A MITANNIAN BATTLE AXE FROM RAS SHAMRA
The Ras Shamra battle axe published by Schaeffer (Ugaritica, I, 1939, pp. 107 f .) is highly provocative. It offers content and form to Mitannian iron hitherto known only through the Amarna texts. How to make use of this important document is the purpose behind this discussion.
Schaeffer relies chiefly on Brun's brief report (note 2, pp. 110-11 ) for his technical data, but seems unaware of the metallurgical gaps which that report fails to close.
Brun, obviously puzzled by the low nickel, high carbon content, guesses that the iron was made from pyrrhotite ore. It is a violent expedient. Pyrrhotite is a ferrous sulphide. To make iron from that calls for a special operation to eliminate sulphur.
It hardly seems necessary to introduce any rare element to account for this iron axe-blade. It could be, and possibly is, meteoric. Most iron meteorites are known to contain appreciable amounts of carbon, phosphorus and sulphur. The low nickel is unusual, but by no means conclusively significant. Incidentally, Brun should have told us whether his reported analysis is a representative average or merely a section from some particular point.
Brun claims that the blade had been heated and forged. This would blot out the characteristic structure of meteoric iron.
Obviously any forging that was done must have been light ("peu forgée") for its chemistry indicates that the metal of this blade is both hot and cold short (crumbly and brittle, respectively).
A hardness value of "65 kilogs" is probably equivalent to 200 to 220 Brinell, which is fairly consistent with the reported analysis.
But it is impossible to concede that "cette dureté faisait certainement de cette hache une arme redoutable pour l'époque." It is not a formidable weapon in any sense - size, weight, hardness or inherent soundness. In a finish fight the bronze socket would be far more dependable than the iron blade.
There is only one way to determine the facts -and that is to dedicate this rare blade, or a selected section of it, to a thorough metallographic examination. This should include spectroscopic analyses and petrographic studies. Brun's brief report, and that of Champion (note 1, p. 111 ), as appended to Schaeffer's text, are too superficial where so much is at stake.
HARRY CRAIG RICHARDSON.
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