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Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies


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Sub-Saharan Africa is often characterized by Europeans as a region that saw no significant technological change from the adoptions of agriculture and ironworking until the European colonization of the entire continent after 1880. This article criticizes this view by exploring the distinction between invention and innovation, using African iron smelting as a case study. It argues that there is in fact much evidence for the invention of new technologies in recent African prehistory, but that very low population densities precluded innovations in mass production and transportation.
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Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies
David Killick
Cambridge Archaeological Journal / Volume 25 / Issue 01 / February 2015, pp 307 - 319
DOI: 10.1017/S0959774314001176, Published online: 04 March 2015
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David Killick (2015). Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 25, pp
307-319 doi:10.1017/S0959774314001176
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Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting
David Killick
Sub-Saharan Africa is often characterized by Europeans as a region that saw no significant
technological change from the adoptions of agriculture and ironworking until the European
colonization of the entire continent after 1880. This article criticizes this view by exploring
the distinction between invention and innovation, using African iron smelting as a case
study. It argues that there is in fact much evidence for the invention of new technologies in
recent African prehistory, but that very low population densities precluded innovations in
mass production and transportation.
In mid 1982 I did test excavations on archaeological
sites in the Kasungu National Park, Malawi (Fig. 1),
with the assistance of several Malawians hired from
surrounding villages. The Falklands war was reaching
its climax, and as we worked we were constantly tun-
ing in to shortwave news broadcasts in English and
in Chichewa. As former British colonial subjects, the
sympathies of the Malawians were of course on the
Argentine side, but they were particularly interested
in the technologies mentioned in the broadcasts. What
were aircraft carriers? And submarines? And Exocet
missiles? Eventually a broader question was asked—
why had Europeans developed these technologies,
but not Africans?
Those who have read Jared Diamond’s Guns,
Germs and Steel (1997) will immediately recognize this
as Yali’s question. For those who have not read this
book, Yali is a Papuan acquaintance of Diamond’s,
and it was his question about why Europeans had
so much more stuff than Papuans that set Diamond
(an ornithologist by trade) to researching and writing
his best-selling book. I cannot claim that the ques-
tion posed by my Malawian employees led to any
change in my intellectual pursuits; I was already
working on the comparative history of technology,
and having been born and raised in Malawi, I was
well aware of the larger issue that lurked unspoken
behind the question. For the white settler community
in Africa, the technology gap was decisive evidence
that Africans were intellectually inferior to Europeans.
Rural Africans are equally well aware of the technol-
ogy gap, and for most of the last century African intel-
lectuals have tried hard to counter the racist European
explanation for it.
In the next section of this paper I shall briefly
summarize this intellectual history. After that I will
examine the view that precolonial Africans were (as
the great N´
egritude poet Aim´
esaire ironically
put it) ‘ceux qui n’ont rien invent´
e’.1I will suggest
this reflects failure to distinguish between invention
and innovation. There is, in fact, much evidence for
past African inventiveness in technology. What really
needs explaining is why so few of these inventions
spread widely in Africa—in other words, why they
did not become innovations like the steam engine, the
canal network, or electric lighting in Europe and the
Placing Africans on the lowest rung of the ladder of
technological progress
As Michael Adas shows in Machines as the Mea-
sure of Men (1989), sixteenth-century Portuguese
records of first encounters with the peoples of sub-
Saharan Africa rarely display any hint of racial or
technological superiority. Portugal was then one of
Cambridge Archaeological Journal 25:1, 307–319 C
2015 McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
doi:10.1017/S0959774314001176 Received 6 Apr 2014; Accepted 14 Dec 2014; Revised 13 Dec 2014
David Killick
Figure 1. Map of northern and central Africa, showing locations mentioned in the text.
the poorest countries of Europe, and most of the Por-
tuguese sailors would not have noticed much differ-
ence between African and Portuguese villages. The
rapid Portuguese conquest of the western Indian
Ocean was more a matter of dumb luck than of su-
perior technology. The huge Chinese ships that had
mapped the coasts of Arabia and Africa in the 1420s
would have crushed the tiny Portuguese naus and
caravels like gnats had they encountered them, but a
Mongol invasion of the Ming Empire had prompted
the recall of the Chinese fleet only 70 years before Por-
tuguese ships entered the Indian Ocean (Alpers 2014;
Levathes 1997). The Portuguese also had the good
fortune to find Islamic ships unarmed and their ports
unfortified, for the western Indian Ocean in the late
fifteenth century was a highly connected Islamic free
trading zone (Abu-Lughod 1989; Alpers 2014; Pearson
European attitudes towards Africans underwent
major changes in the seventeenth century, as the trans-
Atlantic slave trade boomed and Europe threw off the
shackles of religion and encouraged rational inquiry.
By the mid 1700s, technological innovations in agricul-
ture, transportation, metallurgy, manufacturing and
weaponry, supported by institutional innovations in
banking, insurance and capital markets, had enabled
European technology to surpass that of the Islamic
World and China (Landes 1999). Some of these inno-
vations, like gunpowder, the magnetic compass and
blast furnaces, had in fact been invented in China, and
other concepts and techniques (especially in chem-
istry, optics and navigation) in the Islamic world (Carl-
son 2005; Pacey 1990). But it was undeniably in Europe
that the Industrial Revolution started.
From the eighteenth century on, Europeans
sought moral justification for enslaving other peoples
Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies
in Europe’s accelerating lead over other regions in sci-
ence and technology. This marked the emergence of
scientific racism, which is the notion that the world’s
peoples should be ranked by their levels of intelli-
gence, the evidence for which was particularly sought
in their relative achievements in science and tech-
nology (Adas 1989; Gould 1981). Europeans installed
themselves at the top of the ladder of technological
prowess; the Chinese, Indians and some residents of
the Islamic world were assigned rungs in the middle,
while Africans were placed at the very bottom (Adas
1989). The purportedly low intellect of Africans pro-
vided convenient cover for the trans-Atlantic slave
trade, which landed around 10.7 million African sur-
vivors of the slave trade in the Americas and the
Caribbean between 1600 and 1870 (Manning 1990).
Whether they supported the slave trade or not,
some of the leading figures in the history of western
philosophy promoted scientific racism. David Hume
wrote (1758, 125, n.):
I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally in-
ferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civ-
ilized nation of that complexion, nor even any in-
dividual, eminent either in action or speculation.
No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts,
no sciences. . . . [In] our colonies, there are Negro
slaves dispersed all over Europe, of whom none ever
discovered the symptoms of ingenuity; though low
people, without education, will start up amongst us,
and distinguish themselves in every profession. In
Jamaica, indeed, they talk of one Negro as a man of
parts and learning; but it is likely he is admired for
slender accomplishments, like a parrot who speaks
a few words plainly.
