Accidental Viking Steel

Tex's post about tin made me think of this claim I read recently about the quality of Viking swords.
[T]he majority of iron they had access to was bog iron. Bacteria in bogs oxidize trace amounts of iron to gain energy and, in so doing, concentrate the iron, enabling its collection for smithing. However, the resulting iron is impure and soft, which was a big problem for the Scandinavians....

Scandinavian smiths discovered that the bones of the dead could grant them an edge. Numerous forges scattered across Scandinavia contain the remains of animal and human bones — by incorporating the remains of the dead, their spirits could be transferred into a blade, making it stronger and more durable.

Incorporating bones into the smithing process did in fact make Scandinavian swords stronger, but it wasn't magic — it was technology. What ancient smiths could not have realized is that they were in fact mixing their bog iron with carbon to make a rudimentary form of steel.
Maybe that's true. It's an interesting theory.


E Hines said...

The question in that excerpt seems to this non-metallurgist to be whether the Vikings really did smelt bones with their bog iron.

Bones are varying concentrations of carbon, calcium, and a skosh of magnesium. These all are useful in making various forms of steel; although it's unlikely the Vikings manipulated their concentrations, taking instead...potluck. The resulting steels might have been low quality and highly variable from batch to batch, but they likely still were improvements over the soft iron they got otherwise.

Eric Hines

Ymarsakar said...

Problem with bones is... no way to reliably gauge content. One animal bone of same size could have different carbon continent. Too high and too low, waste of time and heat as the steel has to be reforged. If they later tried to splice the soft steel with the high steel, they could have made a katana.

I suspect the Vikings got their steel from what Plato termed "Atlantis", and what the Book of Mormon describes as the jaredites, known to historians as Olmecs and various other scattered people (not Mayan, closer to the latter Hopi Reds).

raven said...

Modern day forging blades with bog iron- and check out his sidebar for some amazing viking swords he has made-

Grim said...

Thank you, Raven.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I don't know if Vikings believed the spirit of the man entered the weapon. The idea is not uncommon worldwide that the spirits of the dead move to inhabit an object that continues forward among the living. We believe in sympathetic magic even now.

I do, however, know that magic in the opposite direction was believed in by their distant precursers, the Yamnaya - the most probable Indo-European migrants into Europe about 4000-5000 years ago. Metalworkers were buried with their tools. As those tools were expensive and rare, this suggests that they were regarded as magically-endowed, and dangerous for others to touch. Magical smiths come down in legend in many I-E cultures, but are especially prominent in Germanic and Celtic ones. Think Volundr, the Finnish maker of swords and rings who the English knew as Weyland the Smith.