Our sages (Pirkei Avot 5:6) say “Ten things were created just prior to the first Shabbat eve..Some also include…as well as the original tongs, for tongs are made with tongs.” Indeed, unlike copper and bronze tools which are melted and cast, glowing hot iron has to be hammered and forged. And to do that you need iron tongs (copper and bronze would melt) to hold the glowing hot iron. So where did the first iron tongs come from?
You may be surprised to learn there are iron objects dating way back to 2,000 years before the Iron Age. How is that possible? Meteorites were recognized as one source of this metal, but the scientific community couldn’t determine whether they accounted for most or simply a few of the Bronze Age iron artifacts.
Now Albert Jambon has demonstrated that all iron used during the Bronze Age was always meteoric. His work is published in the December 2017 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The Iron Age began in Anatolia and the Caucasus around 1,200 BCE. But nearly 2,000 years earlier, many cultures were already fashioning objects out of iron. These items were extremely rare; and always greatly treasured. Iron ore abounds on the Earth’s surface. So what made these artifacts so valuable?
Initial research had shown that some were made with iron from meteorites, which led scientists to wonder how many others were. Albert Jambon gathered the available data and conducted his own nondestructive chemical analyses of samples using a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. His collection of iron artifacts includes beads from Gerzeh (Egypt, −3200 BCE); a dagger from Alaca Höyük (Turkey, −2500 BCE); a pendant from Umm el-Marra (Syria, −2300 BCE); an axe from Ugarit (Syria, −1400 BCE) and several others from the Shang dynasty civilization (China, −1400 BCE); and the dagger, bracelet, and headrest of Tutankhamen (Egypt, −1350 BCE).
His analyses revealed that each of these Bronze Age artifacts was made with heaven sent meteoric iron. When large celestial bodies like our planet are forming, nearly all nickel slowly siniks towards the molten iron core. Thus, it is extremely rare to find nickel on the Earth’s surface. However, some meteorites are created when celestial bodies are shattered. If these meteorites are composed of core material, they mostly contain iron with high levels of nickel and cobalt.
This characteristic makes it possible to identify the source of iron. Meteoric iron is also already in a metal state, ready for use, which explains why it went into all Bronze Age iron artifacts. In contrast, the iron compounds in terrestrial ores must first undergo the process of reduction, which removes bound oxygen to yield the desired metal.
This is the basis of smelting in furnaces, a breakthrough that marked the beginning of the Iron Age which started after 2,000 years of using heaven sent iron. With tongs and smelting, Iron Age cultures could forge rare extraterrestrial metal and then use terrestrial iron ores, which were far more abundant and easier to procure.