Heat Treating and the History Behind It

Humans have been heat treating metal for thousands of years. As soon as the practice of metallurgy was discovered, it set off a significant period of technological advancement. Heat treating remains an extremely important process of metalworking to this day, and it’s always worth taking a look back at the history of metallurgy just to get a sense of how far we’ve come through the millennia.

Here’s some information about the history of metallurgy in Gastonia, NC and beyond.

Many millennia old

Most archaeologists believe the earliest metal that humans used was gold. There have been small amounts of natural gold found in caves used in Spain during the Paleolithic period dating back to around 40,000 B.C. Silver, copper, meteoric iron and tin have also been found in their natural form, indicating there may have been a limited amount of metalworking going on in some of the very earliest human civilizations.

It wasn’t until around 6,000 B.C., though, that metallurgy really began to evolve in human civilizations. At that point, humans discovered the process known as smelting, which involves recovering metals from their ores by heating the rocks up in a fire or blast furnace. Evidence of early smelting was discovered at archaeological dig sites in Yarmovac, Plocnik and Majdanpek, in what today exists as Serbia. This includes some of the very earliest evidence of copper smelting. Archaeologists discovered a copper axe produced at the site in around 5,500 B.C.

Copper smelting also occurred in present-day Iraq around that same time period, where researchers have also found the earliest uses of lead.

By the third millennium B.C., metals were beginning to be used more widely. Metal objects have been discovered at archaeological sites in Los Millares (Spain), Palmela (Portugal) and Stonehenge (United Kingdom).

Metalworking changed forever when humans discovered how to extract iron from its ore, a much more difficult process than smelting copper or tin. Metalworking became absolutely crucial in ancient and medieval kingdoms in ancient Iran, ancient Egypt, Anatolia, Carthage, the Greek and Roman civilizations, ancient and medieval China, ancient and medieval India, medieval Europe, ancient and medieval Japan and many more. The process of iron working and extraction was discovered presumably by the Hittites around 1,200 B.C., which archaeologists mark as the beginning of the Iron Age.

Iron working allowed for more significant advancements in tools, weaponry, building and mechanics, and accelerated the rate at which the field of metalworking advanced. Civilizations that were able to make significant use of iron were in a much better position to survive, spread and thrive.

Obviously, today’s metalworking processes are significantly more advanced than those of thousands of years ago, but the general processes involved with metalworking remain the same—separating metal from its ores, heating it up to a certain point to be able to work the metal itself and then immediately cooling it afterward as rapidly as possible.

For more information about metallurgy and the process of heat treating in Gastonia, NC, contact the team at J.F. Heat Treating, Inc. today.

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