Mark asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 6 years ago

Did the ancient Egyptians use imported iron imported from sub-Saharan Africa to build the Great Pyramids?

Some Egyptologists in the late 19th century believed that iron came to Egypt from other Africans. According to a UNESCO article there has been an iron industry in Niger dating back 5,000 years. Here is an interesting article that says that the Egyptians must have used iron tools which they probably imported from the Hittites. They could have imported iron from both sources

Cutting with bronze or iron:

Antiquity of iron in Africa (article says 5,000 years!) from UNESCO

Here is a 1911 encyclopedia that supports the idea that iron was supported from "black Africa". I read somewhere else that Seth is associated with the origin of iron

"This idea of impurity would seem a further proof of the African origin of iron. It was attributed to Seth, the spirit of evil who according to Egyptian tradition governed the central deserts of Africa."


"Did They or Didn't They Invent It? Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa" Stanley B. Alpern

"Around the same time some Egyptologists, notably the Frenchman Gaston Maspéro, concluded that ancient Egypt had learned its ironworking from black Africans to the south"

Update 2:

Damn I used imported twice because I was excited. Anyway hope people see this very interesting!

Update 3:

"Precolonial mining in South Africa" by A. Hammel*, C. White*, S. Pfeiffer †, and D. Miller‡

"The skills that these ancient prospectors developed are reflected in the fact that by the time the European settler community arrived in the region almost every gold-bearing quartz outcrop had already been worked 92, nearly every viable outcrop of copper-bearing rock had been exploited 93, and hardly a tin lode of any importance was left untouched 94."

Update 4:

The archeological evidence I showed shows very ancient dates for the modern country of Niger to the west, I just found info on iron working 2,000 B.C. at least for Central Africa republic. It is posted on a forum but is quoting a scientific article

"Now controversial findings from a French team working at the site of Ôboui in the Central African Republic challenge the diffusion model"

Update 5:

"Artifacts there suggest that sub-Saharan Africans were making iron by at least 2000 B.C.E. and possibly much earlier--well before Middle Easterners, says team member Philippe Fluzin, an archaeometallurgist at the University of Technology of Belfort-Montbéliard in Belfort, France. The team unearthed a blacksmith's forge and copious iron artifacts"

The Egyptians did associate Seth with iron and associated Seth with central Africa

4 Answers

  • Davros
    Lv 7
    6 years ago

    Africa has a reputation for having had an unusual leap from stone tools straight to Iron working, mostly because they lacked the raw materials for production of decent bronze production. They were certainly ahead of the Egyptians who seemed to have suffered from a lack of innovation after their discovery of bronze. This may well be explained by their superstitious association of Iron with Set, and regarding it as base and impure (it rusted). I would imagine the Egyptians were making the stuff but only in small quantities and much of the iron in Egypt was most likely being imported - so why not from Sub Saharan Africa? We know the trade links were there.

    It's not uncontroversial at all to suggest they were producing Iron artefacts by the banks of the Niger by 1500BC as examples have survived in context, but 5000 years ago? That I'm sceptical about for now. That would make them one of the earliest users of Iron. Perhaps the originators. It was known in the Middle East by then but they had no reliable method of manufacture. So did the Africans find a way to do it first?

    Every link I've been able to find on the subject does pretty much as the abstract above and asks it as a tantalising question to which archaeologists have evidently not found a satisfactory answer yet.

    It would be interesting to find out, but we could be waiting for any number of surveys before then.

    As for the Egyptians using iron to build the Pyramids... yes probably - later on at the very end of the Pyramid building period in the 2nd millennium BC. But it won't have been used in the early Dynastic period. Highly expensive bronze and copper were the only metals available at the time. Besides the Egyptians didn't need iron to make the Pyramid projects work so even if we did know that iron tools were in use on site, it wouldn't explain anything extra.

  • 6 years ago

    I'll have to do more research but this paper says that iron was being worked in the modern country of Niger since 2,500 B.C.!

    This is from UNESCO still reading the article:

    "West of Termit, in Egaro, the dates go back to 2500 B.C. and beyond. If theyare confirmed, the antiquity of sub-Saharan ironworking will be similar to that of the Middle East. Its endogenous nature is in any case clear. Many sites await excavation and dating. Some ofthem may well conceal evidence of even more ancient ironworking"

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  • 6 years ago

    The Egyptians at the time hadn't even gotten to the bronze age; they used copper implements. Smelting at temperatures high enough to melt iron was beyond the capability of any civilization at the time, let alone one of sub-Saharan origin. ... Early iron came from working meteorites (not from mining and smelting); thus any evidence that iron was present is certainly no indication that there was an "industry" out there supplying them with finished ingots.

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  • Kevin7
    Lv 7
    6 years ago

    It could be possible

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