Hume’s words were parroted much later by
Georg Hegel, who dismissed the very possibility of
African history thus (Hegel 1840, 116): ‘They have no
arts, no sciences—as we see them now, so have they
always been . . . ’.2
There are many similar passages in the works
of other nineteenth-century European intellectuals—
for examples, see Gould (1981) and Bernal (1987).
Hegel wrote this in the 1820s, when most European
nations other than Portugal had abolished (or were
abolishing) slavery and European characterizations
of Africans south of the Sahara were being slightly
reframed. Africans were gradually recast as unfortu-
nate child-like subjects who needed protection from
the (largely Islamic) remnants of the slave trade, and
who should be charitably exposed to the benefits of
Christianity, western technology and western educa-
tion. Christian missions were therefore sent to many
parts of sub-Saharan Africa before the colonial annex-
ation of the continent, which was formally divided
among the European powers at the Berlin Conference
of 1884/85 (Iliffe 2007).
Reactions from African intellectuals
European colonists founded primary and secondary
schools in sub-Saharan Africa. Initially these were all
associated with missions, but later the colonial ad-
ministrations also established schools. Only a small
proportion of colonial subjects were able to enter sec-
ondary education and very few indeed of these went
on to tertiary education (Iliffe 2007). There they dis-
covered what Europeans had written about them. Un-
like the other European colonial powers, France took
the view that at least some of its colonial subjects
would become full French citizens, and the task of
making them so was referred to as ‘la mission civil-
isatrice’. Thus a number of promising students from
France’s African and Caribbean colonies were spon-
sored for university education in France. In the 1920s
a small group of African and Caribbean writers resi-
dent around Paris discovered the works of Langston
Hughes, and other writers of the Harlem Renaissance,
on racism and black pride. By the mid 1930s some
African writers were well respected in progressive
French literary circles, and by 1935 three of them—
eopold Senghor (later the first President of S´
esaire (from Martinique) and L´
eon Damas
(from Guyana)—had founded the N´
egritude move-
ment. This asserted that persons of African descent
should be proud of their heritage, and even that they
were superior to white-skinned peoples in matters of
self-expression. (Think here of jazz, which was taking
France by storm in the 1930s.) Jean-Paul Sartre was
a prominent supporter of the movement, and in 1948
called it an ‘anti-racist racism’ (Sartre 1976, 59).
For the purposes of this essay, the most strik-
ing feature of N´
egritude was that its proponents
readily conceded that people of European descent
were inherently superior to those of African descent
in mathematical, scientific and technological ability.
Senghor expressed this most pithily—‘L’´
emotion est
egre, comme la raison est hell`
ene’ (Senghor 1964, 288—
originally published in 1939). This did not sit well
with the very few Africans who were studying the sci-
ences. The most vocal of these was Senghor’s fellow
countryman Cheikh Anta Diop. He earned a diploma
in chemistry in 1950, but then switched directions,
registering for the doctoral thesis ‘Who were the an-
cient Egyptians?’ with Marcel Griaule in 1951. He fin-
ished this in 1954, but his conclusion that ‘Ancient
Egypt was a Negro civilization’ (Diop 1974,xiv)was
so controversial that he was unable to form a com-
mittee to examine it. (It was, however, published in
David Killick
1954 as Nations N`
egresetCulture.) Undeterred, he reg-
istered for another doctoral dissertation on compari-
son of cultural trajectories in Europe and sub-Saharan
Africa from antiquity to the medieval era, while simul-
taneously studying nuclear physics with the Nobel
Prize-winning physicist Fr´
eric Joliot-Curie. He was
awarded his doctorate in history in 1960 and returned
to Dakar to establish the first radiocarbon laboratory
in sub-Saharan Africa. He continued to publish and
promote his ideas on the African origins of Egyptian
civilization until his death in 1986, and the leading
university in S´
egal is named for him.
Diop’s arguments have found favour with Afro-
centrists in the USA (e.g. Asante 1988), and his thesis
that Egyptian civilization came out of sub-Saharan
Africa influenced Martin Bernal, whose Black Athena
(Bernal 1987;1991) argued that Greek civilization de-
veloped out of a fusion of Egyptian and Phoenician
concepts—thus completing a revisionist historical tra-
jectory that traces the origins of western civilization to
sub-Saharan Africa! Criticism of these arguments (e.g.
Lefkowitz 1997) just convinces their proponents that
white scholars will do anything to supress evidence
of past African achievments.
Diop’s arguments for sub-Saharan roots of Egyp-
tian civilization have not been taken seriously by most
African and Africanist archaeologists,3but his con-
tention that the past achievements of sub-Saharan
Africa have been systematically ignored in Europe
and the Americas is widely shared. Diop’s views cer-
tainly did spur a search for precolonial African inven-
tions in technology. Much of this search has focussed
on purported African inventions in the field of iron
metallurgy, and especially on the idea that iron metal-
lurgy was first invented, or independently invented,
in sub-Saharan Africa.
Was iron metallurgy invented in Africa?
Some African historians and archaeologists have tried
to fight back against the view that Africans are ‘ceux
qui n’ont rien invent´
e’ by claiming that iron smelting
was first invented in Africa (e.g. Bocoum 2002; C.A.
Diop 1973; L.-M. Diop 1968; Zangato & Holl 2010),
or was at least independently invented there (e.g.
Cline 1937; Trigger 1969;Vansina1995). Iron-working
in sub-Saharan Africa could not even be dated un-
til radiocarbon dating became widely available in the
early 1960s, by which time there had already been
80 years of speculation about origin(s) (Alpern 2005).
Raymond Mauny, the most prominent French colo-
nial archaeologist in West Africa after the second
World War, argued that the Phoenicans brought iron-
working to North Africa between 900 and 800 bc,and
that it spread from here into West Africa some cen-
turies later (Mauny 1952). Although hard evidence of
eighth/ninth-century Phoenican iron smelting in the
western Mediteranean did not emerge until the late
1980s, almost all textbooks of African and world ar-
chaeology since the 1960s have dutifully reproduced
Mauny’s view (e.g. Scarre 2009). But there is still no
archaeological evidence whatever for transmission of
iron technology across the Sahara (Alpern 2005).
The other route suggested by those who favour
an external origin for Africa iron working is from
Egypt up the Nile to Meroe, and from there to the rest
of sub-Saharan Africa. This speculation can be traced
back at least as far as 1912, and has been a staple of text-
books ever since, in spite of cogent criticism by Cline
(1937, 124) and Trigger (1969). We still do not know
when iron smelting began at Meroe. Although there
are an estimated 5000–10,000 tons of iron-smelting
slag at Meroe itself (Rehren 2001) and large amounts
at other Meroitic sites in the vicinity of Khartoum (J.
