History of metallurgy in the Indian subcontinent

History of metallurgy in the Indian subcontinent

History of metallurgy in the Indian subcontinent began during the 2nd millennium BCE and continued well into the British Raj. [See "Tewari 2003" and "Arnold, pages 100-101"] The Indian cultural and commercial contacts with the Near East and the Greco-Roman world enabled an exchange of metallurgic sciences. [For near Near East see "Edgerton, page 56" and "Prasad, chapter IX". Greco-Roman world: "Mondal, pages 2-3"] With the advent of Islam, India's Mughal Empire (established: April 21, 1526—ended: September 21, 1857) further improved the established tradition of metallurgy and metal working in India. [Gommans 2002]

The cautious approach of the British Raj led to stagnation of metallurgy in India as the British regulated mining and metallurgy—used in India previously by its rulers to build armies and resist England during various wars.

Early History (—200 CE)

Recent excavations in Middle Ganga Valley done by archaeologist Rakesh Tewari show iron working in India may have begun as early as 1800 BC. Archaeological sites in India, such as Malhar, Dadupur, Raja Nala Ka Tila and Lahuradewa in the state of Uttar Pradesh show iron implements in the period between 1800 BCE-1200 BCE. Sahi (1979: 366) concluded that by the early 13th century BCE, iron smelting was definitely practiced on a bigger scale in India, suggesting that the date the technology's inception may well be placed as early as the 16th century BCE.Tewari 2003]

Some of the early iron objects found in India are dated to 1400 BCE by employing the method of radio carbon dating. Spikes, knives, daggers, arrow-heads, bowls, spoons, saucepans, axes, chisels, tongs, door fittings etc. ranging from 600 BCE—200 BCE have been discovered from several archaeological sites.Ceccarelli, page 218] In Southern India (present day Mysore) iron appeared as early as 11th century BCE—12th century BCE. These developments were too early for any significant close contact with the northwest of the country.Drakonoff, page 372]

The earliest available Bronze age swords of copper discovered from the Harappan sites date back to 2300 BCE.Allchin, pages 111-114] Swords have been recovered in archaeological findings throughout the Ganges-Jamuna Doab region of India, consisting of bronze but more commonly copper. Diverse specimens have been discovered in Fatehgarh, where there are several varieties of hilt. These swords have been variously dated to periods between 1700-1400 BCE, but were probably used more extensively during the opening centuries of the 1st millennium BCE.

The beginning of the 1st millennium BCE saw extensive developments in iron metallurgy in India. Technological advancement and mastery of iron metallurgy was achieved during this period of peaceful settlements. The years between 322—185 BCE saw several advancements being made to the technology involved in metallurgy during the politically stable Maurya period (322—185 BCE). [Richards et al., page64 ] Greek historian Herodotus (431—425 BCE) wrote the first western account of the use of iron in India.

Perhaps as early as 300 BCE—although certainly by 200 CE—high quality steel was being produced in southern India also by what Europeans would later call the crucible technique.Juleff 1996] In this system, high-purity wrought iron, charcoal, and glass were mixed in a crucible and heated until the iron melted and absorbed the carbon. The first crucible steel was the wootz steel that originated in India before the beginning of the common era. Archaeological evidence suggests that this manufacturing process was already in existence in South India well before the Christian era.

Wootz originated in India before the beginning of the common era.Srinivasan & Ranganathan] Wootz steel was widely exported and traded throughout ancient Europe, China, the Arab world, and became particularly famous in the Middle East, where it became known as Damascus steel. Archaeological evidence suggests that this manufacturing process was already in existence in South India well before the Christian era.Srinivasan 1994] Srinivasan & Griffiths]

Zinc mines of Zawar, near Udaipur, Rajasthan, were active during 400 BC.Craddock 1983] There are references of medicinal uses of zinc in the Charaka Samhita (300 BC). The Rasaratna Samuccaya (800 AD) explains the existence of two types of ores for zinc metal, one of which is ideal for metal extraction while the other is used for medicinal purpose. The "Periplus Maris Erythraei" mentions weapons of Indian iron and steel being exported from India to Greece. Prasad, chapter IX]

