Wednesday 10 April 2024


African blacksmiths have been crafting agricultural tools, musical instruments, weapons and symbols of power and prestige out of the raw material for ages. Africans began extracting iron ore from the continent's rich deposits roughly 2,500 years ago. Across Africa, workers practiced "bloomery smelting": heating iron-containing minerals in a furnace until the iron particles separate — or "bloom" — from the rest of the minerals, leaving pure, malleable iron. Africans actually preceded Europeans by 300 to 400 years in the development of bellowing technology that allowed more efficient smelting by preheating the iron with a mixture of hot and cool air.

Evidence of copper and iron metallurgies is documented in the continent, in West, Central, and East Africa. Early copper metallurgies were recorded in the Akjoujt region of Mauritania and the Eghazzer basin in Niger. Surprisingly early iron smelting installations were found in the Eghazzer basin (Niger), the Middle Senegal Valley (Senegal), the Mouhoun Bend (Burkina Faso), the Nsukka region and Taruga (Nigeria), the Great Lakes region in East Africa, the Djohong (Cameroons), and the Ndio (Central African Republic) areas. It is, however, the discoveries from the northern margins of the Equatorial rainforest, North-Central Africa, in the northeastern part of the Adamawa Plateau that radically falsify the “iron technology diffusion” hypothesis.

Iron production activities are shown to have taken place as early as 3000–2500BCE in habitation sites like Balimbé, Bétumé, and Bouboun, smelting sites like Gbabiri, and forge sites like Ôboui and Gbatoro. The last two sites provide high-resolution data on the spatial patterning of blacksmiths’ workshops dating from 2500 to 2000BCE. Challenging data such as these are usually ignored or dismissed without serious consideration, but patient and sustained long-term research is contributing to a new understanding of the development of copper and iron metallurgies in Africa, enriching the long-term history of technologies.


(1). Holl, Augustin F. C. (June 2020). "The Origins of African Metallurgies". Oxford Research Encyclopedias. 22 (4): 415–438. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190854584.013.63. ISBN 9780190854584.

(2). Eggert, Manfred (2014). "Early iron in West and Central Africa". In Breunig, P (ed.). Nok: African Sculpture in Archaeological Context. Frankfurt, Germany: Africa Magna Verlag Press. pp. 1–2.

(3). Alpern, S. B. (2005) Did they or didn’t they invent it? Iron in sub-Saharan Africa. History in Africa 32:41-94.


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