Iron-smelting Furnace
© Ehime University
Remnants of an iron-smelting furnace discovered in the remains of Khustyn Bulag in central Mongolia.
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of iron-smelting furnaces used by the ancient Huns, a significant find indicating the conquering nomads were advanced enough to make their own iron and not just pillage it.

"With the discovery, the image of a nomadic nation has been altered significantly because we now believe that the Huns built a complex society with a sophisticated system of a division of labor in production," said Tomotaka Sasada, a senior researcher at Ehime University's Research Center of Ancient East Asian Iron Culture.

Before the discovery by Japanese and Mongolian archaeologists, the Huns, who built a nomadic nation between the third century B.C. and first century in the Mongolian plateau and adjoining regions, were believed to have obtained iron for weapons and other implements by pillaging the territories of the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.- 206 B.C.) and Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220).

The joint team of researchers from Ehime University's Research Center of Ancient East Asian Iron Culture and the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Science have excavated five small iron-smelting furnaces since 2011.

They were uncovered in the remains of Khustyn Bulag in Tov province, located about 120 kilometers east from Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia.

Sasada said the remains of the furnaces appear to be a workshop dedicated to iron-making, since few everyday items like pottery were discovered at the site.

The archaeologists concluded through carbon dating that the furnaces date to between the first century B.C. and the first century.

Details of the discovery were presented at a symposium held at Ehime University in November.

The furnaces ranged from several tens of centimeters to 2 meters in width. They had holes 30-40 cm deep and narrow tunnels leading underground, which were filled both with charcoal as well as slag separated from iron.

The furnaces are believed to be a type built underground that is often discovered in ancient remains in regions around the Black Sea and Central Asia.

Furnaces used during the Qin and Han dynasties were typically large and built aboveground.

A large number of iron artifacts have been discovered at Hun grave sites, such as arrowheads, swords and sets of harnesses.

Historians believed that the Huns pillaged iron materials and weapons during their invasions into Chinese territories or forced Han Chinese metalsmiths to make iron after capturing them.