[ExI] we stand on the shoulders of meteorites

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Sun Jul 5 19:30:20 UTC 2009

At 11:54 AM 7/3/2009 -0700, spike wrote:
> > ...IIRC they get their iron from a large meteorite...
>OK then, I'll play along.  Assume we start the fire somehow.  Here's your
>meteorite, a large one.  Now what?

In case you haven't seen this Paul Fernhout response on Eugen's list:

Historically, meteorites or other rare sources were where early humans got a
lot of their metals. It is only when those things become scarce that we
humans had to get clever at getting metals in other ways.

    "The Prehistoric Use of Meteorites in North America"
"... A dagger of meteoritic iron was found in King Tutankhamun's burial
chamber. ... Meteorites found on archaeological sites are composed primarily
of iron and nickel and are believed to have formed in the cores of asteroids
during the early stages of the solar system. Despite comprising the minority
of meteorites falling to earth, iron meteorites usually arrive on earth as
larger chunks than their stony meteorite cousins. This larger size and their
unusual appearance compared to terrestrial rocks would make iron meteorites
easier for Native Americans to locate. The creation of tools from iron
meteorites probably involved only cold hammering of the metal, since
temperatures required for hot-working cannot typically be reached by open
fires. ... When news of John Ross' discovery became widely known, numerous
American and European expeditions went in search of what the Polar Eskimo
described as the "Iron Mountain". It was 76 years later before the Eskimos
Tellikotinah and Kessoo led Admiral Robert Peary to three iron masses. ...
The fall was almost certainly not observed since archaeological evidence
shows meteoritic iron being used on Greenland sites nearly 1000 years
earlier, and may have been one of the factors that lured people to the
eastern Arctic. ...  Meteoritic iron has been discovered on several sites in
the central and eastern arctic. Although the meteorite now known as Cape
York fell in Greenland, trade among the Eskimo resulted in pieces of the
meteorite being transported to locations up to 2200 km away. Use of the iron
was primarily limited to the creation of knife blades and harpoon points,
but may have served as engraving tools as well. The small number of sites on
which meteoritic artifacts have been found may not adequately represent the
abundance or distribution of this important resource. The harsh arctic
climate and the capability of reusing and reworking iron into smaller and
smaller pieces leaves little for later archaeologists to unearth. The use of
meteoritic iron among the Eskimo was probably more widespread than we now
realize. Much like meteorite hunters of today, the Hope-wellian culture was
actively engaged in meteorite collecting. Although, there has been some
speculation concerning whether or not a witnessed meteorite fall may have
set them on their search, there is little doubt concerning their desire in
obtaining this unusual iron resource. Chemical analyses have shown that
meteorite fragments found on two sites in Ohio are identical to the large
Brenham fall in Kansas. It appears that the Hopewell were using their
extensive trading networks to redistribute the iron fragments further east.
Of the 20 sites in which meteoritic iron has been found, at least three
different meteorites are represented. ... It seems as if the extent to which
each culture used meteoritic iron was based upon their technological
knowledge in working metal and in their need for a vital resource. The
Hopewellians use of copper reduced their need for iron. Instead they treated
the iron resource with esteem because of its unusual properties and its
limited availability. The Polar Eskimo, on the other hand, spent most of
their time on survival tasks due to the harsh environment. When presented
with a supply of metallic iron, the Eskimo made use of the advantages the
material offered for daily survival. By creating iron knives and projectile
points their efficiency in the hunting and skinning of animals was greatly
improved. In the Southwest, the lack of knowledge concerning metal-working
prevented experimentation with strange stones found on the surface of the
ground. "

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