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The Bronze Age is a historic period, lasting approximately from 3300 BC to 1200 BC, characterized by the use of bronze, the presence of writing in some areas, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the three-age system proposed in 1836 by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen for classifying and studying ancient societies and history. It is also considered the second phase, of three, in the Metal Ages.
An ancient civilization is deemed to be part of the Bronze Age because it either produced bronze by smelting its own copper and alloying it with tin, arsenic, or other metals, or traded other items for bronze from production areas elsewhere. Bronze is harder and more durable than the other metals available at the time, allowing Bronze Age civilizations to gain a technological advantage.
Bronze Age cultures differed in their
The Bronze Age is said to have ended with the Late Bronze Age collapse, a time of widespread societal collapse during the 12th century BC, between c. 1200 and 1150. The collapse affected a large area of the Eastern Mediterranean (North Africa and Southeast Europe) and the Near East, in particular Egypt, eastern Libya, the Balkans, the Aegean, Anatolia, and the Caucasus. It was sudden, violent, and culturally disruptive for many Bronze Age civilizations, and it brought a sharp economic decline to regional powers, notably ushering in the Greek Dark Ages.
The period is characterized by the widespread use of bronze, even if only by elites in its early years, though the introduction and development of bronze technology were not universally synchronous. Human-made tin bronze technology requires set production techniques. Tin must be mined (mainly as the tin ore cassiterite) and smelted separately, then added to hot copper to make bronze alloy. The Bronze Age was a time of extensive use of metals and of developing trade networks (See Tin sources and trade in ancient times). A 2013 report suggests that the earliest tin-alloy bronze was a foil dated to the mid-5th millennium BC from a Vinča culture site in Pločnik (Serbia), although this culture is not conventionally considered part of the Bronze Age. The dating of the foil has been disputed.
The following dates are approximate. For details, consult linked articles.
Near East Bronze Age divisions
- Early Bronze Age (EBA): 3300–2100 BC
- 3300–3000: EBA I
- 3000–2700: EBA II
- 2700–2200: EBA III
- 2200–2100: EBA IV
- Middle Bronze Age (MBA) or Intermediate Bronze Age (IBA): 2100–1550 BC
- 2100–2000: MBA I
- 2000–1750: MBA II A
- 1750–1650: MBA II B
- 1650–1550: MBA II C
- Late Bronze Age (LBA): 1550–1200 BC
- 1550–1400: LBA I
- 1400–1300: LBA II A
- 1300–1200: LBA II B (Bronze Age collapse)
Early Bronze dynasties
The Bronze Age in Nubia started as early as 2300 BC. Copper smelting was introduced by Egyptians to the Nubian city of Meroë, in modern-day Sudan, around 2600 BC. A furnace for bronze casting was found in Kerma that has been dated to 2300–1900 BC.
Middle Bronze dynasties
Late Bronze dynasties
The Oxus civilization was a Bronze Age Central Asian culture dated to c. 2300–1700 BC and centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus). In the Early Bronze Age, the culture of the Kopet Dag oases and Altyndepe developed a proto-urban society. This corresponds to level IV at Namazga-Tepe. Altyndepe was a major center even then. Pottery was wheel-turned. Grapes were grown. The height of this urban development was reached in the Middle Bronze Age c. 2300 BC, corresponding to level V at Namazga-Depe. This Bronze Age culture is called the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC).
In modern scholarship, the chronology of the Bronze Age Levant is divided into:
- Early/Proto Syrian; corresponding to the Early Bronze.
- Old Syrian; corresponding to the Middle Bronze.
- Middle Syrian; corresponding to the Late Bronze.