Humphris pers. comm., 2014) almost all of this is tap
slag produced by bloomery furnaces of Roman design
(Tylecote 1982) and thus likely dating after the Roman
conquest of Egypt in 31 bc. There is as yet only slight
evidence of iron working at Meroe in the first mil-
lennium bc. A radiocarbon date of 2464 ±73 bp for
a wall near metallurgical slag ‘should be used with
caution’ (Shinnie & Kense 1982, 24) and a date of 2230
±120 bp is from a pit intrusive into a layer with small
bowl furnace linings (for smelting or for forging?). The
older date calibrates to 800–400 cal bc. By now there
are several dozen radiocarbon dates on iron-smelting
sites from West and Central Africa that fall in the same
interval, and some that are much older (Alpern 2005;
Bocoum 2004; Clist 2012; Zangato & Holl 2010). Nor is
there any evidence at present for introduction of iron-
working from the Arabian Peninsula through present
Ethiopia or Eritrea (Killick 2014b).
The weakness of the evidence for external ori-
gins has emboldened those who claim that iron met-
allurgy was invented, or invented independently, in
sub-Saharan Africa. Yet major doubts have also been
expressed about claims for African origins of this
technology. Killick (2004) and Alpern (2005) reviewed
claims published before 2004 and found the evidence
to be inconclusive in every instance. Almost all of
the doubts relate to the contexts and the calibra-
tion of radiocarbon dates. In some cases there is a
wide spread of radiocarbon dates for what appears
to have been an archaeological event of short dura-
tion. (Proponents of independent invention invariably
favour the oldest ones). In most of these publications
there is no stratigraphic section, or other explicit evi-
dence of the exact context of the dated samples. Many
Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies
authors have based their conclusions on uncalibrated
radiocarbon dates—a major problem, given that many
of these dates fall in the ‘black hole’ in radiocarbon
dating between 800 and 400 cal bc. In arid parts of
the Sahel deflation of archaeological sites by wind is
a problem. One much-publicized claim for indepen-
dent invention of iron in Niger is based upon radio-
carbon dating of organic temper in pottery that was
found together with iron objects on deflated surfaces
(Bocoum 2004;Pariset al. 1992). Around Agadez de-
flation has brought ancient charred tree stumps to the
surface, and there is good reason to suspect that this
old charcoal was used by later metallurgists (Killick
et al. 1988).
The most startling—and superficially the
strongest—claim for an African invention of iron
working comes from the site of Oboui in the Central
African Republic, where an undoubted iron forge has
seven consistent radiocarbon dates around 2000 cal
bc (Zangato 2007; Zangato & Holl 2010). If these are
accepted, Oboui is the earliest known iron-working
facility anywhere in the world. But if this site is really
4000 years old, why are the iron objects so well pre-
served, given that they came from an open site in the
tropics? Clist (2012) argues that the site is massively
disturbed and that the charcoal samples were dug up
from a lower stratigraphic level.
What interests me here is not whether iron met-
allurgy diffused into, or was invented within, sub-
Saharan Africa, but why this is the most contentious
issue in later African archaeology. As Alpern (2005,
89) has noted, ‘doubt that sub-Saharans invented
iron smelting has at times almost been equated with
racism’, and he followed this comment with a selec-
tion of published remarks that illustrate exactly his
point (2004, 89–93). Why should this topic be so con-
An answer to this question appears on the back
cover of a widely distributed book on the origins of
iron metallurgy in Africa, sponsored and published
by UNESCO in both French and English. The French
edition (Bocoum 2002) proclaims that ‘l’industrie du
fer est un marqueur lourd de la civilisation’; in the En-
glish version (Bocoum 2004) this is rendered as ‘the
iron industry is a benchmark of civilization’. Here,
then, is Africa’s riposte to the view that Africans were
ceux qui n’ont rien invent´
e’: modern industrial civi-
lization could not exist without iron metallurgy, and
iron metallurgy was invented in Africa! This also ex-
plains the angry denunciations aimed at those sceptics
whose position is simply that ‘archaeology has usu-
ally demanded extraordinary proof of extraordinary
claims’ (McIntosh 2005, 78). Since many of the poten-
tial problems are with the context and interpretation
of radiocarbon dates, I suggested long ago that fired
furnace ceramics should be dated instead by lumines-
cence dating (Killick 1987). This suggestion has been
largely ignored.
These arguments over African iron metallurgy
echo arguments about the writing about African his-
tory at large. The Norwegian historian Finn Fuglestad
identified a problem in African historical studies
that he calls ‘the Trevor-Roper trap’ (Fuglestad 1992).
This is named for the Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-
Roper (1914–2003), who famously dismissed precolo-
nial African history as ‘the unrewarding gyrations of
barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners
of the globe’ (Trevor-Roper 1965, 9). Fuglestad de-
tected in subsequent African historical studies ‘an en-
during defensive attitude bordering on an inferiority
complex’ (Fuglestad 1992, 309). He charged African
historians with being overly reactive, with trying too
hard to show that Africa did indeed have civiliza-
tions and ‘sophisticated’ technologies. But this is a
game played with loaded dice, for the rules for what
counts as a civilization, or even ‘sophisticated’, have
all been set by European historians like Trevor-Roper.
The great irony of Afrocentrism—from Diop to Bernal
to the UNESCO volumes on African iron metallurgy—
is that Afrocentrists have been so willing to accept
Eurocentric definitions of historical significance.
The two decades since Fuglestad’s critique have
seen the steady growth of the World History move-
ment, which aims to transcend regional (and espe-
cially Eurocentric) biases in writing history. World his-
torians explicitly avoid the triumphalist narratives of
Eurocentric (and Sinocentric) history, preferring to fo-
cus on connections and processes across wide areas
(e.g. Alpers 2014). In the remainder of this paper, I
shall attempt to bring a World History sensibility to
an examination of technological change in precolonial
Technological change in African iron smelting
The major problem confronting historians of technol-
ogy in sub-Saharan Africa is the scarcity of written
records. Few regions had literacy before European
colonization, and in those that did (parts of the Sa-
hel, the middle Nile valley, Ethiopia, the Swahili coast
of East Africa) the surviving documents are almost en-
tirely concerned with religion and trade (e.g. Horton &
Middleton 2000; Levtzion & Hopkins 1981). The only
written accounts of African technology are those made
by Europeans within the last 400 years, but few Eu-
ropeans were much interested in this topic and fewer
still (mostly missionaries) acquired sufficient fluency
in African languages to make any detailed inquiries.
David Killick
These historical documents are complemented by re-
cent ethnoarchaeology, which can potentially provide
much more detail, but there have been only a handful
of long-term ethnoarchaeological field projects in sub-
Saharan Africa (David & Kramer 2001). Beyond this
there is archaeology, which can obviously only record
evidence of technologies that leave durable residues.
