Kaman Kalehoyuk ruins
© Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology
The Kaman Kalehoyuk ruins and surrounding areas in the Anatolia region of Turkey in June 2018.
A small lump of iron found in ancient ruins in Turkey may upend commonly held beliefs about the history of ironmaking, as the relic appears to have come from somewhere else.

The question is, where?

A Japanese research team uncovered the oldest ironmaking-related relic of its class at an excavation site in the Anatolia region, the central area of the Hittite Empire (1,400 B.C.-1,200 B.C.).

The empire was a major power along with the New Kingdom of Egypt in the ancient Orient.

The relic is a weight-shaped lump with a diameter of about 3 centimeters and contains a high amount of oxidized iron.

The Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology (JIAA) of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan (MECCJ) discovered it in September 2017 in a geological layer dating between 2,500 B.C. and 2,250 B.C.

The institute has been engaged in research into the Kaman Kalehoyuk ruins in Turkey since 1986.

The ruins are in the central area of the Hittite Empire that prospered in the ancient Orient by using iron and light tanks as weapons.

The empire is said to have acquired military advantages by adopting ironmaking invented by indigenous people. In those days, ironmaking was considered the most advanced technology.

After the empire collapsed, the ironmaking technology spread to surrounding regions, and the proliferation became a turning point toward the Iron Age.

According to JIAA director Sachihiro Omura, the unearthed relic is believed to be the oldest of its kind in the history of ironmaking.

It has been commonly believed that ironmaking originated in the Anatolia region. However, the institute's analysis of the relic showed that it was produced in a different area and brought into the region.

Iron products from the early period of the history of ironmaking include those processed from iron meteorites.

The institute thus asked Takafumi Matsui, professor emeritus of comparative planetology at the University of Tokyo, to analyze the relic.

Taking advantage of the world's most advanced technologies in microfabrication and precision analysis used to look into fine particles brought back from the Itokawa asteroid in 2010 by the Hayabusa space probe, the analysis examined cross-section surfaces of iron compound particles with a diameter of about 0.1 millimeter that the relic was composed of. The results showed that the composition of the particles differed from that of iron meteorites.

As the analysis showed a composition of concentric circles that appear when heat was artificially applied, it was determined that humans produced the lump from iron ore using fire.

The analysis also looked into the composition of a small amount of lead in the relic, and then found that the proportion of isotopes was different from that of iron ore widely produced in the region.

Based on the results of the analysis, Matsui said: "The lump is probably a semi-manufactured product processed from iron ore to the middle stage. Someone likely brought it from a distant region."

The team unearthed several similar lumps found just above a 1-meter-thick scorched soil layer about 12 meters beneath the ground's surface.

Traces of buildings found in the same geological layer as the lumps showed that people dug into the scorched soil, constructed foundations for the buildings by installing wooden materials and made walls of mud.

The construction style differed from that of the region, which mainly uses sun-dried bricks.

"It shows that an ancient city that existed there was destroyed on a large scale, and then a group of people came to the area, which was swept up by flames, from the north," Omura surmised.

He added that at the time, ironmaking technologies of the initial period were likely brought to the area simultaneously.

"By making further comparisons with iron ore of other regions, we'd like to figure out where ironmaking originated and clarify the key role played by Anatolia in the arrival of the Iron Age," he said.

Tatsundo Koizumi, representative of the Institute for Archaeological Education of Mesopotamia, said, "It's an extremely important discovery that has a big impact, as it proposes a shift in the common sense of world history put forth by European and U.S. authorities."

The challenges, he added, are to pinpoint the place of origin of the lumps and clarify how ironmaking spread and developed in Anatolia.

"To determine who invaded the region and left the scorched soil, it is necessary to gather more knowledge about various regions in a careful manner," he added.