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Wootz Steel

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Close up of Islamic Sabre #10, made by Assad Ullah in the 17th Century.

Close up of Islamic Sabre #10, made by Assad Ullah in the 17th Century.

Peter Paufler (c) 2006
Definition:

Wootz is the name given to an exceptional grade of iron ore steel first made in southern and south central India and Sri Lanka perhaps as early as 300 BC. Wootz is formed using a crucible to melt, burn away impurities and add important ingredients, and it contains a high carbon content (nearly 1.5%).

Although iron making was part of Indian culture by as early as 1100 BC (at sites such as Hallur), the earliest evidence for the processing of iron in a crucible has been fragments of crucibles and metal particles identified at the 5th century BC site of Kodumanal in Tamil Nadu province, and possibly also at Andhra Pradesh. Molecular investigation of iron from Junnar in Deccan province and dating to the Satavahana dynasty (between 350 BC and AD 136)--and at the same time as similar metal recovery at Taxila, some 1600 kilometers away--is clear evidence for crucible technology was widespread in India by this period.

The term 'wootz' appears in English in the late 18th century, and is probably derived from ukku, the word for crucible steel in the Indian language Kannada, and possibly from 'ekku' in old Tamil.

Wootz steel is the primary component of Damascan steel. Syrian blacksmiths used wootz ingots to produce extraordinary steel weaponry throughout the middle ages.

Sources

See the article on Damascus steel for further information.

Park J-S, and Shinde V. 2013. Technology, chronology and the role of crucible steel as inferred from iron objects of the ancient site at Junnar, India. Journal of Archaeological Science 40(11):3991-3998.

Sharada S and Ranganathan s. 2004. India's Legendary Wootz Steel: An advanced material of the ancient world. National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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