So far there is only one branch of indigenous
African technology for which there is a substantial
amount of data.4Many European travellers in sub-
Saharan Africa over the last 300 years saw Africans
smelting iron, and a few dozen wrote brief descrip-
tions of it, some with illustrations. These were brought
together and discussed by Walter Cline in his in-
valuable Mining and Metallurgy in Negro Africa (Cline
1937). There are also a few dozen more detailed ethno-
graphic and ethnoarchaeological studies of iron smelt-
ing, some historical film clips and a small number of
supporting laboratory analyses of ores, slags and iron
objects. Lastly, there are a few archaeological stud-
ies that include detailed archaeometallurgical anal-
ysis, and these extend the record of African iron
working back into the first millennium bc. Unfortu-
nately, progress in the study of African iron smelting
is slow because of the shortage of trained archaeomet-
allurgists and the scarcity of funding for radiometric
dating and for chemical and metallurgical analysis.
(European and American funding agencies give gen-
erously to the study of human evolution in Africa, but
are much less inclined to support research on later
African prehistory.)
All African iron-smelting processes recorded to
date are variants of the bloomery process. Bloomery
smelting is a batch process, in which the air blast must
be stopped periodically to remove the solid mass, or
masses, of metal. These are called blooms. The waste
product (slag) may be tapped from the furnaces as a
liquid, or may solidify within it. Bloomery furnaces
are fundamentally different from blast furnaces, from
which both liquid metal and liquid slag are periodi-
cally discharged by opening tap holes in the side of
the furnaces. Blast furnace processes are continuous
operations—the furnaces may run without interrup-
tion for weeks or months, and thus offer great gains in
thermal efficiency over bloomery processes. Blast fur-
naces were invented in China by at least the fifth cen-
tury bc, and spread from there (replacing bloomeries)
to the Islamic world and possibly as far west as Scandi-
navia; they may have been independently developed
from bloomeries in present Germany in the thirteenth
century ad (Wagner 2008). They were not used in sub-
Saharan Africa until European colonization.
The earliest securely dated iron-smelting fur-
naces in sub-Saharan Africa (c. 400–200 bc) were shaft
Figure 2. One of several dozen slag pits excavated at
Sincu Bara, Senegal (McIntosh & Bocoum 2000). This
furnace type is thought to have had a portable shaft,
indicated here by dashed lines. The arrows show the
locations where samples were taken for microstructural
and radiocarbon analyses. (From Killick in press.
Illustration: L. Perry.)
furnaces with multiple bellows and internal diameters
ranging from about 0.8 to 1.2 m. Contemporary Euro-
ene) furnaces mostly had internal
diameters of 0.35 to 0.65 m and a single set of bellows
(Pleiner 2000), so it seems probable that these African
furnaces produced more iron per smelt than contem-
porary European techniques. From this relatively uni-
form early smelting technology, African metallurgists
developed an astonishing variety of furnaces, both
smaller and larger. These range in size from the tiny
slag-pit furnace shown from Senegal (Fig. 2)dated
between 400 and 600 cal ad (Killick in press) to the
6.5 m natural draft furnaces used in some parts of
West Africa in the early twentieth century (Martinelli
2004). Natural draft furnaces were also widely used,
and perhaps independently developed, in South East
Africa (Fig. 3). Most natural draft furnaces were per-
manent installations, relined and reused over decades
(e.g. Huysecom & Agustoni 1997), but in some re-
gions smelters used a portable shaft, light enough
to be moved from one furnace base to another to
produce the natural draft (e.g. Echard 1965;1968)
(Fig. 2). Some smelting furnaces used no shaft at all—
the large standing army of the Zulu king Shaka in
the early nineteenth century was entirely equipped
with iron from small bowl furnaces (Maggs 1992). The
most radical African furnace design to Western eyes is
Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies
Figure 3. Half-elevation/half section of a natural draft
smelting furnace from the Kasungu National Park,
Malawi. (Illustration: D. Killick.)
undoubtedly the Mafa furnace (Fig. 4) from the Man-
dara mountains of north Cameroon (David et al. 1989).
In this design the single ceramic tuy`
ere was extraordi-
narily long (1.7 m) and was mounted vertically rather
than horizontally, as in all other known bloomery fur-
naces. The bellows were blown from above, and the
hot exhaust gases exited from a hole on the side. This
furnace produced cast iron, steel and wrought iron
simultaneously, but all solidified within the furnace.
These products were hand-sorted from each other and
the cast iron pellets decarburized to steel in shallow
Literally dozens of variants of the bloomery pro-
cess have been recorded in sub-Saharan Africa (Cline
1937). This variety is striking when compared to the
relatively limited number of variants of the bloomery
Figure 4. Section through a Mafa iron smelting furnace
in the Mandara Mountains, Cameroon, showing the
length of the vertical tuy`
ere at the beginning and end of
the smelting process. The temporary shaft seal was
removed at the end of each batch to rake out the furnace
content and to remove the used tuy`
ere. (Drawing:
Nicholas David, from David et al. 1989. Reproduced by
permission of Cambridge University Press.)
process recorded in Europe, where there are many
more archaeometallurgists than in Africa (Pleiner
2000). Why were there so many variants in Africa?
Part of the answer to this question is certainly that this
reflects reflect functional adaptations of the bloomery
process to local conditions, which are of course much
more variable in Africa than in Europe. For example,
the Mafa live in an arid mountain environment with
very few trees. Their unique process was designed to
process almost pure iron oxide ore and thus wasted
little charcoal on making slag from gangue (impu-
rities) in the ore. It was therefore very fuel-efficient
(David et al. 1989). At the opposite end of the scale
were African natural draft furnaces, which had prodi-
gious appetites for charcoal (Killick 1991; Serneels et
al.1997). The rate of charcoal consumption in these
furnaces was very slow, with smelts typically taking
20–48 hours to complete (rather than 3–6 hours in
bellows-blown furnaces) so they necessarily lost much
heat to radiation. But the geographical distribution of
David Killick
natural-draft furnaces corresponds exactly to the ar-
eas of infertile, dry, deciduous savanna woodlands
in Africa, in which trees were plentiful but popula-
tion densities were low. Natural draft furnaces were
expensive in terms of fuel, but were very economi-
cal in terms of labour. The long smelting times also
promoted even diffusion of carbon into the iron, pro-
ducing high-quality steel blooms instead of the less
homogeneous and generally lower-carbon blooms
of the smaller forced-draft furnaces (Killick 1991;
Martinelli 2004; Serneels et al. 1997).
African ironworkers adapted bloomery furnaces
to an extraordinary range of iron ores, some of which
cannot be used by modern blast furnaces. In both
northern South Africa (Killick & Miller 2014)andin
the Pare mountains of northern Tanzania (Louise Iles
pers. comm., 2013) magnetite-ilmenite ores contain-
ing up to 25 per cent TiO2(by mass) were smelted.
