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Linear Furnaces and pan-Asian ferrous metallurgy

Dr Gill Juleff

The long range transmission of the Sri Lankan technological traditions of iron smelting and steel-making, in particular the development of linear furnaces, is now the focus of a new phase of research arising out of the Monsoon Steel project. Potential but hitherto unrecognised connections between Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Sarawak and, most significantly, Japan, have been identified.

Careful analysis and interpretation of the evidence has indicated strong similarities between the wind-powered furnaces of Sri Lanka and the world famous Tatara furnace of Japan, in which the steel for Samurai swords was made. This possibility is gaining currency in Asia and colleagues in China and Japan are collaborating in developing a research agenda to address technology transfer.

G Juleff (2009) ‘Technology and Evolution: a root and branch view of Asian iron from protohistoric Sri Lanka to Japanese steel’, World Archaeology, 41(4), 557-577

The image shows hypothetical representation of the divergent east-west evolution of furnace designs emerging from a common origin. Western designs are not given resolution here while the Asian linear furnace tradition arises out of the well-defined Sri Lankan evolutionary series.