The Bronze Age

Explains what the term Bronze Age refers to, when it occurred, and what its significance is to the development of civilization.

The Bronze Age refers to a period of time in earth's history, beginning approximately 3800BC - 3000BC, during which certain cultural developments occurred. Preceded by the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic (New Stone Age) periods and followed by the Iron Age, the Bronze Age is noted as an era when copper and bronze, which is an alloy derived from copper and tin, was used extensively to make tools, weapons, and other decorative items. Additionally, because of the rapid use of the tools made during this time period, commerce and trade grew tremendously. This is because workers were needed to remove the precious ore, tradesmen were needed to smelt the materials mined, craftsmen were needed to develop molds for the smelted ore, and artisans were needed to finalize the tools and decorative goods produced. Another influential development that occurred to civilization during this time was the invention of the horse-drawn, two-wheeled chariot. Aided by the advancement in more sophisticated tooling techniques, the introduction of this type of chariot helped to advance military strategies. This is because the new chariot was an extremely mobile, yet strong, wagon that could out maneuver the previous carts used in warfare up until this time.

In regard to the actual term, "Bronze Age", it was coined by Christian Thomsen in 1816. Thomsen was a Danish museum curator who used this term as part of a museum classification scheme to describe items excavated from the earth during a certain era. Later on, however, scientists, specifically geologists, decided to use Thompson's term to categorize rock layers that developed during different geological time frames. Once in use by scientists, the general public came to accept, and to use, the term as well.

Although the Bronze Age can be traced to many different parts of the world, including throughout the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Sumer, Indus, China, the Aegean (the Minoans and Mycenaeans) and Britain, it did not reach the cultures of ancient Africa, nor did it obtain great heights in the pre-Columbian civilizations within the Americas (the Aztecs and Incas). However, where it did influence tooling technologies it was usually preceded by a period where crafting with copper was used first. The exception to this was in China and Britain where the transition from the New Stone Age to Bronze Age did not include a copper stage. This was indicated by the lack of copper items in these areas and the direct replacement of existing stone-made tools and decorative items by their bronze tooled counterparts.

As early as 3800BC, bronze was being used to make tools and implements. This was discovered in Iran where archaeologists found items that indicated a mix of copper and other metals were being combined to produce a bronze substance. However, this ancient production was more likely accidental than predetermined, with the result both surprising and pleasing its ancient producer. For, after that initial accident, early civilizations began to experiment with smelting processes in order to produce a purer bronze. It was at this point in time that the Bronze Age entered a new phase.

While copper and bronze items were used concurrently during the Bronze Age, once people learned how to produce bronze properly, the reason that they worked with it more extensively, or made a direct transition to using bronze solely, was because bronze was more durable than copper and could be reworked simply should a bronze piece become damaged or destroyed. Bronze tools including knives, axes, and other cutting instruments could also be sharpened more easily than those made from copper, thus reducing the time required for workers to perform their jobs. Because workers had better tools and could work faster, the creation of larger building structures and the development of urban areas also grew during this time period. Having tools that could expedite a work process encouraged people to build more and thus, civilization flourished during this era.

During the Bronze Age many artists were encouraged to produce works that were both functional as well as artistic. Because of this, owning elaborate bronze decorative items helped to establish status during this time period. For example, many members of the upper class of Mesopotamia were often buried with their personal bronze crafted items. Meanwhile, in Europe, the hand works of the Uneticians were prevalent. These people comprised a farming and metalworking community in what is now the Czech Republic. They were skilled crafts people who helped spread the advancement of art, culture, and metal works into the Central European region.

The end of the Bronze Age occurred with the advent of another metal, iron. Introduced in the ancient Near East, iron quickly became a popular replacement for bronze. And, once iron was used, it became the primary metal of choice for the creation of tools, weapons, and other household items. Thus, the Bronze Age dissipated, as had other previous eras, with civilization moving on to use newer and more advanced technologies.

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