Bronze Age

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Related to Bronze Age: iron age, Copper Age

Bronze Age,

period in the development of technology when metals were first used regularly in the manufacture of tools and weapons. Pure copper and bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, were used indiscriminately at first; this early period is sometimes called the Copper Age. The earliest use of cast metal can be deduced from clay models of weapons; castingcasting
or founding,
shaping of metal by melting and pouring into a mold. Most castings, especially large ones, are made in sand molds. Sand, mixed with a binder to hold it together, is pressed around a wooden pattern that leaves a cavity in the sand.
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 was certainly established in the Middle East by 3500 B.C. Following the Neolithic periodNeolithic period
or New Stone Age.
The term neolithic is used, especially in archaeology and anthropology, to designate a stage of cultural evolution or technological development characterized by the use of stone tools, the existence of settled villages largely
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, the development of a metallurgical industry coincided with the rise of urbanization. The organized operations of mining, smelting, and casting undoubtedly required the specialization of labor and the production of surplus food to support a class of artisans, while the search for raw materials stimulated the exploration and colonization of new territories. This process culminated in the civilizations of MesopotamiaMesopotamia
[Gr.,=between rivers], ancient region of Asia, the territory about the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, included in modern Iraq. The region extends from the Persian Gulf north to the mountains of Armenia and from the Zagros and Kurdish mountains on the east to the Syrian
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 and SumerSumer
and Sumerian civilization
. The term Sumer is used today to designate the southern part of ancient Mesopotamia. From the earliest date of which there is any record, S Mesopotamia was occupied by a people, known as Sumerians, speaking a non-Semitic language.
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. Later, the Minoan civilizationMinoan civilization
, ancient Cretan culture representing a stage in the development of the Aegean civilization. It was named for the legendary King Minos of Crete by Sir Arthur Evans, the English archaeologist who conducted excavations there in the early 20th cent.
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 and the Mycenaean civilizationMycenaean civilization
, an ancient Aegean civilization known from the excavations at Mycenae and other sites. They were first undertaken by Heinrich Schliemann and others after 1876, and they helped to revise the early history of Greece. Divided into Early Helladic (c.
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 opened extensive trade routes in central Europe, where tin and copper were mined. This activity fostered native industries and political unification, especially in Hungary, Austria, and the Alpine region. It laid the foundations of the Iron AgeIron Age,
period in the development of industry that begins with the general use of iron and continues into modern times. In Asia, Egypt, and Europe it was preceded by the Bronze Age. It did not begin in the Americas until the coming of the Europeans.
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 civilization, which was to follow under Greek, Etruscan, and Scythian influences. In the New World the earliest bronze was cast in Bolivia c.A.D. 1100. The IncaInca
, pre-Columbian empire, W South America. The name Inca may specifically refer to the emperor, but is generally used to mean the empire or the people. Extent and Organization of the Empire
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 civilization used bronze tools and weapons but never mastered iron.


See V. G. Childe, The Prehistory of European Society (1958, repr. 1962); J. W. Alsop, From the Silent Earth (1964); G. Clark, World Prehistory: An Outline (2d ed. 1969); A. H. Jones, Bronze Age Civilization (1975); B. Fell, Bronze-Age America (1982).

Bronze Age

A period of human culture between the Stone Age and the Iron Age (4000–3000 B.C.), characterized by the use of bronze implements and weapons.

Bronze Age


a historical and cultural period characterized by the spread throughout the most advanced cultural centers of the working of bronze and its use as the chief ingredient in the production of tools and weapons.

Elsewhere at the same time either the Neolithic culture was developing or the use of metal was being mastered. The approximate chronological boundaries of the Bronze Age are the end of the fourth millennium and the beginning of the first millennium B.C. Bronze (an alloy of copper and other metals such as lead, tin, and arsenic) differs from copper in its lower melting point (700-900° C), better foundry qualities, and greater strength; this fact contributed to its diffusion. The Bronze Age was preceded by the Copper Age (also termed the Chalcolithic or the Aeneolithic), a period which saw the transition from stone to metal. (Metal objects have been found that date from 7000 B.C.)

The oldest bronze tools have been found in southern Iran, Turkey, and Mesopotamia, and belong to the fouth millennium B.C. They later spread through Egypt (from the end of the fourth millennium B.C.), India (the end of the third millenium B.C.), China (from the middle of the second millennium B.C.), and Europe (from the second millennium B.C.). In America the Bronze Age had an independent development; there, the metal-working centers were in present-day Peru and Bolivia (the so-called Late Tiahuanaco culture, 600-1000 A.D.). The question of the Bronze Age in Africa has not been settled yet because of an insufficiency of archaeological research, but the emergence there no later than the first millennium B.C. of a number of independent centers for the production of bronze is considered certain. The art of casting bronze flourished in Africa from the 11th to the 17th centuries in the countries along the Guinea coast.

