Metallurgy is a key technology, allowing the creation of strong materials, convenient implements, decorations, and better weapons and armor.
The elcari concentrate in hilly and mountainous areas— they are well adapted to cold, dry climates and high altitudes— though they were originally herders of goats and sheep, living in stone cottages built on the hilltops. By their own accounts, the development of both metalworking and the characteristic city-excavations in the mountains (khak) was due to warfare with the múrtani, thus around -19000. A curiosity in elcarin society is that it is women who undertake most metallurgy.
In many regions a division of labor prevails: the elcari trade gems, metal ornaments, weapons and armor to humans in return for food, clothing, and lumber. Wandering groups of elcari do smithing work in human lands.
They also do mining and metallurgy for the iliu.
The elcari are not keen to share their secrets, and have managed to keep e.g. steam technology to themselves. A steam engine back in the khak is one thing, however, and a wandering smith's furnace or anvil is another. Humans did learn something as they observed; the Cuzeian Count of Years, for instance, contains an account of ironmaking. But human metallurgy was certainly slowed in areas with nearby elcarin settlement, including Eretald, western Xengiman, and Gurdago . Contrariwise, human metallurgy often progressed in areas without nearby elcari: Munkhâsh, eastern Xengiman, Lenan, and Skouras.
Early human metalworking
Gold and silver
Gold and silver derive much of their value from being unreactive: they don't oxidize nor form ores. A corollary is that they are found in pure form, and of course humans exploited any that they could find without elcarin assistance. Major gold deposits are found around Lake Bérunor, at the mouths of the Eärdur, Čiqay, and Šinour, in Gotanel,and in Uytai.
Copper and lead
Copper melts at about 1100° C— temperatures reached in a pottery kiln. Copper ores can be decortative, and it was apparently potters who, around -1000 among the Wede:i, discovered smelting. Soon the Wede:i learned how to pour the copper into molds— casting. They also used lead, which melts at an even lower temperature and is easy to work.
Bronze and brass
Pure copper is too soft to be used for tools; around -650 the Wede:i learned how to alloy it with tin, forming bronze, which is hard enough to use for weapons. The Easterners learned how to make bronze as well; this was an important advantage in their conquest of Eretald.
In tin-poor regions, zinc was used instead, forming brass. Brass seems to have been first discovered by the Munkhâshi around -400; it was later adopted by the Meťaiun of Kebri, the Verdurian term for brass, laitón, derives from the ancient city of Laita which exported it in bulk.
Pure iron could be exploited early in the form of meteoric iron, but this was so rare that it was as valuable as gold. Metallurgists must have experimented with iron ores, but with little success since iron melts at over 1500° C, a much higher heat than their furnaces could produce.
Versions of the Count of Years from -25 describe the process, learned from the elcari, of removing impurities from the slag by hammering and folding. Though most iron was acquired by trading with the elcari, there must have been some experimentation around this time. This wrought iron was useful in various ways, but too malleable to make good weapons.
Around 200, the Cuzeians learned how to slowly heat iron with charcoal, then suddenly cool it in water; this produces steel, an alloy with .5 to 1% carbon, with greatly increased strength and hardness. Cuzeian steel provided an advantage over the Caďinorians who had only bronze weapons.
The Munkhâsh had no access to the elcari, and so developed their own metallurgy. By the time of Babblers they had iron weapons, and had developed steel by the time of their invasion of Eretald in 440.
Wrought iron contains bits of slag which reduce its strength, and it was difficult to get a uniform distribution of carbon. These problems are most easily solved by melting the iron. The elcari did this using blast furnaces with steam-driven bellows. An alternative is to reduce the melting point by adding large amounts of carbon (about 4%). The Munkhâshi discovered this technique around 700, producing cast iron. Cast iron is too brittle to make good weapons, but it found plenty of other uses: pots, hinges, hearth-backs, armor reinforcement.
Around 1200 the Munkhâsh learned how to reduce the carbon content by puddling (stirring the molten iron in open-air basins), which could be used to produce either high-quality steel or wrought iron. Their greatest achievement came in the 1500s, with the development of crucible steel. Iron, charcoal and glass were sealed into a clay crucible and heated enough to melt the iron; the glass bonded to impurities and floated to the top where it could be removed.
The resulting Munkhâshi steel was a great advantage in the invasion of Caďinas in 1625; but this lasted only till 1629, when the capture of Govanro placed several steel foundries in Caďinorian hands. With elcarin help, the Caďinorians learned the crucible steel process— though they were not much interested in cast iron and lost the technology.
During the Dark Years large-scale trade declined, and even the wandering elcari preferred to avoid isolated regions, whether because they could barely afford to buy anything, or for fear of attack by the barbarians. Such regions began to do their own mining and iron smelting, and thus slowly to accumulate experience in mining, metallurgy, and chemistry. Kebri and Barakhún were early centers for this development; in the south, Čeiy and then Šura and Belšai.
The resurgent ktuvok empire of Dhekhnam reestablished Munkhâshi methods and soon extended them. Around 2800 Dhekhnami alchemists discovered the mineral acids— nitric acid, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid— which are able to dissolve gold and silver. A century later the Dhekhnami pioneered the use of coke (coal purified of water, coal gas, and coal tar). Coke generates much less smoke than coal and is thus suitable for more applications; it was also used to raise the temperature of molten iron. These technologies were available to the Verdurians with the conquest of Sarnáe in the 3040s.
At first Eretald was not very interested in coke or coal, largely because wood was still abundant. As forests shrank and coal mining improved, the economics changed. The enormous fuel requirements of modern factories (especially those using Licor Epražo’s early steam engine) accelerated the switchover. The use of coke and coal in turn facilitated the use of cast iron, encouraging the use of iron rather than wood in machinery and construction. The first bridge made entirely of iron was a 35-meter span over the Melim river at Laaven in Kebri, built in 3427.