Early Common Era—Early Modern Era (200 CE—1757 CE)

The world's first iron pillar was the Iron pillar of Delhi—erected at the times of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375–413). [Balasubramaniam, R., 2002] The swords manufactured in Indian workshops find written mention in the works of Muhammad al-Idrisi (flourished 1154). [Edgerton, page 56] Indian Blades made of Damascus steel found their way into Persia. European scholars—during the 14th century—studied Indian casting and metallurgy technology.

Indian metallurgy under the Mughal emperor Akbar (reign: 1556-1605) produced excellent small firearms. [Gommans, page 154] Gommans (2002) holds that Mughal handguns were stronger and more accurate than their European counterparts. [Gommans, page 155]

Srivastava & Alam (2008) comment on Indian coinage of the Mughal Empire (established: April 21, 1526 - ended: September 21, 1857) during Akbar's regime:Srivastava & Alam (2008)]

Statues of "Nataraja" and "Vishnu" were cast during the reign of the imperial Chola dynasty (200-1279) in the 9th century.Mondal, page2-3] The casting could involve a mixture of five metals: copper, zinc, tin, gold, and silver.

Considered one of the most remarkable feats in metallurgy, the Seamless celestial globe was invented in Kashmir by Ali Kashmiri ibn Luqman in 998 AH (1589-90 CE), and twenty other such globes were later produced in Lahore and Kashmir during the Mughal Empire. Before they were rediscovered in the 1980s, it was believed by modern metallurgists to be technically impossible to produce metal globes without any , even with modern technology. These Mughal metallurgists pioneered the method of lost-wax casting in order to produce these globes.citation|first=Emilie|last=Savage-Smith|title=Islamicate Celestial Globes: Their history, Construction, and Use|publisher=Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.|year=1985]

Colonial British Era—Republic of India (1757 CE—1947 CE)

In the "The New Cambridge History of India: Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India", scholar David Arnold examines the effect of the British Raj in Indian mining and metallurgy:Arnold, pages 100-101]

Quotation1|With the partial exception of coal, foreign competition, aided by the absence of tariff barriers and lack of technological innovation, held back the development of mining and metal-working technology in India until the early twentieth century. The relatively crude, labour-intensive nature of surviving mining techniques contributed to the false impression that India was poorly endowed with mineral resources or that they were inaccessible or otherwise difficult and unremunerative to work. But the fate of mining and metallurgy was affected by political as well as by economic and technological considerations.

The British were aware of the part metal-working had played in supporting indigenous powers in the past through the production of arms and ammunition, and, just as they introduced an Arms Act in 1878 to restrict Indian access to firearms, so they sought to limit India’s ability to mine and work metals that might sustain it in future wars and rebellions. This was especially the case with Rajasthan, a region rich in metals. In the 1820s James Tod identified the ‘mines of Mewar’ as one of the means that had enabled its masters ‘so long to struggle against superior power, and to raise those magnificent structures which would do honour to the most potent kingdoms of the west’. Indian skill in the difficult art of casting brass cannon had made Indian artillery a formidable adversary from the reign of Akbar to the Maratha and Sikh wars 300 years later. But by the early nineteenth century most of the mines in Rajasthan had been abandoned: the caste of miners was ‘extinct’.

During the Company period, as military opponents were eliminated and princely states extinguished, so was the local capacity to mine and work metals steadily eroded. As late as the Rebellion of 1857, the mining of lead for ammunition at Ajmer was perceived as a threat the British would no longer countenance and the mines were closed down.

