Chromium steel is now known to have been first manufactured in Persia. And most amazing of all, this material was made almost a thousand years earlier than first thought.

The landmark research was conducted by referring to medieval Persian manuscripts, leading archaeologists to a site in Chahak, modern-day Iran.

We believe this was a Persian phenomenon

Dr Rahil Alipour

The findings are believed to be incredibly important because archaeologiy experts used to think chromium steel was a 20th century invention.

Dr Rahil Alipour of University College London (UCL) and the study’s lead author, said in a statement: “Our research provides the first evidence of the deliberate addition of a chromium mineral within steel production.

“We believe this was a Persian phenomenon.

“This research not only delivers the earliest known evidence for the production of chromium steel dating back as early as the 11th century AD, but also provides a chemical tracer that could aid the identification of crucible steel artefacts in museums or archaeological collections back to their origin in Chahak, or the Chahak tradition.”

Ancient documents dating from the 12th to 19th century reference Chahak as a formerly famous hub for making steel.

But although Chahak is widely known as an area of outstanding archaeological significance, the exact location of crucible steel production in Iran has until now remained a mystery.

This is mainly because of the many areas in Iran called Chahak.

The manuscript al-Jamahir fi Marifah al-Jawahir by the legendary polymath Abu-Rayhan Biruni, was of particular importance to the researchers because it includes the only known recipe for crucible steel.

This listed an ingredient known now to be chromite mineral for the production of chromium crucible steel.

Radiocarbon dating of a number of charcoal pieces retrieved from within a crucible slag was used to date to date the industry to the 11th to 12th century.

The sample was scanned with an electron microscope allowing the researchers to identify remains of the ore mineral chromite, listed in Biruni’s manuscript as a highly-important part of the process.

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This also allowed them to learn 1 to 2 percent of chromium was present in the steel particles.

This proves the chromite ore did form chromium steel alloy in the recipe lost until the late 19th century.

Professor Thilo Rehren, also of UCL and the paper’s co-author said in a statement: “In a 13th century Persian manuscript translated by Dr Alipour, Chahak steel was noted for its fine and exquisite patterns, but its swords were also brittle, hence they lost their market value.

“Today the site is a small modest village, which prior to being identified as a site of archaeological interest, was only known for its agriculture.”

This tradition of making Persian crucible steel suspected to be distinct separate from the more widely known Central Asian methods in neighbouring Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Professor Marcos Martinon-Torres of the University of Cambridge, another co-author, said: “The process of identification can be quite long and complicated and this is for several reasons.

“Firstly, the language and the terms used to record technological processes or materials may not be used anymore, or their meaning and attribution may be different from those used in the modern science.

“Additionally, writing was restricted to social elites, rather than the individual that actually carried out the craft, which may have led to errors or omissions in the text.”

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