Indian steel for Muslim crusaders
Hamburg: The curved sabres used by Muslims against Christian knights in the crusades may have been deadly because Muslim blade-makers used a form of nanotechnology, the steel coming from India, say German experts.
The Damascus blades wielded by Muslim fighters, renowned for their exceptional strength, sharp cutting edge and beautiful banding pattern, are believed to have been made from small cakes of steel known as wootz produced in ancient India.
A sophisticated treatment was then applied to the steel, but the secrets of the technique were lost in the 18th century and European craftsmen were unable to replicate the process.
How medieval blacksmiths overcame the inherent brittleness of the material to create such a perfect finished product has remained a mystery to this day.
Now scientists are beginning to uncover the secrets of the Damascus sabre, and the results are surprising.
An investigation of the microstructure of one 17th century blade revealed evidence of carbon nanotubes - tiny cylinders of carbon with special properties.
Today, carbon nanotubes are at the cutting edge of nanotechnology, the science that focuses on controlling and exploiting the structure of matter on a scale below 100 nanometers.
Remnants of iron carbide "nanowires" were also found. These microscopically thin strands of extremely hard material may have been contained within the carbon nanotubes, and would have given the weapon its unusual strength and banding pattern.
"By empirically optimising their blade-treatment procedure, craftsmen ended up making nanotubes more than 400 years ago," said lead researcher Peter Paufler of the University of Technology in Dresden, Germany.
The scientists believe that further study of the sabre's structure might make it possible to reproduce the long-forgotten recipe for Damascus steel.
The development of ancient Indian wootz
steel is reviewed. Wootz is the anglicized
version of ukku in the languages of the
states of Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh,
a term denoting steel. Literary accounts
suggest that the steel from the southern
part of the Indian suncontinent was exported
to Europe, China, the Arab world and the
Middle East. Though an ancient material,
wootz steel also fulfills the description
of an advanced material, since it is an
ultra-high carbon steel exhibiting properties
such as super-plasticity and high impact
hardness and held sway over a millennium
in three continents - a feat unlikely to
be surpassed by advanced materials of
the current era. Wootz deserves a place
in the annals of western science due to
the stimulus provided by the study of this
material in the 18th and 19th centuries to
modern metallurgical advances, not only in
the metallurgy of iron and steel, but also
to the development of physical metallurgy
in general and metallography in particular.