By Natural Philosopher Mike Prestwood

Did central Africa invent iron smelting before everybody else?

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Explore the ancient roots of metallurgical innovation with Mike Prestwood: from africa and around the world.

The answer is maybe. For sure they were among the earliest. The history of iron smelting in Central Africa is remarkable. Archaeological evidence suggests this region was among the earliest in the world to develop the technology. Research indicates that iron smelting could have been practiced in Central Africa by around 1000 BCE, possibly earlier. This predates many other known instances of iron smelting globally, highlighting the region’s pioneering role in metallurgical innovation. These findings suggest that communities in Central Africa not only independently developed iron smelting but did so at a very early stage compared to other civilizations worldwide. 

Metallurgy likely began independently in multiple regions around the world. Particularly notable is the evidence from Tanzania, where some of the oldest traces of iron smelting have been discovered. The earliest evidence of metallurgy dates back to around 7,000 BCE in the Middle East, specifically in the areas that are now modern-day Iran and Turkey, where copper began to be worked by Neolithic communities. By 3,000 BCE, more advanced metallurgy, involving smelting to extract metals from ores, was practiced in the region, spreading to Europe and Asia thereafter. For a deeper exploration of History, take the 7-minute deep dive: Africa Before the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

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