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Bertan > Bertan 16 Burdinaren Industria > Ingeles bertsioa: The mountain forges

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The mountain forges

16. Hauling the charcoal was one of the most important tasks in early ironworking.
16. Hauling the charcoal was one of the most important tasks in early ironworking.
The early installations used to transform iron ore in the Basque Country during the Middle Ages were known as haizeolak or agorrolak in Basque or ferrerías in Spanish. They are also frequently referred to as "mountain forges", because they were normally located in the hills, where there was a ready supply of the indispensable raw materials, charcoal and iron ore.

13. Fire at the Mirandaola Forge, Legazpi.
13. Fire at the Mirandaola Forge, Legazpi.

There has been little research into these early Basque ironworks, although the existence of large slag heaps in the hills and outlying areas has long been known of. These are commonly called zepadis, and are attributed to the iron-working processes. Garibay, and more recently Isasti, have suggested that they may mark the remains of works predating the water-powered smithies:

"At some point there were smithies in the mountains of Gipuzkoa, where they worked the iron with their hands and not with water-driven devices".

15. The numerous remains of slag heaps in the hills of Gipuzkoa are a legacy of the old “mountain forges”. Slag from the Salobieta “haizeola” in Legazpi.
15. The numerous remains of slag heaps in the hills of Gipuzkoa are a legacy of the old "mountain forges". Slag from the Salobieta "haizeola" in Legazpi.

14. The deciduous forest has always been a source of raw material for charcoal-making
14. The deciduous forest has always been a source of raw material for charcoal-making

19. Remains of a wooden weir. Wood was commonly used to build the early weirs. Goizarin Forge, Artikutza.
19. Remains of a wooden weir. Wood was commonly used to build the early weirs. Goizarin Forge, Artikutza.
We have little clear and reliable information, however, on what exactly these smithies were like. As other authors have pointed out (IBARRA, 1989), their essential components were very similar-simple fires with hand-powered bellows-but the characterisation varies; ranging from furnaces of very varied size and appearance to simple covered pits in the ground. There has been little or no archaeological analysis of these sites of the kind carried out in the zepadis of Oiola (Trapagaran, Bizkaia), which has given us interesting guidelines for interpreting the furnaces, the system of work and the metals obtained.

20. The furnace of an “haizeola”, or mountain forge, by Manuel de Laborde in “Forges in Legazpi”.
20. The furnace of an "haizeola", or mountain forge, by Manuel de Laborde in "Forges in Legazpi".

In any case, the little information we do have appears to confirm a low degree of technical advance, furnaces of very different layouts and sizes-which may be due to the fact that the studies cover operations spanning eight or nine centuries-poor quality of the product obtained-necessitating laborious forging work-and limited productivity.

Despite the restricted profitability of the system in modern terms, these installations continued to produce a significant output and the system was still widely used even during the gradual spread of new water-powered mechanisms for iron dressing and manufacture.

18. Slag. Zaralain Forge, Legazpia.
18. Slag. Zaralain Forge, Legazpia.

22. Detail of ore lode from the Aizpea mining area (Zerain).
22. Detail of ore lode from the Aizpea mining area (Zerain).

17. Elevation of the Agorregi forge (Aia). East face.
17. Elevation of the Agorregi forge (Aia). East face.
21. Iron ore.
21. Iron ore.

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