The old Syrian period was dominated by the
The earliest-known contact of
Mitanni was a loosely organized state in northern Syria and south-east Anatolia from c. 1500–1300 BC. Founded by an [[Indo-Aryan peoples[Indo-Aryan]] ruling class that governed a predominantly Hurrian population, Mitanni came to be a regional power after the Hittite destruction of Kassite Babylon created a power vacuum in Mesopotamia. At its beginning, Mitanni's major rival was Egypt under the Thutmosids. However, with the ascent of the Hittite empire, Mitanni and Egypt allied to protect their mutual interests from the threat of Hittite domination. At the height of its power, during the 14th century BC, it had outposts centered on its capital, Washukanni, which archaeologists have located on the headwaters of the Khabur River. Eventually, Mitanni succumbed to Hittite, and later Assyrian attacks, and was reduced to a province of the Middle Assyrian Empire.
The Israelites were an ancient Semitic-speaking people of the Ancient Near East who inhabited part of Canaan during the tribal and monarchic periods (15th to 6th centuries BC), and lived in the region in smaller numbers after the fall of the monarchy. The name "Israel" first appears c. 1209 BC, at the end of the Late Bronze Age and the very beginning of the Iron Age, on the Merneptah Stele raised by the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah.
The Arameans were a Northwest Semitic semi-nomadic and pastoralist people who originated in what is now modern Syria (Biblical Aram) during the Late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age. Large groups migrated to Mesopotamia, where they intermingled with the native Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian) population. The Aramaeans never had a unified empire; they were divided into independent kingdoms all across the Near East. After the Bronze Age collapse, their political influence was confined to many Syro-Hittite states, which were entirely absorbed into the Neo-Assyrian Empire by the 8th century BC.
For many decades scholars made superficial reference to Central Asia as the "pastoral realm" or alternatively, the "nomadic world", in what researchers have come to call the "Central Asian void": a 5,000 year span that was neglected in studies of the origins of agriculture. Foothill regions and glacial melt streams supported Bronze Age agropastoralists who developed complex east–west trade routes between Central Asia and China that introduced wheat and barley to China and spread millet across Central Asia.
Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex
A wealth of information indicates that the BMAC had close international relations with the Indus Valley, the Iranian Plateau, and possibly even indirectly with Mesopotamia, and all civilizations were very familiar with lost wax casting.
According to recent studies, the BMAC was not a primary contributor to later South-Asian genetics.
The term "Bronze Age" has been transferred to the archaeology of China from that of Western Eurasia, and there is no consensus or universally used convention delimiting the "Bronze Age" in the context of
There is reason to believe that bronze work developed inside China apart from outside influence.
The production of Erlitou in Henan represents the earliest large-scale metallurgy industry in the Central Plains of China. The influence of the Saima-Turbino metalworking tradition from the north is supported by a series of recent discoveries in China of many unique perforated spearheads with downward hooks and small loops on the same or opposite side of the socket, which could be associated with the Seima-Turbino visual vocabulary of southern Siberia. The metallurgical centers of northwestern China, especially Qijia in Gansu and Kexingzhuang culture in Shaanxi, played an intermediary role in this process.
Iron has been found from the Zhou dynasty, but its use was minimal. Chinese literature dating to the 6th century BC attests knowledge of iron smelting, yet bronze continues to occupy the seat of significance in the archaeological and historical record for some time after this. Historian W.C. White argues that iron did not supplant bronze "at any period before the end of the Zhou dynasty (256 BC)" and that bronze vessels make up the majority of metal vessels through the Later Han period, or to 221 BC [sic?].
The Chinese bronze artifacts generally are either utilitarian, like spear points or
The bronzes of the Western Zhou dynasty document large portions of history not found in the extant texts that were often composed by persons of varying rank and possibly even social class. Further, the medium of cast bronze lends the record they preserve a permanence not enjoyed by manuscripts. These inscriptions can commonly be subdivided into four parts: a reference to the date and place, the naming of the event commemorated, the list of gifts given to the artisan in exchange for the bronze, and a dedication. The relative points of reference these vessels provide have enabled historians to place most of the vessels within a certain time frame of the Western Zhou period, allowing them to trace the evolution of the vessels and the events they record.
The beginning of the Bronze Age on the peninsula is around 1000–800 BC. Initially centered around Liaoning and southern Manchuria, Korean Bronze Age culture exhibits unique typology and styles, especially in ritual objects.
