Crucible steelmaking in Sri Lanka
Early Arab literature, travellers’ accounts and ethnographic studies point to Sri Lanka as a traditional source of high-quality steel, which would have found a ready market as a raw material for the manufacture of tools and weapons, including the so-called Damascus swords. The present work concerns the analysis of a find of Sri Lankan crucible steel collected from the village of Mawalgaha, the site where Coomaraswamy, in 1904, witnessed and described the process by which crucible steel was traditionally
manufactured. Also studied were a collection of blacksmiths tools, along with several iron blooms which are believed to be melting-stock for crucible steelmaking. The morphology and microstructure of the high-carbon steel ingots are consistent with products expected of the local crucible steelmaking process, and also explain the processing requirements for the material. Similarities
between the blooms and the ingots support the suggestion that the blooms are indeed raw materials for the crucible steelmaking process. The smithing tools were found not to have been made from crucible steel. The recent find of a mid-to-late first millennium AD crucible steelmaking site shows that the industry has a long history in Sri Lanka, but the ultimate use for the crucible steel which was
produced remains unclear. One possible interpretation of the evidence available to date is that crucible steelmaking may never have been a major industry in Sri Lanka, and that the island’s reputation for high-quality steel arose from the wind-powered smelting technology which has also been shown to be capable of producing high-carbon steel.
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