Le Vie del Ferro, Iron Ways, Les Routes du Fer

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Working the iron

TRACCE no. 12 – by Don Sina Middle School (Esine, Valcamonica)


We are the pupils of 2nd B and C from the State Middle School “Don Sina” in Esine (Brescia). Under the guide of our teachers and the archaeologists of Footsteps of Man, we have gone a didactic itinerary entitled “Iron ways”.


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We are the pupils of 2nd B and C from the State Middle School “Don Sina” in Esine (Brescia). Under the guide of our teachers and the archaeologists of the Archaeological Co-operative The Footsteps of Man from Cerveno, we have gone a didactic itinerary entitled “Iron ways”.

Working the Iron: the master (maihter in local dialect) worked at the power-hammer helped by an apprentice who cared the fire, the brahchì, usually a boy

We have had six meeting three of them outside the school: in fact we have to visit archaeological and ethnographical museums, forges and mines. Valcamonica can boast of an interesting past on this metal: in the first lesson we spoke about metallurgy and the working of the iron in Valcamonica with the help of slides representing copper. iron and bronze objects. Iron was dug out mine in high mountains where the conditions of life of workers were very hard and were used even children of 10 years to pass through tunnels.

The shear

The Shear

We spoke about this in the lesson made at Schilpario in the province of Bergamo. Here we visited the tunnels, we watched mines, and the levels under. The old miners worked in unhealthy conditions till late evening, sometimes ever at night.

The workers were paid for the numbers of carriages they were able to carry out and for the quantity of the mineral dug out. The worker were not paid enough and at St. Lucy’s day the master offered everybody the lunch.

The Iron as a mineral (it could be of haematite, limonite, magnetite) was broken and purified into reglane and then carried to the blast furnace where it was transformed in cast iron and it was sent to forges.

Working the Iron (by Giulia, Chiara and Michela)

Working the Iron (by Giulia, Chiara and Michela)

These forges were buildings near elevated torrents where water dropped on wooden wheels operating power hammers, a kind of wooden and stone hammers. We have two kinds of forges: the incavadora produced pails, the scartadora hoes and shovels. At first the pieces of metal were warmed. then worked by power-hammers. And finished up by shoots, which are smaller either in size and in weight.

The blast furnaces were stoked by power-hammers at first, then it was invented a system, that is the tina de l’ora; the waterfell into a “pressure water pipe” and falling on a stone was reduced to powder and it produced a sufficient quantity of air to mantain a very high temperature for a long time.

We find other utensils in the forges: shoots, shears to cut items having a defective edge, grinding wheel driven by the hydraulic wheel. It was use to finish up the items and it was made by sandstone and it has a big weight. There are tongs, anvils and hammers. The master worked at the power-hammer helped by an apprentice who cared the fire, the brachè usually a boy.

Inside the mine

Inside the mine

We also visited the National Archaeological Museum at Cividate Camuno. Here we observed the metals produced by the Romans, such as moneys and weapons, the Museum “le Fudine” at Malegno, a forge of the past transformed into a Museum; we visited a forge where people work iron spades at Bienno: we watched the process from the rectangular ingot- got by rails – to the final product of the finished and smooth spade.

This work has. been very interesting. We had some new information. We knew a part of the Valley history very well.


Nous sommes les élèves de deuxième classe, section B et C de l’Ecole Moyenne Don Alessandro Sina (BS). Sous la direction de nos professeurs et des archéologues de la Coopérative Archéologique “Les Traces de l’homme” de Cerveno, nous avons suivi un itinéraire didactique dont le titre est: Les routes du fer. Ce projet s’est effectué en six leçons dont trois hors de l’école: nous sommes allés visiter des musées archéologiques et ethnographiques, des forges et des mines.

The mill

The Mill

La Valcamonica revendique un passé intéressant pour ce qui concerne ce métal: au cours des premières leçons , nous avons parlé de la métallurgie et du travail du fer en Valcamonica en nous aidant avec des diapositives qui représentaient les minéraux et les objets en cuivre, fer et bronze. Le fer était extrait dans des mines en haute montagne où les conditions de vie des mineurs étaient très pénibles. Dans ce travail étaient employés même les garçons de dix ans qui mieux pouvaient passer par les galeries les plue étroites. Nous avons parlé de ça au coure de la leçon qu’on a fait à Schilpario (BG). Une foie arrivée nous avons visité les galeries, vu les mines, les niveaux au- dessous. Les anciens mineurs travaillaient dans des conditions malsaines jusqu’à tard dans la nuit, sinon toute la nuit. Les ouvriers étaient payés selon les chariots qu’ils réussissaient à porter et à la quantité de minéral qui était fouillé. Malgré le dur travail les ouvriers étaient mal payée mais pour la Sainte Lucie (13 décembre) le chef offrait un repas à tout le monde.

