is a great piece and I thank reader Sam D. for sending it to me.
But my insatiable curiosity (and I seem to be able to be curious about everything and anything) was not why I researched bronze metallurgy in ancient times. I was writing a novel set in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, and my protagonist was essentially the treasurer for a warlord. The wealth of the citadel lay in its metals and – especially – its weapons. So I needed to know all about how the metals were extracted from the earth, how they were purified and poured into ingots, and what forging techniques were used. My protag knew all that stuff, so I needed to know about it also.
For those of you who share my curious bent, here’s what I discovered.
The website of Neil Burridge, a smith who creates Bronze Age artifacts using authentic materials and methods, had the details I was truly seeking. Videos of him in action allowed me to see a real smith moving within the forging environment, garbed in the protective gear of heavy apron and gauntlets, using the tongs and crucibles, exercising prudence with the liquid fire that is molten metal.
He also explained vividly the awe with which the ancient smiths were probably regarded. Metallurgy was not a theoretical science for them. It was a practical discipline, absolutely necessary for their tools and weapons, but with techniques developed over hundreds of years and handed down from one smith to another.
They didn’t know why these techniques worked. And they weren’t infallible. Sometimes a pour would turn out a perfect result. Other times it would fail, and the smith wouldn’t know for sure what had caused the failure. Certainly ordinary people, with no access to a smith’s secrets, would have regarded the whole business as magical.
The video below is not from the piece, but I found it while doing some background reading, and thought it was cool.