The upper limit for TiO2in iron ore for modern
blast furnaces is only 2 per cent by mass (McGan-
non 1971). High-titanium iron ores can be smelted
in bloomery furnaces because these operate at lower
temperatures and have less-reducing furnace atmo-
spheres than blast furnaces. In the blast furnace tita-
nium oxide is partially reduced and makes the slag
viscous and hard to drain, but in bloomery furnaces
it is not reduced and combines with iron and silicon
oxide to make a fluid slag (Killick & Miller 2014). Blast
furnace operators also avoid ores containing more
than a few tenths of a percent of phosphorus or ar-
senic, because when these elements are dissolved in
the molten iron, they segregate to grain boundaries on
crystallization, making the solid iron brittle on impact.
In the bloomery furnace iron is usually reduced in the
solid state, so phosphorus and arsenic do not concen-
trate at grain boundaries. In fact, both elements have
positive effects in bloomery iron, hardening it and
making it more resistant to corrosion. Abdu and Gor-
don (2004) show that, from about 300 bc, Meroitic iron-
workers in Nubia forged together plates of arsenical
and phosphoric iron with plates of mild carbon steel.
These composite ingots were then twisted, forged and
etched with acid to create decorative swirls of lighter
and darker metal. (The layers containing arsenic and
phosphorus are resistant to acid etching and appear
I have chosen these few examples to make the
point that African ironworkers invented many novel
iron-smelting processes (for many other examples, see
Cline 1937). Some of these have not yet been noted
anywhere else in the world. I could have chosen non-
metallurgical examples to make my point, such as
the many truly ingenious variants of swidden agri-
culture described in the miombo woodlands of present
Zambia (Allan 1965). So why do many Europeans—
and a good many Africans too—think that Africans
were less inventive than other peoples? I suggest
that this is because both are confusing invention with
Invention vs innovation
Although these terms are used interchangeably by
the public, journalists and many archaeologists, they
are quite distinct concepts for historians of technol-
ogy, economic historians and business historians. I
use these terms as they are usually defined in these
fields of study:
1. An invention is the initial appearance of a idea or
process, whether truly novel, or a distinct modifi-
cation of an existing idea or process;
2. An innovation is an invention that is widely
With modern complex technologies, the transi-
tion from invention to innovation usually requires
organizational skills to assemble the resources (en-
gineering talent, finance, manufacturing, marketing)
to create what the historian Thomas Hughes (1989)
calls ‘technological systems’. Hughes gives Thomas
Edison’s creation of the urban electrical system as an
example of a technological system. Many more recent
examples are discussed by Rogers (2003) and Arthur
(2009), but technological systems are certainly not con-
fined to industrial capitalism. Law (1987) shows that
the Portuguese maritime exploration of the coast of
Africa in the late fifteenth century was a technologi-
cal system, put together by the Infante Dom Henrique
(1394–1460), known in English as Prince Henry the
Navigator. He combined a number of prior innova-
tions with some new inventions, creating a techno-
logical system of shipbuilding, navigation and map-
making that allowed Portuguese ships to sail down
the coast of West Africa and to find their way home
again—something that had never been done before.
Further back in time, it is useful to think of the
first regular smelting of metals as a technological
system. Smelting copper from ore required bring-
ing together prior innovations (charcoal fuel, ceramic
containers, annealing of native copper) with new in-
ventions (tubular blowpipes, ceramic blowpipe tips,
carved stone or clay moulds) and deploying all of
ıne op´
eratoire (mining, smelting,
remelting, casting, forging/annealing) (Killick 2014a).
I suggest that, when Europeans accused Africans
of lacking the capacity for technological invention,
they were failing to distinguish between invention
and innovation. Most of the innovations to which
European colonists were accustomed, such as paved
Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies
Table 1 . Estimated 2014 population size and annual rates of increase from the Population Reference
Bureau’s 2014 World Population Data Sheet Land areas
are from Wikipedia; population density calculations by the author.
2014 population
Land area
(million km2)
density (per km2)
Annual rate of
increase (%)
Sub-Saharan Africa 920 24.2 38.0 2.6
Europe 741 10.2 72.8 0.0
China 1364 9.6 142.1 0.5
India 1296 3.3 393.9 1.5
roads, bridges, canals, watermills, blast furnaces,
steam engines, railroads, machine guns, etc., were not
found in sub-Saharan Africa, and from the perspective
of the global history of technology, it is certainly true
that there were fewer major technological innovations
in sub-Saharan Africa than in the Islamic world, India,
China or Europe. So the question is not why Africans
were incapable of invention—there is plenty of evi-
dence for African inventiveness. The real question is
why relatively few major technological innovations can
be seen in the later prehistory and precolonial history
of sub-Saharan Africa.
At this point, I can only suggest only the out-
line of an explanation. My own understanding of the
world literature on the history of technology is that
rates of technological innovation over the last 8000
years have been strongly correlated with three factors.
The most important of these is population density.
Dense populations must be fed, clothed, housed and
supplied with tools, and thus high population density
promotes the spread of innovations in agriculture and
in craft technologies. The second factor, contingent
upon the first, is the presence of large towns and cities.
Urban populations must have everything brought to
them, which promotes innovations in transportation
and in the scale of production, which drives innova-
tions in machinery, factories and alternative sources of
power. The third factor is literacy, which promotes the
diffusion of ideas and the rapid spread of innovations.
Estimates of population density in 2014 for sub-
Saharan Africa, China India and Europe are shown
in Table 1. Note that sub-Saharan Africa still has
much lower population density than Europe, China
or India—in spite of the fact that the population
of sub-Saharan Africa has nearly quadrupled since
1950 (Tabutin & Schoumaker 2004), while the rate
of population increase in China and Europe dropped
markedly in the same interval. The fact that Africa’s
population has grown so rapidly since 1950 is at-
tributable to both technological and social factors. On
the one hand, imported innovations in water supply,
sanitation and medicine have dramatically reduced
mortality. On the other hand, the lack of social se-
curity insurance in most African countries promotes
high fertility—the more children one has, the more
likely it is that one will be adequately supported in
old age.
What was the population of sub-Saharan Africa
in 1700, slightly before the start of the Industrial Rev-
olution in Europe? Demographers can only make
informed guesses by projecting backwards. J.-N.
