Steel History
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Here's a video of a man forging steel.

The iron we use today is much better than the iron that the Hittites made: today most of our iron is made into steel. Steel is iron with more carbon in it than regular iron. It is much stronger and more flexible (it doesn't break as easily). People first began making a kind of steel in India, around 250 BC.

Steel was not much used in China or Europe until the 400s or 500s AD, after the fall of Rome (although a recent find suggests that the Franks may have been making steel in the Netherlands in the 300s AD, and Chinese iron-workers were producing some early kinds of steel as early as the 200s AD in the Han Dynasty).

Like other skilled professions of the medieval period, steel-making was pretty much limited to men - men did not allow women to make steel.

Damascus Steel
Damascus steel sword from the 1200s AD

Men living in the Fatimid Empire, around 1000 AD in Damascus, added some new elements to make a very high quality steel called Damascus steel. Even the Crusaders may have bought Damascus steel to fight the Fatimids with!

But by 1300 AD, people lost the secret of making Damascus steel. Nobody knows why or how this happened. Even now, although people claim to be making Damascus steel, we are not sure that they are using the same method as before.

A scavenger hunt about metals
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Copyright 2012-2015 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated September 2015.

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