How Widespread Was The Use Of Steel In Pre-Colonial Sub-Saharan Africa?

Oct 2015
275
Florida, USA
#11
In connection with the issue of steel swords of high quality (mentioned in the excerpt from John K. Thornton's book that I posted) I just remembered that there is a remark in a 19th century source about the indigenous manufacture of swords of high quality in Benin - these may have been high quality steel swords for them to elicit special attention and mention. A certain Captain James Fawckner visited the "Captain of War" of Benin (the Ezomo of Benin) at his residence at a town (presumably the town of Uzebu) near the capital and made the following observation about what he saw there before he reached the capital:

"It excited my surprise to see here two or three small pieces of cannon, of British or Portuguese manufacture; but they were not mounted, and had perhaps been procured as models for imitation, as the country abounds in iron; but from the expense attendant on working the mines, there is, comparatively speaking, very little wrought to perfection. I saw, however, some swords of their own manufacture, which were very well turned out of hand; and was credibly informed they could make muskets, with the exception of the lock, in great perfection." - Narrative of Captain James Fawckner's travels on the coast of Benin. West Africa (1837)
I've actually read this before and it was quite interesting. It did answer one of my questions a while back about whether or not Africans manufactured their own indigenous firearms. However it doesn't seem to mention steel. I always hear of "iron" swords and spears but I almost never hear "steel." I can't look at the images in your first post though because I'm on a work computer but I'll view it as soon as I get home.
 
Oct 2015
275
Florida, USA
#12
OK EVERYONE

I really appreciate your responses but it seems as though you totally misread the OP. I am already 158% aware of IRON manufacture in Sub-Saharan Africa and I have been for years. I know that it was invented there independently and that it directly replaced stone. Sub-Saharan Africa had no "Bronze Age." My question was not about IRON. My question was about STEEL. How widespread was STEEL as in the carbonized version of iron with a more silvery sheen and a stronger edge. That's the stuff I'm inquiring about. NOT IRON.

Thanks :)
 

mansamusa

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,308
#14
Bassar, Togo seems to have impressed the Germans with its steel iron production. It is said that Carbon steel was widespread enough to outcompete Europe until 1915. There appear to be several papers on the topic.Most of them are inaccessible:
 
Aug 2009
5,066
Londinium
#15
Bassar, Togo seems to have impressed the Germans with its steel iron production. It is said that Carbon steel was widespread enough to outcompete Europe until 1915. There appear to be several papers on the topic.Most of them are inaccessible:
I've searched for Togo and Carbon Steel but not come across much, you end with a colon, i think you may have left off the link by accident? Could you update with a link plz?
 

mansamusa

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,308
#16
I've searched for Togo and Carbon Steel but not come across much, you end with a colon, i think you may have left off the link by accident? Could you update with a link plz?
Yes, I forgot to paste on the title of a paper:

Dekpassanware, Early Iron Age Site in the Bassar Region of Northern Togo.
Phillip L. de Barros.
But I guess, it may not mention steel specifically. This paper however does:

Van der Merwe [28] also conducted extensive
research on Africa’s smelting process and observed that the
as-smelted product is a blend of various carbon content up to
about 2.2 wt.% steel, which was forged with mechanical
properties suitable for agricultural tools.

http://article.sciencepublishinggroup.com/pdf/10.11648.j.ijmsa.20140305.23.pdf

In case, the link won't work, the title is:
A reproduction of the ancient Bandjeli’s steel-making
process
; Pali Kpelou, Gnande Djeteli, Ayi Djifa Hounsi,
Hans Peter Hahn., Tiburce Ahouangbe Aboki,, Kossi Napo.
 
Last edited:
Aug 2009
5,066
Londinium
#17
Yes, I forgot to paste on the title of a paper:

Dekpassanware, Early Iron Age Site in the Bassar Region of Northern Togo.
Phillip L. de Barros.
But I guess, it may not mention steel specifically. This paper however does:

Van der Merwe [28] also conducted extensive
research on Africa’s smelting process and observed that the
as-smelted product is a blend of various carbon content up to
about 2.2 wt.% steel, which was forged with mechanical
properties suitable for agricultural tools.

http://article.sciencepublishinggroup.com/pdf/10.11648.j.ijmsa.20140305.23.pdf

In case, the link won't work, the title is:
A reproduction of the ancient Bandjeli’s steel-making
process
; Pali Kpelou, Gnande Djeteli, Ayi Djifa Hounsi,
Hans Peter Hahn., Tiburce Ahouangbe Aboki,, Kossi Napo.
Thanks :)
 
Jan 2010
4,035
Atlanta, Georgia USA
#18
OK EVERYONE

I really appreciate your responses but it seems as though you totally misread the OP. I am already 158% aware of IRON manufacture in Sub-Saharan Africa and I have been for years. I know that it was invented there independently and that it directly replaced stone. Sub-Saharan Africa had no "Bronze Age." My question was not about IRON. My question was about STEEL. How widespread was STEEL as in the carbonized version of iron with a more silvery sheen and a stronger edge. That's the stuff I'm inquiring about. NOT IRON.

Thanks :)
See the second full paragraph on p. 46 of the excerpt pasted above. While it doesn't comment on how wide spread it was, it does indicate steel was produced in Benin.
 
Oct 2015
275
Florida, USA
#19
Yes, I forgot to paste on the title of a paper:

Dekpassanware, Early Iron Age Site in the Bassar Region of Northern Togo.
Phillip L. de Barros.
But I guess, it may not mention steel specifically. This paper however does:

Van der Merwe [28] also conducted extensive
research on Africa’s smelting process and observed that the
as-smelted product is a blend of various carbon content up to
about 2.2 wt.% steel, which was forged with mechanical
properties suitable for agricultural tools.

http://article.sciencepublishinggroup.com/pdf/10.11648.j.ijmsa.20140305.23.pdf

In case, the link won't work, the title is:
A reproduction of the ancient Bandjeli’s steel-making
process
; Pali Kpelou, Gnande Djeteli, Ayi Djifa Hounsi,
Hans Peter Hahn., Tiburce Ahouangbe Aboki,, Kossi Napo.

Thank you very much, I will definitely check this out.
 

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