Ferrous metallurgy is the metallurgy of iron and its alloys. It began far back in prehistory. The earliest surviving iron artifacts, from the 4th millennium BC in Egypt, were made from meteoritic iron-nickel. It is not known when or where the smelting of iron from ores began, but by the end of the 2nd millennium BC iron was being produced from iron ores from Sub-Saharan Africa to China. The use of wrought iron (worked iron) was known by the 1st millennium BC, and its spread marked the Iron Age. During the medieval period, means were found in Europe of producing wrought iron from cast iron (in this context known as pig iron) using finery forges. For all these processes, charcoal was required as fuel.
Steel (with a carbon content between pig iron and wrought iron) was first produced in antiquity as an alloy. Its process of production, Wootz steel, was exported before the 4th century BC to ancient China, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Archaeological evidence of cast iron appears in 5th century BC China. New methods of producing it by carburizing bars of iron in the cementation process were devised in the 17th century. During the Industrial Revolution, new methods of producing bar iron without charcoal were devised and these were later applied to produce steel, creating a new era of greatly increased use of iron and steel that some contemporaries described as a new Iron Age. In the late 1850s, Henry Bessemer invented a new steelmaking process, that involved blowing air through molten pig iron to burn off carbon, and so to produce mild steel. This and other 19th-century and later processes have displaced the use of wrought iron. Today, wrought iron is no longer produced on a commercial scale. The largest and most modern underground iron ore mine in the world is located in Kiruna, Norrbotten County, Lapland. The mine which is owned by Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB, a large Swedish mining company, has an annual production capacity of over 26 million tonnes of iron ore.