The Mumun pottery period is named after the Korean name for undecorated or plain cooking and storage vessels that form a large part of the pottery assemblage over the entire length of the period, but especially 850–550 BC. The Mumun period is known for the origins of intensive agriculture and complex societies in both the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago.
The Middle Mumun pottery period culture of the southern
The Japanese archipelago saw the introduction of bronze during the beginning of the Early Yayoi period (≈300 BC), which saw the introduction of metalworking and agricultural practices brought in by settlers arriving from the continent. Bronze and iron smelting techniques spread to the Japanese archipelago through contact with other ancient East Asian civilizations, particularly immigration and trade from the ancient Korean peninsula, and ancient mainland China. Iron was mainly used for agricultural and other tools, whereas ritual and ceremonial artifacts were mainly made of bronze.[clarification needed]
(Dates are approximate, consult linked articles for details)
The Bronze Age on the
The civilization's cities were noted for their urban planning, baked brick houses, elaborate drainage systems, water supply systems, clusters of large non-residential buildings, and new techniques in handicraft (carnelian products, seal carving) and metallurgy (copper, bronze, lead, and tin). The large cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa very likely grew to contain between 30,000 and 60,000 individuals, and the civilization itself during its florescence may have contained between one and five million individuals.
Ban Chiang, however, is the most thoroughly documented site and has the clearest evidence of metallurgy when it comes to Southeast Asia. With a rough date range of the late 3rd millennium BC to the first millennium AD, this site alone has various artifacts such as burial pottery (dating from 2100 to 1700 BC), fragments of bronze and copper-base bangles. This technology suggested on-site casting from the very beginning. The on-site casting supports the theory that bronze was when first introduced in Southeast Asia, and so bronze came from a different country.
Dating back to the
Archaeological research in Northern Vietnam indicates an increase in rates of infectious disease following the advent of metallurgy; skeletal fragments in sites dating to the early and mid-Bronze Age evidence a greater proportion of lesions than in sites of earlier periods. There are a few possible implications of this. One is the increased contact with bacterial and/or fungal pathogens due to increased population density and land clearing/cultivation. The other one is decreased levels of immunocompetence in the Metal age due to changes in diet caused by agriculture. The last is that there may have been an emergence of infectious disease that evolved into a more virulent form in the metal period.
A few examples of named Bronze Age cultures in Europe in roughly relative order. (Dates are approximate, consult linked articles for details)
- The chosen cultures overlapped in time and the indicated periods do not fully correspond to their estimated extents.
Radivojevic et al. (2013) reported the discovery of a tin bronze foil from the Pločnik archaeological site securely dated to c. 4650 BC as well as 14 other artifacts from Serbia and Bulgaria dated to before 4000 BC, showing that early tin bronze was more common than previously thought and developed independently in Europe 1500 years before the first tin bronze alloys in the Near East. The production of complex tin bronzes lasted for c. 500 years in the Balkans. The authors reported that evidence for the production of such complex bronzes disappears at the end of the 5th millennium, coinciding with the "collapse of large cultural complexes in north-eastern Bulgaria and Thrace in the late fifth millennium BC". Tin bronzes using cassiterite tin were reintroduced to the area some 1500 years later.
The Dabene Treasure was unearthed from 2004 to 2007 near Karlovo, Plovdiv Province, central Bulgaria. The whole treasure consists of 20,000 gold jewelry items from 18 to 23 carats. The most important of them was a dagger made of gold and platinum with an unusual edge. The treasure was dated to the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. Scientists suggest that the Karlovo valley used to be a major crafts center that exported golden jewelry all over Europe. It is considered one of the largest prehistoric golden treasures in the world.
The Aegean Bronze Age began around 3200 BC, when civilizations first established a far-ranging
Knowledge of navigation was well-developed by this time and reached a peak of skill not exceeded (except perhaps by Polynesian sailors) until 1730 when the invention of the chronometer enabled the precise determination of longitude.
