Iron Age

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Iron Age Axe found on Gotland

In archaeology, the Iron Age is the stage in the development of any people where the use of iron implements as tools and weapons is preeminent. The adoption of this new material coincided with other changes in past societies often including differing agricultural practices, religious beliefs and artistic styles.

The Iron Age is the last principal period in the three-age system for classifying pre-historic societies and its meaning varies depending on the country or geographical region. This variation even occurs within Europe where the Iron Age distinction was first identified; the Nordic Iron Age and Roman Iron Age are examples. The Iron Age was preceded by the Copper Age and later the Bronze Age in Europe and Asia whilst in the rest of the world it was adopted directly after one or other sub-phases of the Stone Age.

For each individual region, the period is very hard to state in years, but the Iron Age corresponds to the stage at which iron production was the most sophisticated form of metalworking. Iron's hardness, high melting point and the abundance of iron ore sources made iron more desirable and "cheaper" than bronze and contributed greatly to its adoption as the most commonly used metal. The arrival of iron use in various areas is listed below, broadly in chronological order.


The Iron Age

The first signs of iron use come from Ancient Egypt and Sumer, where around 4000 BC small items, such as the tips of spears and ornaments, were being fashioned from iron recovered from meteorites (see Iron: History). By 3000 BC to 2000 BC increasing numbers of smelted iron objects (distinguishable from meteoric iron by the lack of nickel in the product) appear in Anatolia, Egypt and Mesopotamia. However, their use appears to be ceremonial, and iron was an expensive metal, more expensive than gold. Some sources suggest that iron was being created then as a by-product of copper refining, as sponge iron, and was not reproducible by the metallurgy of the time. By 1600 BC to 1200 BC, iron was used increasingly in the Middle East but did not supplant the dominant use of bronze.

The Iron Age in Africa and India

The earliest known production of steel occurred around 1400 BC in East Africa (Washington State University ( where steel was being produced in carbon furnaces. The Egyptian ruler Tutankhamun died in 1323 BC and was buried with an iron dagger with a golden hilt. Also an Egyptian sword bearing the name of pharaoh Merneptah and a battle axe with an iron blade and gold-decorated bronze haft were both found in the excavation of Ugarit (see Ugarit: History and Steel: History of iron and steelmaking), dating to circa 1200 BC.

There are further indications of iron smelting and working in West Africa in 500 BC (see smelting). Iron and copper working then continued to spread southward through the continent, reaching the Cape around 200AD. The widespread use of iron revolutionised the Bantu farming communities who adopted it, driving out the stone tool using hunter-gatherer societies they encountered as they expanded to farm wider areas of savannah. The technologically superior Bantu spread across southern Africa and became rich and powerful, producing iron for tools and weapons in large, industrial quantities.

Perhaps as early as 300 BC, although certainly by AD 200, high quality steel was being produced in southern India by what Europeans would later call the crucible technique. In this system, high-purity wrought iron, charcoal, and glass were mixed in crucibles and heated until the iron melted and absorbed the carbon. The resulting high-carbon steel, called pulad in Arabic and wootz by later Europeans, was exported throughout much of Asia.

The Iron Age in Asia

Near East

The Iron Age in Asia is believed to have begun with the discovery of iron smelting and smithing techniques in Anatolia or the Caucasus in the late 2nd millennium BC (circa 1300 BC). From here it spread rapidly throughout the Near East as iron weapons replaced bronze weapons by the early 1st millennium BC. Because the area in which iron technology first developed was near the Aegean, where Asia meets Europe, the technology propagated equally early into both Asia and Europe. The Sea Peoples and the related Philistines are often associated with the introduction of iron technology into Asia, as are the Dorians with respect to Greece. It ought also be noted that the Assyrian Empire had trade contacts with the area in which iron technology was first developed at the time that it was developing.

East Asia

Cast-iron artifacts are found in China that date as early as the Zhou dynasty of the 6th century BC. An Iron Age culture of the Tibetan Plateau has tentatively been associated with the Zhang Zhung culture described in early Tibetan writings.In 1972, near le city of Gaocheng(藁城) where now is in Hebei province, a iron-bladed bronze tomahawk(铁刃青铜钺)dating back to 14th century BC was excavated.After the scientific examination, this kind of iron came from aerosiderite .

The European Iron Age

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Bronze figurine, found at ֬and

Iron working was introduced to Europe around 1000 BC, probably from Asia Minor and slowly spread westwards over the succeeding 500 years. In the Netherlands, a starting date from about 800 BC is generally accepted. The Romans introduced writing and therefore ended the prehistoric Dutch Iron Age around 50 AD.

Eastern Europe

The early 1st millennium BC marks the Iron Age in Eastern Europe. In the steppes north of the Black Sea and Azov Sea, as in the other steppe areas of Eurasia, the Iron Age corresponded with the transition of the Eastern European inhabitants from sedentary, pastoral agrarian people to nomadic, animal breeding tribes. In Poland, the Lusatian culture covers both the late Bronze and early Iron Age. It is followed in some areas by the Pomeranian culture. The ethnic ascriptions of many Iron age cultures has been bitterly contested, as the roots of Germanii and Slavs were sought in this area.

Central Europe

In Central Europe, the Iron Age is generally divided in the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture (HaC and D, 800-450) and the late Iron Age La T讥 culture (beginning in 450 BC). The Iron age ends with the Roman Conquest.

British Isles

For a fuller discussion see the British Iron Age article. In Britain, the Iron Age lasted from about the 5th century BC until the Roman conquest and until the 5th century AD in non-Romanised parts. Defensive structures dating from this time are often impressive, for example the brochs of northern Scotland and the hill forts that dotted the rest of the islands.

Northern Scandinavia and Finland

Scandinavia (including Finland) and Northern Balticum shows a small-scaled iron producing very early, but a further dating is currently impossible. The time varies from 3000 BC-1000 AD. This knowledge is associated to the non-Germanic part of Scandinavia. Metalworking and Asbestos-Ceramic pottery are somewhat synonymous in Scandinavia due to the latter's capability to resist and preserve heat. The iron ore used is believed to have been iron sand (such as red soil), because its high phosphorus content can be identified in slag. Together with asbestos ware axes belonging to the Ananjino Culture are sometimes found. The Asbestos-Ceramic remains a mystery, because there are other adiabatic vessels with unknown usage.

Northern Germany and Southern Scandinavia

The Iron Age is divided into the Pre-Roman Iron Age and the Roman Iron Age. This is followed by the migration period. Northern Germany and Denmark was dominated by the Jastorf culture, whereas the culture of the southern half of the Scandinavia was dominated by the very similar Nordic Iron Age.

The Iron Age elsewhere

In the Americas and Australasia iron working was introduced in the historical period by European colonists.

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

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