An interesting pre-print out of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Ancient Blacksmiths, the Iron Age, Damascus Steels, and Modern Metallurgy. There is at least a possibility that the Neaderthals could have made wrought iron. The process is quite doable, you simply put iron oxide in an open hearth in a windy area, and you can make iron without melting. What is most interesting to me is the observation that large amounts of iron ore were mined in prehistory, millions of pounds. The known use of this was as ochre, a pigment.
Now, who would go to all the effort of whipping those slaves just to get some face paint? If you could make weapons or tools out of all that, it might be worth it. This is made plausible by the fact that iron rusts into nothingness readily, leaving little evidence. Iron ore is also much more plentiful than tin, needed for bronze, and iron is stronger than copper alone.
As in the case of Gobekli Tepe, ancient peoples were much more advanced than anyone would have dreamed until recently. Something terrible seems to have happened to civilization in the past that erased the memories of this, but it is unclear just what or even exactly when this was.