New bronze ageism

About 3200 years ago the old bronze-based technology was dying out and was slowly being replaced by disruptive iron.

Similar to our change from fossil fuels to renewable electric technology today, back then it became no longer necessary to travel to far off lands and pay big bucks for expensive resources. The scarce copper and even scarcer tin that went into making bronze were superseded by iron ore which was vastly easier to find.

It doesn’t always work like that. Aluminium, the most abundant metal on Earth, was once eye-wateringly expensive.
It’s said that French emperor Napoleon III pulled out the aluminium dinnerware only when royalty was around for tea. Everyone else had to put up with inferior gold and silver plates and cutlery.

The Hittites, from the modern Levant, made arty iron things out of meteorites. But iron is the stuff of industries and armies so before long smelting ore really kicked off. Today, you can watch the alchemy of turning rocks into rolled steel joists on a tour of the Whyalla Steelworks.

In the town’s early days, much of the ore found nearby came from Iron Knob where an outcrop of the stuff – with 65% purity – rose hundreds of metres from the pancake flat landscape. As a result of mining, in something akin to a radical prostatectomy, the “Knob” is now 150 metres shorter than it was in 1880. In the 10 years following Federation more than 600,000 tonnes of rock was removed.

A fifth of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is made of steel smelted from Iron Knob ore. And, prior to WW2, ship loads of it were exported to Japan and Germany. No doubt some of it was returned to Australia either directly or indirectly.

Bronze was all the rage for a couple of thousand years before iron took over. So perhaps we are now due for some new metal or alloy to supersede venerable iron.

Maybe we need to steel ourselves for a big change.