By Craig Johnson
Armored Proceedings Symposium (1999)
Introduction: The metallurgical study of armour and weapons has taken some major steps forward in the last ten to twenty years. This information has been published in several journals and reports but in a fairly dispersed manner which is difficult for the general interest public to gain access to. I will here attempt to give an overview of where the current state of affairs stands and some ideas on what this will mean for the study of arms and armour in the future.
The analysis of the metal takes three major forms. The first being visual examination under magnification by a trained metallurgist to distinguish the crystalline structure of the finished product which can tell one a great deal about the life of the metal used. The second is a spectroscopy which may indicate certain components in the manufacture of the raw material, if the sources ore can be identified, and alterations to the material in the production of items. Finally, there are the physical properties of the metal, its resistance to penetration, and carbon content.
One of the main issues to arise from the metallurgical examination of period pieces is that steel was used for the construction of armor to a much greater extent than was previously thought. Many scholars up to a couple of decades ago were of the belief that the majority of armour was made from iron and not steel. The fact that steel was the material of choice for the majority of armor greatly affects the work process to make and maintain the armor. Iron was used for armor and weapons but it does not seem to have been the choice for even common objects and was reserved for the lowest quality munitions grade items. When the modern researcher comes across a piece of quality armor made of iron this can be seen as a red flag that the item may be a later reconstruction.