Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Holy Shit, Damascus Steel!

Damascus Steel
Remember how the Byzantines basically invented napalm about a thousand years ago? Probably not, so follow the link and read about it. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Cookie Monster waiting
Take your time.

Pretty cool, huh? So, you know the part where we still don't quite know what Greek Fire was since it was a closely guarded military secret? That's sort of the same deal with Damascus steel.

Damascus steel swords were made primarily in the Middle East. Funnily enough, they did not originate in Damascus. Their name is the result of someone mishearing the word "damask," a type of weaving pattern that the metal's texture resembled.
Damascus steel dagger
Except, you know...stabbier

They were made from wootz steel out of India, and through some miraculous forging process they became incredibly sharp, as flexible as a yogi, and harder than mithril. Legend has it that a Damascus steel sword could cut a feather from the air then slice through armor like a hot machete through lightly curdled milk without losing any of its sharpness.

Around the mid-1700s, the rise of gunpowder and lengthy disruptions in trade from India eventually led to the loss of the swordsmithing techniques required to forge Damascus steel. They became a thing of legend. Then science happened.
Carbon Nanotubes
Pictured: Science. And it keeps changing directions. Watch. It'll freak you out.

While the technique for making it was lost, there were still some extant blades that historians and scientists could study. These have wielded some pretty interesting results, chief among which is that Damascus steel was reinforced by carbon nanotubes. Those weren't actually discovered, by the earliest reckoning, until 1952. It wasn't until the 1990s that we started making practical things out of them.

What I'm saying here is that as far back as 2000 years ago swordsmiths in the Middle East were literally (though probably unwittingly) using nanotechnology.

Holy Shit.

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