The first iron-cased and metal-cylinder rockets were developed by Tipu Sultan, ruler of the South Indian Kingdom of Mysore, and his father Hyder Ali, in the 1780s. He successfully used these iron-cased rockets against the larger forces of the British East India Company during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. "Hyder Ali, prince of Mysore, developed war rockets with an important change: the use of metal cylinders to contain the combustion powder. Although the hammered soft iron he used was crude, the bursting strength of the container of black powder was much higher than the earlier paper construction. Thus a greater internal pressure was possible, with a resultant greater thrust of the propulsive jet. The rocket body was lashed with leather thongs to a long bamboo stick. Range was perhaps up to three-quarters of a mile (more than a kilometre). Although individually these rockets were not accurate, dispersion error became less important when large numbers were fired rapidly in mass attacks. They were particularly effective against cavalry and were hurled into the air, after lighting, or skimmed along the hard dry ground. Hyder Ali's son, Tippu Sultan, continued to develop and expand the use of rocket weapons, reportedly increasing the number of rocket troops from 1,200 to a corps of 5,000. In battles at Seringapatam in 1792 and 1799 these rockets were used with considerable effect against the British." - Encyclopedia Britannica (2008). "rocket and missile."]



* Allchin, F.R. (1979) in "South Asian Archaeology 1975: Papers from the Third International Conference of the Association of South Asian Archaeologists in Western Europe, Held in Paris" edited by J.E.van Lohuizen-de Leeuw. Brill Academic Publishers, Incorporated. ISBN 9004059962.
* Arnold, David (2004). "The New Cambridge History of India: Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India". Cambridge University Press. 100-101. ISBN 0-521-56319-4.
* Balasubramaniam, R. (2002). "Delhi Iron Pillar: New Insights". Delhi: Aryan Books International and Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Hardbound, ISBN-81-7305-223-9.
* Ceccarelli, Marco (2000). "International Symposium on History of Machines and Mechanisms: Proceedings HMM Symposium". Springer. ISBN 0792363728.
* Craddock, P.T. et al. (1983). "Zinc production in medieval India", World Archaeology, vol. 15, no. 2, Industrial Archaeology.
* Drakonoff, I. M. (1991). "Early Antiquity". University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226144658.
* Edgerton; et al. (2002). "Indian and Oriental Arms and Armour". Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 0486422291.
* Gommans, Jos J. L. (2002). "Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and Highroads to Empire, 1500-1700". Routledge. ISBN 0415239893.
* Juleff, G. (1996). [http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v379/n6560/abs/379060a0.html;jsessionid=C12F168C7DE98DE4F8C7337D1C20E6F4 "An ancient wind powered iron smelting technology in Sri Lanka"] . Nature 379 (3): 60–63.
* Mondal, Biswanath (2004). "Proceedings of the National Conference on Investment Casting: NCIC 2003". Allied Publishers. ISBN 8177646591.
* Prasad, Prakash Chandra (2003). "Foreign Trade and Commerce in Ancient India". Abhinav Publications. ISBN 8170170532.
* Richards, J. F. et al. (2005). "The New Cambridge History of India". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521364248.
* Srinivasan, S. & Ranganathan, S. [http://materials.iisc.ernet.in/~wootz/heritage/WOOTZ.htm "Wootz Steel: An Advanced Material of the Ancient World". Bangalore: Indian Institute of Science.]
* Srinivasan,S. "Wootz crucible steel: a newly discovered production site in South India". Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 5 (1994), pp. 49-61.
* Srinivasan, S. and Griffiths, D. "South Indian wootz: evidence for high-carbon steel from crucibles from a newly identified site and preliminary comparisons with related finds". Material Issues in Art and Archaeology-V, Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings Series Vol. 462.
* Srivastava, A.L. & Alam, Muzaffar (2008). "India". Encyclopedia Britannica.
* [http://antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/tewari/tewari.pdf Tewari, Rakesh (2003) in "The origins of Iron Working in India: New evidence from the Central Ganga plain and the Eastern Vindhyas", Antiquity, Vol. 77, pages 536-544. England: ISSN 0003-598X.]

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