The Maller

Le fer, soue forme de minéral (sidérite, hématite, limonite, magnétite) d’abord était réduit en fragmente et purifié dans les reglane, puis il était transporté au four de fusion où il es transformait en fonte et enfin il était envoyé aux forges. Celles-ci sont des bâtiments tout près des torrents surélevés, où l’eau tombait mur des roues en bois qui actionnaient les maillets, une sorte de gros marteaux en bois ou en pierre. Il y a deux catégorie de forges: “l’incavadora” produisait les seaux, “la scartadora” produisait les pioches et les pelles. Les morceaux de métal étaient d’abord chauffée, puis travaillés aux maillets et enfin on les fignolait avec les martinets de taille et de poids plus petits. Les four étaient attisée avec des soufflets, ensuite puisqu’il fallait des températures plue élévées on a inventé un système ingénieux, celui de “la tina de l’ora“; l’eau tombait dans une “trompe” et en tombant sur une pierre, se pulvérisait et produisait une quantité d’air suffisante pour, garder longtemps la température très haute. Dans les forges à part les maillets il y a aussi d’autres outils: les martinets, les cisailles (des grande ciseaux) utilisée pour couper des objets ail bord imparfait; la meule entraînée elle aussi par la roue hydraulique était employée pour mettre la dernière main à l’objet: elle était en grès et avec un poids proportionnel et considérable. Evidemment il y a les tenailles, les enclumes et les marteaux. Au maillet travaillait la maître, appelé màihter, aidé par un apprenti qui était un petit garçon préposé au feu le brahchì (du mot: braise), d’habitude.

Outre Schilpario où nous avons vu aussi le Musée Ethnographique, nous avons visité le Musée Archéologique National de Cividate Camuno, où nous avons pu observer les metaux produite par les Romains, tels que les armes et les monnaies et le Musée Le Fudine de Malegno, une forge qui à nos jours n’est plus active et qui a été transformée en Musée; à Bienno nous sommes allés voir une forge encore active où on fabrique des bêches en fer: nous avons observé le procédé du bloc rectangulaire – obtenu des voies ferrées – à la production de la bêche polie et terminée. Nous avons trouvé cet étude très amusant et instructif. Nous avons eu beaucoup d’informations et appris de nouvelles choses, même si on connaissait déjà quelque chose. Le tout a été très intéressant parce qu’il remonte à l’histoire de la Vallée.

Iron Ways

Esine class 2a, Berzo, class 2a

This year the Archaeological Society “Le Orme dell’Uomo”, run by Mr Fossati and Mrs Marchi, helped us find out the history of iron. All along our research we had three lessons and three outings to Cividate-Malegno, to Bienno and to Schilpario (Valcamonica, Italy).

Iron Shovel (Iron Age) and schematic anthropomorphic figures at Paspardo in Valle Rock 3 (picture A. Fossati – Footsteps of Man)

During the lessons we have been coached by our teachers Monica Fedriga, Emilia Fassini and Pietro Albanese. Iron is widespread and we have chosen to study it because it marked the history in the Camonica Valley. This choice has been conditioned by our syllabus for this year including the study of minerals in Craft and of the industrial Revolution in History. Iron is a metal which makes up 5% of the earth’s crust, and it’s one of the most widespread materials on earth. Its processing starts in Val Camonica as all over the Alps at the beginning of the 9th century BC, that is after the Copper and Iron Age.

In the rock art there is evidence which makes us understand that in Val Camonica Iron has been used since ancient times. As a matter of fact in the National Park of Naquane on the rocks 47 and 35 there are metal made shovels used for the fire-keeping and, on the rock 35 we can see a black-smith probably a magician or a person in touch with gods, because only a few people knew how to do iron-working. On the rocks 1 and 35 there are also weapons, axes, halberds, daggers… These ones give evidence of the use of iron because they were made out of it. In ancient times the first iron-made objects were from material coming from meteorites fallen onto earth: so they were made with meteoritic iron. Iron was found by chance because the rocks surrounding the fireplace had some mineral which, when heated, melted and when it cooled, it was remarked by the people who were looking after the fire. At the beginning, in the mines, an iron ore was separated from the rock by lime and water which were introduced after drilling the stone with chisels. It was mostly mined from siderite which has then named its processing iron metallurgy, from loadstone, limonite hematite from cubic and rhombohedral pyrite.

The mineral was carried outside from the mines by trolleys. Here it was first cleaned by the taissadur and then in some “furnaces” called reglane where the taissato mineral was purified from sulphur marks. Then, by panniers and carts, iron was taken to the stores near which there was the blast-furnace where it was fused at very high temperatures. As fuel they used charcoal, made by the poiat, a heap of wood covered with earth which was made burn slowly and with little oxygen. Here it was heated in order to make it workable at the hammer. The hammer was run by water. The shoots did the most accurate finishing touches. The tools produced in Vallecamonica were mostly spades, shovels, pans, buckets, hoops, picks and, under the Venetian Republic, weapons. The necessary constituents to do iron-working are: charcoal, water to make the mall wheel turn and air for la tina de l’ora. The traditional iron-working can still be found in Vallecamonica; one of the reasons for this survival is to let today’s people know how iron was worked. We produce strong tools for everyday use. This experience has been very interesting and instructive: we have learnt important news about our valley and its past life. Moreover we have been able to know the iron-working realistically and, by visiting the mine in Schilpario, we realised how hard this job was.

2B – 2C classes
Don Sina Middle School at Esine (Valcamonica)

 

Footsteps of Man
RockArtNet


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