Bronze Age collapse theories have described aspects of the end of the Bronze Age in this region. At the end of the Bronze Age in the Aegean region, the
The Aegean collapse has been attributed to the exhaustion of the Cypriot forests causing the end of the bronze trade. These forests are known to have existed in 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.
The Aegean collapse has also been attributed to the fact that as iron tools became more common, the main justification for the tin trade ended, and that trade network ceased to function as it did formerly. The colonies of the Minoan empire then suffered drought, famine, war, or some combination of the three, and had no access to the distant resources of an empire by which they could easily recover.
Archaeological findings, including some on the island of Thera, suggest that the center of the Minoan civilization at the time of the eruption was actually on Thera rather than on Crete. According to this theory, the catastrophic loss of the political, administrative and economic center due to the eruption, as well as the damage wrought by the tsunami to the coastal towns and villages of Crete precipitated the decline of the Minoans. A weakened political entity with a reduced economic and military capability and fabled riches would have then been more vulnerable to conquest. Indeed, the Santorini eruption is usually dated to c. 1630 BC, while the Mycenaean Greeks first enter the historical record a few decades later, c. 1600 BC. The later Mycenaean assaults on Crete (c. 1450 BC) and Troy (c. 1250 BC) would have been a continuation of the steady encroachment of the Greeks upon the weakened Minoan world.
The late Bronze Age
German prehistorian Paul Reinecke described Bronze A1 (Bz A1) period (2300–2000 BC: triangular daggers, flat axes, stone wrist-guards, flint arrowheads) and Bronze A2 (Bz A2) period (1950–1700 BC: daggers with metal hilt, flanged axes, halberds, pins with perforated spherical heads, solid bracelets) and phases Hallstatt A and B (Ha A and B).
Located in Sardinia and Corsica, the Nuragic civilization lasted from the early Bronze Age (18th century BC) to the 2nd century AD, when the islands were already Romanized. They take their name from the characteristic Nuragic towers, which evolved from the pre-existing megalithic culture, which built dolmens and menhirs.
The towers are unanimously considered the best-preserved and largest megalithic remains in Europe. Their purpose is still debated: some scholars consider them monumental tombs, others as Houses of the Giants, other as fortresses, ovens for metal fusion, prisons, or, finally, temples for a solar cult. Around the end of the 3rd millennium BC, Sardinia exported to Sicily a culture that built small dolmens, trilithic or polygonal shaped, that served as tombs, as in the Sicilian dolmen of "Cava dei Servi". From this region, they reached Malta and other countries of Mediterranean basin.
The Castellieri culture developed in Istria during the Middle Bronze Age. It lasted for more than a millennium, from the 15th century BC until the Roman conquest in the 3rd century BC. It takes its name from the fortified boroughs (Castellieri, Friulian: cjastelir) that characterized the culture.
The burials, which until this period had usually been communal, became more individual. For example, whereas in the Neolithic a large chambered cairn or long barrow housed the dead, Early Bronze Age people buried their dead in individual barrows (commonly known and marked on modern British Ordnance Survey maps as tumuli), or sometimes in cists covered with cairns.
The greatest quantities of bronze objects in England were discovered in East Cambridgeshire, with the most important finds recovered in Isleham (more than 6500 pieces).
Alloying of copper with zinc or tin to make brass or bronze was practiced soon after the discovery of copper itself. One copper mine at Great Orme in North Wales, reached a depth of 70 meters.
Atlantic Bronze Age
The Atlantic Bronze Age is a cultural complex of the period of approximately 1300–700 BC that includes different cultures in Portugal, Andalusia, Galicia, Britain and Ireland. It is marked by economic and cultural exchange. Commercial contacts extend to Denmark and the Mediterranean. The Atlantic Bronze Age was defined by many distinct regional centers of metal production, unified by a regular maritime exchange of products.