Biraben offers 97 million and D. Cordell 71 mil-
lion (both cited in Tabutin & Schoumaker 2004,
table 3). Both Biraben and Cordell suggest that the
population of sub-Sahara grew little, if at all, be-
tween 1700 and 1900, while the population of the rest
of the world at least doubled and possibly tripled
(Tabutin & Schoumaker 2004, 464; see also Man-
ning 1990). The major factor in the inferred stagna-
tion of African population during this period was
the external slave trade—both the European trans-
Atlantic trade and the Islamic slave trade by land
and sea to North Africa, the Near East and In-
dia. The number of African slaves shipped from
Africa by Europeans is well documented—the Trans-
Atlantic Slave Trade Database lists 12,521,336 em-
barked and 10,702,656 delivered between 1501 and
1866 (, accessed 15 December
2014). This does not include those brought by undoc-
umented voyages, or those who died in Africa from
slave raiding, or in captivity. The Islamic slave trade
is not well documented, and there are disagreements
about its size among economic historians. Austen
(1987) argued that it removed at least as many persons
from sub-Saharan Africa as the Trans-Atlantic trade,
though over a longer span of time (650–1900), while
Manning (1990) proposed a figure of 6 million for the
period 1400–1900. Manning (1990, 171) suggested that
by 1850 the population of sub-Saharan Africa was
likely only half of what it might have been without
the cumulative effect of both the European and the
Islamic slave trades. The long-term effects of the slave
trades are still with us; the economic historian Nathan
Nunn has shown that those areas of Africa from which
David Killick
the largest number of slaves were exported across the
Atlantic still had significantly worse average Gross
Domestic Products in 2000 than those that were
barely affected by the trans-Atlantic slave trade (Nunn
If we assume that the population of sub-Saharan
Africa was 97 million in 1700, this equates to a pop-
ulation density of only four persons per square kilo-
metre. With such low population densities, it made
no sense to invest in roads or bridges—pack animals,
ferries and even human porters were better suited
for transportation of goods, depending on the terrain.
Compared to Europe and China, Africa has a notable
scarcity of navigable waterways. The lack of large ur-
ban populations also ruled out investments in mass
production of food, tools or clothing. Thus most pro-
duction was for local consumption and only items that
had high value-to-mass ratios were transported over
long distances. These were mostly metals, fancy tex-
tiles (from the Islamic world and India), glass beads
(ditto), ivory and stimulants (kola nuts and—after Eu-
ropean contact—tobacco).
African population was not evenly dispersed:
both archaeological and historical research show in-
stead a pattern of pockets of population with large,
more or less empty, spaces in between—the ‘internal
African frontier’, in the famous phrase of Igor Kopy-
toff (1987). This pattern of settlement explains sub-
Saharan Africa’s striking cultural diversity—some
2000 languages, a vast range of artistic styles, kinship
and residence rules, political systems and ritual prac-
tices. I suggest that it also explains why so many local
variants of the bloomery process were developed in
Yet at least one invention did become a
widespread technological innovation within sub-
Saharan Africa. This was the large natural draft iron-
smelting furnace. These were particularly common in
the West African Sudanic woodland zone from Sene-
gal to Nigeria and in the miombo woodlands of Tan-
zania, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique (Cline 1937;
Killick 1991). Whether these were invented indepen-
dently in these two zones is as yet unknown. I sug-
gest that they spread widely, in spite of their wasteful
use of charcoal, because they required less labour in
pumping bellows than forced-draft bloomeries. Both
of these zones of savanna woodland soils have very
infertile soils, so swidden (slash-and-burn) agricul-
ture was dominant. Trees were felled and burned
to produce ash for fertilizer, but new plots had to
be burned every five to seven years as soil fertility
declined and weeds proliferated (Allan 1965). I sug-
gest that the labour requirements for swidden agricul-
ture conflicted with those for iron smelting, and that
this conflict favoured the spread of the natural draft
In West Africa several specialist centres of iron
production using natural draft furnaces emerged from
the early second millennium ad. In the Dogon region
of Mali, one sub-region (Fiko) has about 300,000 cubic
metres of slag produced by this technique (Robion-
Bruner 2010). The Bassar region in Togo has more
than 82,000 cubic metres (de Barros 1985)andthe
Korsimoro district in Burkina Faso has c. 60,000 tons
(Serneels et al. 2014). The development of further spe-
cialist centres of iron production after 1650 was in
part a consequence of the gun-iron-slave cycle in West
Africa (for which see Manning 1990). Demand for iron
increased to defend populations against slave raiders,
but also for making the shackles and chains that bound
columns of slaves to each other as they were marched
to the coast or across the Sahara. The slave-exporting
states that emerged in the West African forest zone
after 1500 (Asante, Ouidah, Benin) were all major im-
porters of iron.
Attitudes towards Africa have changed in some quar-
ters. The Journal of African History celebrated its 50th
year in 2010, and recent African inventiveness in
the fields of music and the arts is now widely ac-
knowledged. Yet Hegel’s image of a stagnant pre-
colonial Africa—a subcontinent without history—is
still invoked by some European politicians and busi-
ness journalists. One recent example is the notorious
speech delivered by Nicholas Sarkozy, then President
of France, at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal
in July 2007.5And although I regard The Economist as
essential reading, I thoroughly dislike its practice of
praising modern African contributions to the arts on
the one hand while dismissing African history on the
I have argued that the frequent characterization
of Africans as uninventive reflects the failure of Euro-
pean observers over the past three centuries to distin-
guish between invention and innovation. In conclu-
sion I want to broaden the discussion by commenting
on the recent return of interest in innovation in anthro-
pology and archaeology. Given that the archaeological
record is largely the record of human inventions and
innovations, it is puzzling that archaeologists have
contributed so little to the theoretical literature on
these topics. The important volume edited by van der
Leeuw and Torrence (1989) failed to ignite much new
research over the following two decades, but there are
now signs of renewed interest (e.g. O’Brien & Shennan
2010;Schiffer2011). What concerns me particularly
Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies
about most recent recent literature is that it is wholly
focused on the adoption/diffusion of innovations—
invention is rarely mentioned. One possible reason for
this is that most archaeologists may think it impossi-
ble to detect invention in the archaeological record. I
grant that it is highly unlikely that credible evidence
for inventions can be found in deep time (inventions
of fire, blade technologies, etc.) and also that most ev-
idence of inventions in perishable materials has not
been preserved. But those of us who work with the
durable inorganic residues of past pyrotechnologies—
ceramics, glass or metals—frequently find evidence
of inventions that did not become innovations. These
can potentially provide information on the social con-
ditions that favoured invention, and the demographic
and social conditions under which inventions did, or
did not, become innovations. These surely ought to
be among the major reasons for studying prehistoric
I am most grateful to Philip de Barros and Vincent Serneels
for supplying me with copies of their publications on iron-
smelting technology in West Africa, and to Ed Wilmsen, Nic
David, Susan McIntosh, Duncan Miller, Shadreck Chirikure,
Louise Iles and Vincent Serneels for many discussions about
technology and trade in precolonial Africa. I must also ex-
press my gratitude to three anonymous referees, for their
valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and to
John Robb for his patience.
1. This line comes from C´
esaire’s epic poem Cahier d’un
Retour au Pays Natal, published in 1939, translated as
Return to My Native Land (C´
esaire 1969).
2. The title of Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without
History points to this passage (Wolf 1982).
3. Following standard usage in my field, I define African
archaeologists as citizens of African nations. African-
ist archaeologists are those, like myself, who work on
African prehistory and history, but who are not citizens
of African nations.
4. For a short review of other aspects of indigenous
African technology, see Killick (2005).
