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INDEX NO: 10465428


The Iron Age is a subdivision of human technology and socio-cultural accomplishment which overlies the
Stone Age. In areas such as the Middle East, Asia and Europe iron technology followed a consistent trend
i.e. from bronze works to copper works then to iron workings. However in West Africa, archaeological
evidence supports the assertion that iron metallurgy immediately followed the Stone Age. As a result of
this some scholars have argued that iron metallurgy was introduced into West Africa from either Carthage
in antiquity or by the Egyptians. Some even are off the view that it was introduced by both. Others also
believed that the knowledge of iron metallurgy spread to West Africa from East Asia across the east
African coast. However there is the independent school of thought that have advocated that the
indigenes of West Africa were responsible for the beginning of iron metallurgy. Archaeological
excavation done at Daboya and the Begho site in Ghana is used to back this. Other sites include Do
Dimmi in Niger and Jenne-jeno in Mali can also prove this.
Smelting took place in the village of Dablo in Northern Burkina Faso. Located north of Kaya and at the
edge of the Sai hill. Burkina Faso is a small land locked country located north of Ghana, in between Mali
to the North West and Niger to the North East. The stage or process was producing combustible material.
This material could be charcoal, dry wood or even dry grain covers. But I would choose charcoal as my
combustible material.
Africans have been making iron for over 2000 years. The manufacture of iron helped Africans produce
effective weapons for warfare and efficient tools for farming. Without agriculture, development of
civilization would not have been possible in Africa.
The iron smelting industry collapsed because forging iron proved to be a cheaper source of good metal.
Also inexpensive iron have been imported from china and japan by merchants. This brought a stop to
smelting of iron in West Africa.
The fuelling is as important to the smelting process as the iron itself. Very special hard wood with high
colorant content is selected. Special charcoal is used that has a very high butane content. Hard wood
produces the best charcoal. First of all the wood is cut, stacked and burned. The wind could cause
problems by making the wood burn unevenly to prevent this, branches are used to block the wind. Forks
are also used to push the wood back into the fire so it would burn nicely.
As soon as the wood is burnt lightly, it is covered with sand so that the heat would turn the wood into
charcoal without consuming it completely.
The wood as it burns, oxygen is excluded and is driven from the wood reducing it to charcoal without
oxidizing it and turning it to useless ash. They return four days later to the pile to remove the sand
covering revealing the high quality hard wood charcoal they need for a successful smelting. The tool used
to uncover the charcoal is called sandore. The charcoal is loaded in a basket and then carried back
home. The charcoal is dumped at the work place or site. the next stage is

Iron is made of iron ore. They begin the process by locating the source of the ore. The ore is excavated by
hands in baskets and sorted by removing as much as clay as possible. It is carried back to the village
where they are further processed by breaking them into smaller pieces. Impurities and clay is removed.
A scholar of West African archaeology prof. J kentika of the University of Ouagadougou has published
extensively on iron and gold mining and technology in this area. Prof. Kentika has discovered
archaeological sites associated to smelting that dates from 362 to 220 BC. This indicates that smelting
developed independently in Burkina Faso.
The area is covered with iron red soil, it is not always easy to locate good sources of iron ore. Some have
the privileges to find the source of iron after it rains whiles others also use metal rods to prospect for iron
Iron ore is mined in piths or shallow mines. Different types of ores are used to produce iron for
manufacturing weapons or agricultural tools. High quality iron ores are used to produce weapons whiles
low quality ores are used to produce agricultural tools. These are some examples of iron ores. Hematite
(Fe2O3) i.e. 70% iron, Limonite (2Fe2O3) i.e. 59% iron, Magnetite (Fe2O4) and lately Siderite (2Fe2CO3)
There are three types of iron ores available at Burkina Faso. The best is magnetite (Fe 3O4) which contains
47% to 70% of iron. This type is very scares in Burkina Faso. The next type is red Hematite (Fe 2O3)
which is second grade. This type of iron ore contains 40% - 65% of iron. There was also brown hematite
which was least useful. The most common type of iron ore which was found across Burkina Faso was
Limonite (Fe2O3NH2O). These were main types of ores available and used in the smelting process at
Burkina Faso.
Construction of furnace was often done by the smelters themselves, ancient West Africa constructed
different types of furnace. These include bowl and shaft. Two types of Furnaces were used in Burkina
Faso. The first ones were the ones that use bellows to force air into the fire, these reach a height of about
11/2 to 6 meters. These types were used by the Bamakos. The second type was partially stuck to the
ground and smaller. These types produced a small amount of iron.
The ore is cleaned and sorted from the surrounding clay after it is taken to the smelting site. The darker
the ore the higher the iron content.
Another important mineral needed is alkaline deposit.it is a stony material when mixed with iron ore in
the smelting process allows the iron to melt at a much lower temperature and to flow together separating
the slag or impurities. The stones gathered that are mixed with the iron ore to make it flow easy are called
ore stones. The flux is mixed with the iron ore and placed in the furnace.
The furnace and tubes are made from clay and is fire proof and durable. Not just any clay is used, clay
from termite mounds is used because it is free from stones and other impurities. African scholars who
have studied African Art have indicated that the Ibo people of Nigeria and many other people across
West Africa believe that clay from termite mounds is sacred because it comes from deep in the sacred
This clay is processed into finer clay and this done by mixing the clay with water to enable the clay
absorb water evenly deep. Two pits are dug and the clay is mixed with water so that the liquid is absorbed
or sink into the clay uniformly. Fine straw is mixed with the clay. The watered clay in the first pit is sent

