History; pre-1492

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Appalachian Blacksmiths Association

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Prior to October 12, 1492:

 

 

flint axe

Stone and flint tools like this hand axe were the extent of technology in North America prior to 1492.

 

For whatever reasons, the civilizations in the New World lagged far behind the rest of the globe when it came to metallurgy. It certainly wasn't for lack of raw materials, however. 

Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World with an array of tools, wares, and weapons and he must have been surprised that the metal technologies known for centuries to civilizations in Europe, Asia, and Africa were largely non-existent here. With the exceptions of copper, gold, and silver, the Americas had not developed much of a metals industry.

Considering that the rest of the world had gone through the Bronze and Iron Ages, the Europeans must have been surprised to find such a primitive state of affairs.

 

Wherever a metals industry did exist in the hemisphere, there were permanent cities with exquisite architecture. This was most notable throughout Central America and in the Andes Mountains in South America. But in what is now the United States, we don't see that kind of development. The reason is simple. Where metallurgy existed, tools were produced. With tools, man can make the land and its resources conform to his wishes. Without tools, man conforms to the land. Tools, engineering, and geometry went hand-in-hand because of metallurgy. In 1492, North American Indians were still searching streambeds for flint shards to sharpen into arrowheads. Although iron ore is plentiful and well distributed in North America, there is no evidence of iron making.

 

viking longboat

The Vikings sailed across the north Atlantic in 1000 AD in a longboat like this. 

 

Who were the first true blacksmiths in the Western Hemisphere? Perhaps, the Norsemen. In 1001, Lief Ericsson built a settlement, L'Anse aux Meadows, on Cape Bauld, Newfoundland and excavations have uncovered an ironworks and forge.[1]  The Norsemen found iron nodules in the bogs and streambeds near their settlement. Though primitive and small in scope, the Norse ironworks were most likely the first in the New World.

Bog-Iron-ore.jpg (102294 bytes)

Bog iron samples; click thumbnail to enlarge

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David G. Allen for the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association 2008

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