Gunpowder History

  The Chinese consider that the properties of gunpowder were discovered during the period 475-221 BC with the rise of interest in alchemy and the urge to perfect the making of both gold and the elixir of life. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC) alchemy became increasingly popular, but precise details of the origins of gunpowder are not clear because this was not what the alchemists were primarily looking for.

   By the 4th century AD the search for the elusive elixir was still active. Saltpeter was still the main ingredient, but as the experiments could be somewhat explosive, aqueous methods were also mixtures such as saltpeter ,resin and hog intestines; it was found that under some conditions the mixture could be quite explosive.

  The first serious formulations for gunpowder as know it seem to stem from writings about AD808 when sulfur and charcoal have clearly entered the trials though the object was not necessarily to produce explosions so much as to subdue them. It was reported that mixtures of saltpeter, sulfur, raga and honey created fires which burnt hands, faces and houses. The addition of charcoal to hot mixtures of saltpeter and sulfur would certainly have been inflammatory!

  It has always been stated that the origins of black powder are Chinese and much of the evidence has been found in books printed in the west . We are happily in the position now to have more authentic evidence from a document forwarded by professor Fe n g Chang gen of the Beijing institute of the authors of the paper” The Origin and Development of Ancient Gunpowder” were Yang s h u o and Ding Jing(42).

  Black powder is described as” a bright pearl in the ancient Chinese civilization” with its three components being known from the earliest of times.

  Charcoal was already used at the Bronze Age in China and recognized as fuel for the reduction of metal ores.

  Sulfur was recorded in the 6th century BC and in other documents it was regarded as remarkable for its ability to dissolve metals like gold , silver ,copper and iron. It is also featured in medicine.

  There is considerable evidence of the existence and knowledge of Saltpeter . Once again, its reactivity with metals its use in medicine in the elixir of life recipe established its importance in these times.

  In later times, the Arabs called saltpeter “Chinese snow” and the Persians called it “Chinese salt”.

  There is no doubt that this proto gunpowder can burn well and produce quite a quantity of gas.

  While there have been several writings concerning the use of gunpowder and weapons in India and Muslim countries, p r of . f eng  j I a s h eng , an authority on the study of gunpowder, is of opinion that the origins are with china. it is possible that by 1225,gunpowder techniques were transmitted from china via India to the muslin countries. later on. the Arabs then transmitted gunpowder to Spain. by the middle of the 16 t h century it was transmitted to Europe. It is suggested that roger bacon discovered gunpowder through translations of Arab books.

  Early the Chinese formulations recorded in 1044 work out at approximately saltpeter 60%,sulfur 30%,charcoal 10%,but formulations includes sesame fibred, bamboo fibred, arsenic, lead salts, oils, and resins. the assumption is that the organic materials would need to be carbonized. The addition of lead and arsenic compounds may suggest a poisonous smoke of military nature.


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