Sparks of Life: The Concept of Fire in Iron Working


  • Randi Barndon Department of Archaeology, University of Bergen



smiths, concepts of technology, fire and transformations, body metaphors, myths and sagas, ethnography and archaeology


The author discusses fire as a concept, with an emphasis on traditional iron working and its links with bodily based experiences played out as material metaphors as well as mental conceptions. In East African iron using communities, iron smelting was cloaked in secrecy, seclusion and gendered sexual connotations. An elaborate use of bodily based metaphors guided the use of magic and medicines and created moral laws during periods of smelting. The article will attempt to explain how concepts of fire were related to this. Some preliminary comparisons are made between Greek, Norse and African myths and legends about smiths and their role as 'masters of fire'. Finally, by drawing on case studies based on fieldwork among Fipa and Pangwa blacksmiths and former iron smelters, the author will explore the interconnections between concepts of fire, bodily based metaphors and metal production.


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How to Cite

Barndon, R. (2005) “Sparks of Life: The Concept of Fire in Iron Working”, Current Swedish Archaeology, 13(1), pp. 39–57. doi: 10.37718/CSA.2005.03.



Research Articles