The Bronze Age in Ireland commenced around 2000 BC when copper was alloyed with tin and used to manufacture Ballybeg type flat axes and associated metalwork. The preceding period is known as the
One of the characteristic types of artifact of the Early Bronze Age in Ireland is the flat axe. There are five main types of flat axes: Lough Ravel crannog (c. 2200 BC), Ballybeg (c. 2000 BC), Killaha (c. 2000 BC), Ballyvalley (c. 2000–1600 BC), Derryniggin (c. 1600 BC), and a number of metal ingots in the shape of axes.
The Bronze Age in Northern Europe spans the entire
Even though Northern European Bronze Age cultures came relatively late, and came into existence via trade, sites present rich and well-preserved objects made of wool, wood and imported Central European bronze and gold. Many rock carvings depict ships, and the large stone burial monuments known as stone ships suggest that shipping played an important role. Thousands of rock carvings depict ships, most probably representing sewn plank-built canoes for warfare, fishing, and trade. These may have a history as far back as the neolithic period and continue into the Pre-Roman Iron Age, as shown by the Hjortspring boat. There are many mounds and rock carving sites from the period. Numerous artifacts of bronze and gold are found. No written language existed in the Nordic countries during the Bronze Age. The rock carvings have been dated through comparison with depicted artifacts.
The Yamnaya culture (c.3300–2600 BC) was a Late Copper Age/Early Bronze Age culture of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and is associated with early Indo-Europeans. It was followed on the steppe by the Catacomb culture (c. 2800–2200 BC) and the Poltavka culture (c.2800–2200 BC). The closely-related Corded Ware culture in the forest-steppe region to the north (c. 3000–2350 BC) spread eastwards with the Fatyanovo culture (c.2900–2050 BC), which subsequently developed into the Abashevo culture (c.2200–1850 BC) and the Sintashta culture (c. 2200–1750 BC). The earliest known chariots have been found in Sintashta burials and there is earlier evidence for chariot use in the Abashevo culture. The Sintashta culture expanded further eastwards into central Asia becoming the Andronovo culture, whilst the Srubnaya culture (c.1900–1200 BC) continued the use of chariots in eastern Europe.
Arsenical bronze artifacts of the Maykop culture in the North Caucasus have been dated to around the 4th millennium BC. This innovation resulted in the circulation of arsenical bronze technology through southern and eastern Europe.
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Iron and copper smelting appeared around the same time in most parts of Africa.
There is a longstanding debate about whether both copper and iron metallurgy were independently developed in sub-Saharan Africa or introduced from the outside across the
Copper smelting took place in West Africa prior to the appearance of iron smelting in the region. Evidence for copper smelting furnaces was found near Agadez, Niger that has been dated as early as 2200 BC. However, evidence for copper production in this region before 1000 BC is debated. Evidence of copper mining and smelting has been found at Akjoujt, Mauretania that suggests small scale production c. 800 to 400 BC.
Trade and industry played a major role in the development of the ancient Bronze Age civilizations. With artifacts of the Indus Valley civilization found in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, it is clear that these civilizations were not only in touch with one another, but also trading. Early long-distance trade was limited almost exclusively to luxury goods like spices, textiles, and precious metals. Not only did this make cities with ample amounts of these products extremely rich, but it also led to an intermingling of cultures for the first time in history.
Trade routes were also over water. The first and most extensive trade routes were along rivers such as the
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|Library resources about |
- Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). 1911. .
- Links to the Bronze Age in Europe and beyond Commented web index, geographically structured (private website)
- Bronze Age Experimental Archeology and Museum Reproductions
- Umha Aois – Reconstructed Bronze Age metal casting
- Umha Aois – ancient bronze casting videoclip
- "Галичский клад" [Ancient bronze idol 13 Cent B.C.] (in Russian). Northern Russia. Archived from the original on 4 October 2010. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
- Aegean and Balkan Prehistory articles, site-reports and bibliography database concerning the Aegean, Balkans and Western Anatolia
- "The Transmission of Early Bronze Technology to Thailand: New Perspectives"
- Human Timeline (Interactive) – Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History (August 2016).