5. Sarkozy’s speech can be found on the internet, along
with outraged responses by several prominent African
intellectuals. For a short summary of this contro-
versy, see
uk-africa-sarkozy-idUKL0513034620070905 (accessed 4
Jan 2014).
David Killick
School of Anthropology
University of Arizona
1009 E. South Campus Drive
Tucson, AZ 85721-0030
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Author biography
David Killick is a professor of anthropology at the Uni-
versity of Arizona in Tucson. His research interests include
connections between the Muslim world and sub-Saharan
Africa, colonial encounters in Africa and the Americas and
the history of technology worldwide. He is an Associate
Editor of the Journal of Archaeological Science and serves on
the Editorial Boards of the Journal of African Archaeology and
... Such synthesis sheds light on the broader aspects of innovation and invention. In this paper, an invention is defined as "the initial appearance of an idea or process, whether truly novel, or a distinct modification of an existing idea or process" (Killick, 2015), while innovation is considered as "an invention that is widely adopted" (Killick, 2015). Metallic antimony ornaments appear consistently in only two regions throughout the Old World during the first millennia BCE: in Central Italy during the Chalcolithic period (Cambi and Cremascoli, 1957;Miari, 1993;Grazzi et al., 2012;Petitti et al., 2012), and in the southern Caucasus during the second millennium BCE (Hauptmann, 2001), besides some rare occurrences during the third millennium BCE. ...
... Such synthesis sheds light on the broader aspects of innovation and invention. In this paper, an invention is defined as "the initial appearance of an idea or process, whether truly novel, or a distinct modification of an existing idea or process" (Killick, 2015), while innovation is considered as "an invention that is widely adopted" (Killick, 2015). Metallic antimony ornaments appear consistently in only two regions throughout the Old World during the first millennia BCE: in Central Italy during the Chalcolithic period (Cambi and Cremascoli, 1957;Miari, 1993;Grazzi et al., 2012;Petitti et al., 2012), and in the southern Caucasus during the second millennium BCE (Hauptmann, 2001), besides some rare occurrences during the third millennium BCE. ...
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Antimony (Sb) was utilised over several millennia as the prime material to opacify or decolour glass and glazes, as well as an accompanying element in copper (Cu) alloys. Metallic antimony objects are rare, and mostly confined to Chalcolithic Central Italy and to the first millennia BCE in the southern Caucasus. The innovation of antimony use in metallurgy seems to be confined to the southern Caucasus, and the invention of it might be even more specifically situated in the Great Caucasus. Preexisting knowledge of mining set the pathway for the initial stage of antimonial copper alloys in the first half of the third millennium BCE and for metallic antimony ornaments in the second half of the third millennium BCE. However, the first major expansion of antimony in the metallurgy of the Racha-Lechkumi district in the southern Caucasus (present-day Georgia) started around 1700 BCE, while its spreading in glassmaking occurred in the Late Bronze Age (LBA). Explanations that place antimony adoption within its broader social context are favoured over those that consider material or geological properties in isolation. A recurring theme is the importance of comparative analysis, both geographically and between the different pyrotechnologies, including the precious metals and glass industries, to explore how social, political, climatic and economic conditions affected adoption and innovation patterns. All these factors are considered to explain why the extraction of antimony blossomed in the Late Bronze Age in the southern Caucasus and to reconstruct a framework of exploitation, distribution/trade and use of antimony in the Caucasus and its neighbouring regions in the south and east.
... 21 Gallay 2001 Killick 2015. 23 Killick 2015, 314. 24 Balfet 1975Chamoux 1978;Lemonnier 2010;Leroi-Gourhan 1971;Mauss 1947. ...
... 25 Chirikure et al. 2009Kense 1985;Killick 1991. 26 Fabre 2009Guillon 2013;Robion-Brunner 2010;Robion-Brunner in prep;Robion-Brunner et al. 2015;Serneels et al. 2012;2013;2015. example, the melting point depends on the nature of the ore. Killick, in his paper on 'Invention and Innovation in African Iron-smelting Technologies' argues that 'African ironworkers adapted bloomery furnaces to an extraordinary range of iron ores, some of which be cannot be used by modern blast furnaces'. ...
... Elements of this perspective are discernable in the pioneering work of Schumpeter (1939 :84-86), who stresses the distinction between innovation (the primary subject of his analysis) and invention. Correspondingly, in the "thing " sense, inventions are new objects or technological practices, and innovations are inventions that spread, with the implication of some broader social impact ( Killick, 2015c ). The problem with the "activity " sense of this definition is that it essentially equates innovation with adoption, leaving no good shorthand for describing the full process of technological change. ...
... Technological boundaries can create shared communities-of-practice where new ideas and innovations spread easily within one group but fail to be adopted between groups ( Roux et al., 2017 ). Likewise, it is important to understand that some inventions fail to become innovations and to explore possible factors underlying the lack of adoption ( Killick, 2015c ). These cases illustrate that conditions that promote inventive behaviors are not necessarily the same as those that promote adoption. ...
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The field of archaeomaterials research has enormous potential to shed light on past innovation processes. However, this potential has been only partially recognized outside its immediate practitioners, despite the fact that innovation and technology change are topics of enduring interest in archaeology and the broader social sciences. This review explores the relationship between archaeomaterials research and the interdisciplinary study of innovation, and maps out a path toward greater integration of materials analysis into these discussions. To foster this integration, this review has three aims. First, I sketch the theoretical landscape of approaches to the study of innovation in archaeology and neighboring disciplines. I trace how theoretical traditions like evolutionary archaeology have influenced archaeomaterials approaches to questions of technological change while also highlighting cases where work by archaeomaterials researchers anticipated trends in the anthropology of technology. Next, I distill a series of core concerns that crosscut these different theoretical perspectives. Finally, I describe examples where archaeomaterials research has deepened scholarly understanding of innovation processes and addressed these core questions. The future of archaeomaterials research lies in engagement with these broader discussions and effective communication of the contributions that materials analysis can make to building a comparative understanding of innovation processes.
... Africans brought this spirit of ingenuity and innovation to America, where their mass enslavement stunted their full ability to innovate and to be acknowledged as innovators (Van Sertima, 2020). The rich history of African innovation is found in many fields-mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, engineering, medicine, navigation-and in many items in common use today-textiles, writing, calendars, libraries, universities, and so much more (Adams, 1979;Asante & Asante, 1983;Ehret, 2002;Joseph, 2010;Killick, 2015;Krupp, 2003;Nleya & Ndlovu, 2020;Van Sertima, 1983). ...
