Crucible steel in Central Asia : production, use and origins
Central Asian crucible steel has been neglected in the scholarly literature in favour of Indian/Sri Lankan crucible steel (commonly called wootz). This is primarily because during the last few centuries Europeans frequently traded by sea, rather than via the overland route through Central Asia, with India and Sri Lanka where crucible steel was still being produced. The consequence of this was the assumption that the majority of crucible steel in Central Asia and the Middle East was imported from India and Sri Lanka. Moreover, the Central Asian crucible steel process is thought by many to be merely a variation of the Indian/Sri Lankan process. On the contrary, recently excavated archaeological evidence indicates that crucible steel was produced for centuries by a distinct process in various locations in Central Asia. This dissertation presents the first detailed investigation of crucible steel in Central Asia. The characteristics of Central Asian crucible steel production were primarily determined by laboratory analyses of archaeometallurgical remains excavated from an early Islamic (9th-10th century AD) crucible steel workshop from Merv, Turkmenistan. A selection of crucible steel production remains from Medieval Uzbekistan was also examined. Furthermore, fifty-seven blades from three locations in Central Asia: Kislovodsk Basin, Upper Kuban River Region, and around the Aral Sea, were examined using metallographic analyses. The analyses identified four crucible steel blades, one of which may be the earliest known example of Damascus steel. The laboratory analyses supports early textual accounts of the use of crucible steel in Persia/Central Asia in addition to India, and the presence of blades with a Damascus pattern. The results were compared to ethnographic reports, historical accounts, archaeological evidence, and replication experiments related to the production of crucible steel and Damascus steel blades. The results of the investigation clearly demonstrate the use of crucible steel in Central Asia for at least the past 1,500 years, and that it was being produced there for at least as long as it was produced in India and Sri Lanka.