to the second pit by hand. In the second pit, the clay is soaked in water for some time to allow every part
of the clay to be wet. The straw is used so there would be no cracks in the wall and also it is placed over
the soaked clay to keep the hot sun off the moist clay so it wont dry out. When all the water is absorbed
the water is needed into the clay. Large amount of fine straw is used.
During the heating, the straw turns into carbon leaving fine voids which allow clay to expand and contract
without cracking with changes of temperature. The straw makes the clay stronger and gives the walls of
the furnace flexibility when exposed to extreme heat.
The furnace is formed around wood stacks. The fine straws is put down and the wood stack is placed on
top and it is bounded up into a cylindrical form i.e. the same dimension as the inside of the furnace. They
pick it up standing up and hit it to the ground so the base would be even.
Wet clay is needed with the straw to make it compact and the building of the furnace begins. The clay is
applied around the straw mould to for the cylindrical furnace. Whiles building with the clay, they expand
the top so it would have the same size as the base.
They smoothen the walls of the furnace so it looks nice, more straw is added to the finished surface so it
wont break. When the furnace is dried, the wood stalks are pulled out.
They prepare to build parts of the furnace by needing the wet clay with more straw. The first part of
which would be the bellows. They spread the clay over an overturned pot so that it would take the form of
the pot. Straws are also applied to make it strong. A cloth is added at the edges to prevent it from drying
out because they would continue the building afterwards.
They use the clay straws mixed to form the tubes around a smooth stick. The stick forms the channel
through which the air would flow. The French word for tubes is tuyeres which is the universal term
used by archaeologist who find remains of these objects on archaeological sites as evidence of smelting
ages ago.
Sacrifices of water, beer and chickens are offered to ask the spirits to watch over the enterprise and to
give the work success. The spirits are asked to drink the beer and eat the chicken and in return bless the
project. The chickens throated is slaughtered and if it dies on its back then the spirits accept the sacrifice.
The cloths are removed and that would be the edge of the bellows as carefully triangulates side up so that
the walls can be built.
The wood stalks are carefully removed from inside the furnace when dry. An opening is cut through
which the air will pass and the iron would emerge. The opening is carefully shaped with fresh clay.
Also a hole is created way above the opening, the people believe this is the whole the permits God to see
inside the furnace.
Now it is time to carefully assemble the bellows, tuyeres and the furnace. The kiln is assembled piece by
piece, the tuyeres are pushed through holes in the bellows and fixed in place with fresh clay. The bellows
and tuyeres are attached to the furnace so that the air forced out of the bellows would enter the base of the

The tubes are attached to the bellows, these must dry for seven days before being moved. The inside of
the furnace is lit with fire using a fling steel as the ancestors did in the past. This would burn out the
straws stack inside the furnace and heat the furnace so that it would dry quickly.
The last step is to assemble the furnace and bellows. Now the furnace is complete, they attach the tubes to
the bellows which would carry air to the tall furnace. Goat skins are tied to the top of each bellow in such
a way that there is a flap or opening that opens on the upstroke and closes on the down stroke trapping the
air and forcing it through the tubes to the furnace. The hind is folded on the left and right to form a valve
through which the air enters the bellows. Lastly strips of rubber inner tubes are used to bind the hinds in
The climax extend of the process is the actual smelting. They poor alternating layers of charcoal and a
mix of iron ore and flux into the top of the furnace. The furnace is lit and the young men of the village
take turns pumping the bellows as hard as they can for hours. At this point this can go wrong i.e. the fire
may not reach the temperature high enough to melt the iron ore. Also the furnace may crack or worst
collapse spreading sparks and uncondensed slag and ore all over the area.
Whiles the pumping is going on, a special type of drink is offered to the young men as they work on the
bellows. The elder offers some of this drink as sacrifices to the spirit by splashing it on the furnace.
Whiles the smelting process takes place a song associated with smelting is played and the young men
working on the bellows also chant some words.
Much patience is needed as elders will inspect the furnace through a small opening at the base to see if
based on the colour of the flame the temperature is right.
Heat and poisonous fumes pour from the hole through which God watches the inside of the furnace. There
is a pause where more charcoal and iron ore are added to the kiln. After ten hours of pumping a bloom of
iron is formed at the bottom of the furnace. When the heat is quite hot, the end is in sight.
The front of the furnace is broken off to reveal the large bloom of iron weighing almost thirty pounds.
The mass of new iron is dull grey on the outside and red on the inside. It is rough because it has not
completely liquefied. But in the heat of the furnace, it has fallen to the bottom of the furnace through the
charcoal and slag were it would form a large single mass.
While the lump of new iron is still hot and soft, the elders would drag it from the furnace and cut in into
smaller lumps with a wedge and hammer. After of which the lumps is sent to the blacksmith shop to be
further processed. The blacksmith then forges it into the shape of a useful tool or weapon. In their
workshop, the new iron ore is heated red hot and pounded with a traditional round hammer. The lump of
new iron could be forged into iron hoes, knives, spearhead, gongs and so on. The main tools used by the
blacksmith for this is an anvil, hammers either sledge or flattering, pokers, chisels, tongs and lastly water
This is a vivid depiction of how the smelting process took place in West Africa to be precise Dablo in
Burkina Faso.