Bronze Age

The Bronze Age is a period in a civilization's development when the most advanced metalworking has developed the techniques of smelting copper from natural outcroppings and alloys it to cast bronze. The Bronze Age is part of the three-age system for prehistoric societies and follows the Neolithic in some areas of the World. In most parts of subsaharan Africa, the Neolithic is directly followed by the Iron Age.

Most surviving bronze implements are tools or weapons, though some ritual artifacts survive.

The date of the arrival of a Bronze Age varies from culture to culture.


Near East Bronze Age

The Bronze Age in the Near East is considered as beginning around 3300 BC with the increasing use of bronze and the rise of complex urban civilisation (to varying degrees and in varying forms) in the main cultural centres of the region, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Significant overlap in the cultures of the region from the preceding Chalcolithic Period make the assignment of a more precise date impossible. Not unexpectedly, areas like the Levant, Anatolia and the Iranian Plateau entered the Bronze Age slightly later, and under the strong influence of the first innovators, but were nonetheless able to make the move into the Bronze Age in highly innovative ways that reflected their geographical circumstances. The Bronze Age of the Near East is divided into Early, Middle and Late phases, with Intermediate periods often being recognised between them. Historians and archaeologists of the more literate areas - Egypt and Mesopotamia - however, tend to periodise their respective cultures along political lines (dynasties and kingdoms). The end of the Bronze Age in the Near East is normally associated with the disturbances created by large population movements in the 12th century BC and the rise of new technologies and political formations, characterised as the start of the Iron Age.

Central Asian Bronze Age

A Bronze Age culture known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex thrived around 2000 BC in areas around today's northern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and eastern Iran.

East Asian Bronze Age

The Shang Dynasty and Sanxingdui of early China used bronze vessels for rituals as well as farming implements and weapons.

Aegean Bronze Age

The Aegean bronze age established a far-ranging trade network. The network imported tin and charcoal to Cyprus, where copper was mined and alloyed with the tin to produce bronze. Bronze objects were then exported far and wide, and supported the trade. Isotopic analysis of the tin in some Mediterranean bronze objects indicates it came from as far away as Britain.

Navigation was well developed at this time, and reached a peak of skill not exceeded until a method was discovered to determine longitude around 1750.

The Minoan empire appears to have coordinated and defended the bronze-age trade.

One crucial lack in this period was that modern methods of accounting were not used, or available. Numerous authorities believe that ancient empires were prone to misvalue staples in favor of luxuries, and perish by famines created by uneconomic trading.

How the Bronze age ended is still being studied. There is evidence that Mycenaean administration of the empire followed Minoan. There is evidence that several Minoan client-states lost large populations to extreme famines or pestilence, so the trade network is believed to have failed at some point, preventing the trade that would have previously relieved such famines and prevented some forms of illness (by nutrition). It is also known that the bread-basket of the Minoan empire, the area north of the Black Sea, lost population and probably some degree of cultivation in this era.

Recent research has discredited the theory that exhaustion of the Cypriot forests caused the end of the bronze trade. The Cypriot forests are known to have existed to later times, and experiments have shown that charcoal production on the scale necessary for the bronze production of the late bronze age would have exhausted them in less than fifty years.

One theory says that as iron tools became more common, the main justification of the tin trade ended, and the trade network ceased to exist. The individual colonies of the Minoan empire then met accidents of drought, famine or war, and had no access to the far-flung resources of an empire to recover.

Another family of theories looks to the volcanic explosion of Thera, which occurred shortly before the end of the bronze age. Thera is about 40 miles north of Crete, which was at the time the capital of the Minoan empire. Some authorities speculate that a tsunami from Thera destroyed Cretan cities. Others say that perhaps a tsunami destroyed the Cretan navy in harbor, which then lost crucial battles with the Mycenaean navy, so that a former colony took over the empire.

Another theory looks to the loss of Cretan expertise in administering the Empire. If this expertise was concentrated in Crete, and simply became discredited by military failure, the Mycenaeans may have made crucial political and commercial mistakes when administering the empire.

All of these theories are persuasive, and all may have operated to some extent.

British Bronze Age

In Britain, the Bronze Age is considered to have been the period from 2200 to 700 BC. Immigration brought new people to the islands from the continent. The Beaker people displayed different behaviours from the earlier Neolithic people and cultural change was significant although integration is thought to have been peaceful as many of the early henge sites were seemingly adopted by the newcomers. The rich Wessex culture developed in southern Britain at this time. Additionally, the climate was deteriorating, where once the weather was warm and dry it became much wetter as the Bronze Age continued, forcing the population away from easily-defended sites in the hills and into the fertile valleys. Large livestock ranches developed in the lowlands which appear to have contributed to economic growth and inspired increasing forest clearances. The Deverel-Rimbury culture began to emerge in the second half of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1400-1100 BC) to exploit these conditions. Cornwall was a major source of tin for much of western Europe and copper was extracted from sites such as the Great Orme mine in north Wales. Social groups appear to have been tribal but with growing complexity and hierarchies becoming apparent.

Also, the burial of dead (which until this period had usually been communal) became more individual. For example, whereas in the Neolithic a large chambered cairn or long barrow was used to house the dead, the Early Bronze Age saw people buried in individual barrows (also commonly known and marked on modern British Ordnance Survey maps as Tumuli), or sometimes in cists covered with cairns.

Central European Bronze Age

In central Europe, the early Bronze Age Unetice culture (1800-1600 BC) contains numerous local groups like Straubingen, Adlerberg and Hatvan culture. Some very rich burials like Leubingen with grave gifts made of gold point to a beginning socital stratification already in the Unetice culture. All in all, cemeteries of this period are rare and of small site. The Unetice culture is followed by the middle Bronze age (1600-1200 BC) tumulus culture characterised by inhumation burials in tumuli (barrows). In Eastern Hungary in the Koros tributaries, the early Bronze Age first saw the introduction of the Mako culture, followed by the Ottomany and Gyulavarsand cultures.

The late Bronze age urnfield culture, (1300 BC-700 BC) is characterized by cremation burial. It includes the Lusatian culture in eastern Germany and Poland ((1300-500 BC) that continues into the Iron Age. The central European Bronze Age is followed by the Iron Age Hallstatt culture (700-450 BC).

Important sites include:

Nordic Bronze Age

In Northern Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Bronze Age inhabitants manufactured many distinctive and beautiful artifacts, such as the pairs of lurer horns discovered in Denmark. Some linguists believe that a proto-Indo-European language was probably introduced to the area around 2000 BC and eventually became the ancestor of the Germanic languages. This would fit with the evolution of the Nordic Bronze Age into the most probably Germanic Pre-Roman Iron Age.

The age is divided into the periods I-IV according to Oscar Montelius. Period Montelius V already belongs to the Iron Age.

Three-age system: Stone Age | Bronze Age | Iron Age


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