Metallurgy probably became popular 3,000 years ago in Asia. From there, the ability to shape and process iron spread to Europe, until finally arriving in the Scandinavian countries. However, new research indicates that hunter-gatherers in Scandinavia mastered iron much earlier than expected.
Most evidence relating to metallurgy indicates that small tribes near the Arctic only came to make widespread use of forging from 1600 A.D. However, researchers have discovered furnaces and metal remnants in the remains of a 2,000-year-old ancient tribe in Sweden.
At the archaeological site of Sangis, researchers discovered the carcass of a furnace probably used for forging metal materials. The furnace had a lining of ceramic resin and pieces of iron, copper and bronze once smelted together.
Also, carbon dating of the furnace showed that the apparatus dates between 200 and 50 B.C, or more than 2,000 years ago. According to the research, published in the journal Antiquity, the discovery raises questions about the sophistication for metallurgy of these ancient communities.
Image: BENNERHAG ET AL/ANTIQUITY 2021
Evidence of metallurgy at a second excavation site
Still in the site of Sangis, a little more than 500 meters from the furnace, researchers found several other evidences of metal manipulation. Besides fish bones, archaeologists discovered three bonfires where metals were molded. In this region, the team also discovered several iron and bronze artifacts, as well as solidified copper drops.
At another nearby excavation site, Vivungi, the team also discovered two furnaces probably used for metallurgy, especially of iron. According to the research, the evidence from Vivungi dates back to 100 B.C., although there were no fires for the treatment and purification of metals.
"This study is particularly insightful because the metal is iron, typically considered a more challenging metallurgy than that of copper or gold; the artisans are historically imagined hunter gatherers using only basic technologies; and the location is a region largely ignored in histories of technology," says expert Marcos Martinón-Torres of the University of Cambridge ina statement.
Author Carina Bennerhag states that the hunter-gatherer peoples of Sweden "probably manufactured more iron and steel, and were more socially organized and sedentary than we imagined."