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30 January 2000
Early iron smelting

Excavations at Tell Hammeh, on the north bank of Jordan's Zarqa River, have revealed evidence of what may be the oldest-known iron smelting.
      In one area, a heavy layer of smelting debris - ash, charcoal, slag, and pieces of possible tuyegrave;res (nozzles through which air is forced into a furnace) - was found lying against a mud-brick wall associated with what may be the collapsed remains of two furnaces.
      Elsewhere at the site three more furnace structures were identified, one of which has been excavated. It was round, built of large mud bricks, and contained ash, slag, and burnt brick. No stratigraphic connection has been established between this structure and the debris layers, but the pottery shows that both date generally to the eighth century BCE
      Analyses showed that the furnaces were used for iron smelting, and that the remains cover most of the technical steps one would expect to find in that process. The mineralogical structure of the slag points to high furnace temperatures, in excess of 1,200 degrees Celsius, which suggest bellows were used. Elements present in the samples indicate that the ore used was probably from nearby Mugharet al-Warda, Jordan's only source of iron ore. The excavations, part of the Deir 'Alla Regional Project, a joint effort of Yarmouk University and Leiden University, will resume this spring.

Source: Archaeology Magazine (17 December, 1999)

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