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President Trump’s education policies continue to marginalize Black STEM students at the highest levels of education. Responding to a survey on their racialized educational experiences and future career trajectories, an ethnically diverse group of Black STEM doctoral students expressed anxiety about trying to pursue a STEM career during the Trump presidency. Their responses reflected their heightened sense of urgency to be change agents for racial justice in both the STEM arena and the wider society. These survey findings demonstrate that the Trump administration has created anxiety among minoritized people about pursuing STEM careers and triggered an activist spirit in this group of future STEM PhDs. In this paper, I discuss the ways the racist ideologies, practices, and policies of the Trump administration are impairing scientific innovation and increasing activism among Black STEMers. The findings reveal a vital need to continue discussing the consequences of the Trump administration’s assault on Blacks in the STEM disciplines.
... The debate on the genesis of African metallurgies is-rightly at this point-narrowly fo cused on a handful of important issues-dating techniques, site integrity, iron artifacts preservation-that need to be addressed (Chirikure 2010;Craddock 2010;Eggert 2010;Killick 2015MacEachern 2010;McIntosh et al. 2016). ...
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The “Three Age System” designed in the middle of the 19th century framed the general pattern of universal technological evolution. It all started with the use of stone tools in the very long “Stone Age”. The much shorter “Bronze Age” followed, to be capped by the even shorter “Iron Age”. This evolutionary taxonomy was crafted in Scandinavia, based on evidence from Denmark, and Europe by extension. Patterns of global long-term technological evolution recorded in Africa are at variance with this Stone-Bronze-Iron Age sequence; there is no Bronze Age yet. The advent of copper and iron metallurgy is one of the most fascinating debate taking place in African archaeology at the beginning of the 21st century. The debate on the origins of African metallurgies has a long history with multiple implications. It is anchored on 19th century evolutionism and touches on the patterns and pace of technological evolution worldwide. It has also impacted the history of discourses on human progress. As such, it has strong socio-political implications. It was used to support the assumption of “Africa backwardness”; an assumption according to which all important material and institutional inventions and innovations took place elsewhere – in the Near-East precisely – and spread from there to Africa through demic and/or stimulus diffusion. Does such a scheme capture the global human technological history or is it a specific case of local areal development? That is the core of the current debate on the origins of African metallurgy.
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The collective monograph “From Meteorite to Iron Bloom...” is the first in a series of books dedicated to the discoveries of early iron artifacts in Eastern Europe dating from the 3rd millennium BC to the first half of the 1st millennium BC. Geographical coverage and chronological range reflect pathways of ancient societies of this region in the process of mastering and implementing ferrous metals. Volume 1 includes the previously unknown archival materials from academic heritage of Alexander A. Iessen, a historiographic review of early iron artifact studies in the 20th — beginning of the 21st century in Eastern Europe, and a review of recent and the most up to date literature on chemical and technological aspects of early iron artifact studies investigating Eurasian and African artifacts. Database-1 enables characterization and systematization of approximately 200 iron items discovered from the Urals to the Carpathians in 15 archaeological cultures of the Bronze Age and the transition to the Iron Age. The most recent multidisciplinary studies of Early Bronze Age meteorite iron artifacts from mound 1 of the Boldyrevo I burial ground are also published in Volume 1. The subsequent volumes of the series will include Database-2, encompassing Eastern European iron artifacts from the end of the 2nd to the first half of the 1st millennium BC, which were selected in 2018–2021, and the results of the most recent investigations conducted on these items.
Excavations of archaeological sites usually yield a variety of finds. Varying amounts of inorganic and organic finds of different types of finds incur. These are man-made objects such as stone tools, ceramic vessels, jewellery, weapons, glass objects; often waste products of daily human activities as well. In the category of organic finds, food residue or remains of human burials are being excavated. Particularly important and usually occurring in large quantities are ceramics. These artefacts are usually salvaged in archaeological contexts, such as architectural remains, hearths, houses or graves.
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The first steps in the production of a metal object are to extract the ore from the mine, process the ore for smelting, and then eventually smelt the ore into metal. As fundamental as these steps may be, they are also the least studied in ancient metallurgical research, as finished metal artifacts (i.e., the end result of the entire process) are usually more interesting to archaeologists than bits of ore or slag. However, the study of the earlier stages is often more enlightening on the social structures of metallurgical groups, on the choices made by ancient metal workers, and more generally about human engagement with ores and metals. In this chapter, the first steps of the metallurgical process are outlined and discussed, with an eye towards the sorts of anthropological and archaeological research questions that can be asked by both archaeologists and archaeometallurgists of ores, mines, furnaces, slag, etc. © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media New York. All rights are reserved.
Over the past five centuries, advances in Western understanding of and control over the material world have strongly influenced European responses to non-Western peoples and cultures. In Machines as the Measure of Men, Michael Adas explores the ways in which European perceptions of their scientific and technological superiority shaped their interactions with people overseas. Adopting a broad, comparative perspective, he analyzes European responses to the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa, India, and China, cultures that they judged to represent lower levels of material mastery and social organization. Beginning with the early decades of overseas expansion in the sixteenth century, Adas traces the impact of scientific and technological advances on European attitudes toward Asians and Africans and on their policies for dealing with colonized societies. He concentrates on British and French thinking in the nineteenth century, when, he maintains, scientific and technological measures of human worth played a critical role in shaping arguments for the notion of racial supremacy and the “civilizing mission” ideology which were used to justify Europe’s domination of the globe. Finally, he examines the reasons why many Europeans grew dissatisfied with and even rejected this gauge of human worth after World War I, and explains why it has remained important to Americans. Showing how the scientific and industrial revolutions contributed to the development of European imperialist ideologies, Machines as the Measure of Men highlights the cultural factors that have nurtured disdain for non-Western accomplishments and value systems. It also indicates how these attitudes, in shaping policies that restricted the diffusion of scientific knowledge, have perpetuated themselves, and contributed significantly to chronic underdevelopment throughout the developing world. Adas’s far-reaching and provocative book will be compelling reading for all who are concerned about the history of Western imperialism and its legacies. First published to wide acclaim in 1989, Machines as the Measure of Men is now available in a new edition that features a preface by the author that discusses how subsequent developments in gender and race studies, as well as global technology and politics, enter into conversation with his original arguments.
Studying Technological Change synthesizes nearly four decades of research by Michael Brian Schiffer, a cofounder of the field of behavioral archaeology. This new book asks historical and scientific questions about the interaction of people with artifacts during all times and in all places. The book is not about the history or prehistory of technology, nor is it a catalog of methods and techniques for inferring how specific technologies were made or used. Rather, it supplies conceptual tools that can be used to help craft an explanation of any technological change in any society. The behavioral approach leads to new questions, creative research employing diverse lines of evidence, and, often, counterintuitive explanations. In behavioral archaeology, one never loses sight of the materiality of human behavior. Needless to say, advocates of other research approaches will find much in this book to dispute. But critics cannot gainsay the productivity of the behavioral approach nor the fact that it has furnished fresh insights into episodes of technological change.
Chapter American polygeny and craniometry before Darwin : blacks and Indians as separate, inferior species Notes in computer files