Life has an edge, sometimes keen, sometimes blunt. Enter iron—digging, cutting, shining, or rusting, but always transforming circumstances. Iron is “born” when smelting releases it from rock. How did sub-Saharan Africans affect these complex processes, sculpt natural-draft furnaces by hand, and create malleable iron to change the world? How did smelters and smiths know which ore to select, which wood to cut for charcoal, and how to position logs within the furnace to stoke fires of the astounding heat required to smelt iron? Who knew what to do, how to hammer, when to quench, and what to reheat? What arcane sciences were mastered, what dramas performed? Why this shape for a tool, weapon, or emblem of status and not that, and how was perfection realized and recognized? How did ironworking legitimize and...

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