Early inhabitants of Khasi hills in Meghalya knew exactly how metallic iron could be extracted from iron ore more than 350 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, scientists claimed citing new archaeological evidence.
The north-easterners developed the basics of “iron-smelting” most possibly on their own as they lived on an isolated plateau with little contact from outside. While iron ore was found in the base of the plateau, the area was rich in charcoal that was used for smelting.
The relative isolation of the Khasi people, who inhabited the highly elevated plateau, was evidence of indigenous origin of this manufacturing technology, said two Polish scientists who published their findings in the March 25 issue of Current Science.
External influence, however, can not be ruled out absolutely simply for want of adequate evidence. “The indigenous development of iron smelting in the NE is quite possible. It could be discovered independently in many parts of India such as central and southern India,” author Pawel Prokop at the Institute of Geography in Krakow, Poland told Deccan Herald.
Prokop visited the North-East including Meghalya a dozen times since 1997 as a part of a collaborative research programme between Indian National Science Academy and the Polish Academy of Sciences to study the geography and rainfall pattern of the region. Archaeology came as an offshoot.
They collected samples from four sites in Shillong, Nongkrem, Raitkteng and Cherrapunji, which were chosen on the basis of old British scientific documents. The samples were dated using radiocarbon technique. The oldest slag the byproduct of smelting was found in Nongkrem. It was dated at 353 BC to AD 128, making it the earliest iron smelting site in the Khasi Hills and consequently, in the whole of NE India.
For iron-making the forefathers of modern day Khasi community used bloomery, where the temperature is kept too low to melt the iron. It produces a spongy mass of iron called a bloom, which then has to be consolidated with a hammer. The earliest evidence to date for the bloomery smelting of iron is found at Tell Hammeh, Jordan that dates to 930 BC.
Polish scientists claimed the technique developed in India was not same as the smelting process that evolved in China. “Their technology of iron smelting is rather different from that used in China 2,000 years ago,” Prokop said.