The unevenness of historical development characteristic of earlier periods is particularly evident in the Bronze Age. It was during this age that early class societies and states were taking shape in progressive centers (in the Middle East) that had developed economies based on the production of goods and services. This sort of economy spread beyond these centers into a number of large areas (for example, the land along the eastern Mediterranean) and facilitated rapid economic progress, the formation of large ethnic communities, and the disintegration of the clan system. At the same time the old neolithic way of life of the archaic hunting and fishing cultures continued in many areas that were far removed from the centers of progress. But metal tools and weapons began to penetrate into these areas as well and influenced to a certain extent the general development of the peoples of these regions. The establishment of strong trade relations, especially between the areas in which there were metal deposits (that is, between the Caucasus and Eastern Europe) played a major role in accelerating the speed of the economic and social development of outlying areas. Of special significance for Europe was the so-called Amber Route, along which amber was transported from the Baltic regions to the south and arms, ornaments, and so forth made their way to the north.

In Asia the Bronze Age was a time of the further development of previously existing urban civilizations (Mesopotamia, Elam, Egypt, and Syria) and of the formation of new urban civilizations (Harappa in India; Yin China). Outside this region of the most ancient class societies and states, cultures were developing that made use of metal objects, including bronze ones, and the disintegration of the primitive system accelerated (in Iran and Afghanistan).

A similar situation can be found in Europe during the Bronze Age. In Crete (Cnossus, Phaestus, and elsewhere), the Bronze Age at the end of the third and during the second millennia B.C. was a period that saw the formation of an early class society. This is attested by the ruins of cities and palaces and the appearance there of literacy (between the 21st and the 13th centuries B.C.). On the Greek mainland an analogous process took place somewhat later, but there, too, from the 16th to 13th centuries B.C., an early class society was already in existence. Evidence of this comes from the royal palaces in Tiryns, Mycenae, and Pylos, from the royal tombs in Mycenae, and from the oldest Greek writing system, the Achaeans’ Linear B. During the Bronze Age the Aegean world was a distinct cultural center in Europe, within which there were a number of agricultural and herding cultures that had not yet developed beyond the primitive stage. But within these cultures communal goods were being accumulated, and social and economic differentiation had begun. Evidence of this comes from various finds of stored community collections of bronze and jewelry collections of the tribal nobility.

In the countries of the Danube River basin the Bronze Age was apparently the period of transition to a patriarchal and tribal social system. Archaeological cultures from the early Bronze Age (the end of the third millennium B.C. to the beginning of the second millennium B.C.) mostly show a continuation of local Aeneolithic cultures, all of which were basically agricultural. In the beginning of the second millennium B.C. the so-called Unětician culture spread through Central Europe. This was a culture distinguished by its highly skillful casting of bronze objects. It was succeeded in the 15th to 13th centuries B.C. by the burial mound culture. In the latter half of the second millennium B.C. the Lužicka culture arose; some of its local variants appeared in an area even larger than that affected by the Unětician culture. Characteristic of this culture in most regions was a special sort of burial ground and funerary ashes. In Central and Northern Europe at the end of the third millennium B.C. and in the first half of the second millennium B.C., cultures characterized by the use of bored stone battle-axes and by the lacy ornamentation of ceramics were widespread and occurred in several closely related local variants. From the beginning of the second millennium B.C., artifacts of a culture of bell-shaped goblets appear dispersed throughout a large area (from present-day Spain to Poland, the Transcarpathian region, and Hungary). The people to whom these artifacts belonged migrated from the west to the east among the local tribes.

In regard to the Bronze Age in Italy, artifacts of the late stage of the Remedello culture should be noted. From the middle of the second millennium B.C. the so-called terramares appeared in northern Italy, perhaps under the influence of Swiss settlements of lake dwellers. These terramares were settlements of buildings supported by piles; they were constructed not on lake shores but in damp alluvial sections of river valleys (especially that of the Po River). The Bronze Age in present-day France was a period of agricultural settlements whose inhabitants left a large number of burial mounds with elaborate grave markers often of the megalithic type. In northern France and along the shores of the North Sea megalithic structures—that is, dolmens, menhirs, and cromlechs—continued to be built. One cromlech is especially noteworthy, the Stonehenge sun temple in England, whose earliest structures date from 1900 B.C. The appearance of a highly developed culture in southern Spain at the end of the third millennium B.C. was also linked to the development of metalworking. Large settlements grew up there that were enclosed by walls and towers.

As in Western Europe, tribes in the present-day USSR were developing within the limitations of the primitive system. The highest level of culture was attained by the non-nomadic and agricultural tribes of southwestern Middle Asia. In the beginning of the second millennium B.C. a proto-urban civilization of the ancient Eastern type grew up there that revealed ties with the cultures of Iran and Harappa. (Namazga-Tepe V.) But of even greater significance at this time was the Causasus, with its rich supplies of ore. The Caucasus was one of the major metallurgical centers of Eurasia, and between the third and the second millennia B.C. it was supplying the steppe regions of Eastern Europe with copper artifacts. In the third millennium B.C. the Transcaucasian area saw the spread of non-nomadic farming and herding societies, representing the so-called Kura-Araks culture, which exhibited a number of characteristics of the ancient bronze cultures of Asia Minor. From the middle of the third millennium B.C. to the end of the second millennium B.C., herding cultures flourished in the northern Caucasus; the leaders of the tribes there had rich graves (Maikop culture, northern Caucasian culture). In the Transcaucasus there was a unique culture that produced decorated pottery, the Trial et culture of the 18th to 15th centuries B.C. In the second millennium B.C., the Trancaucasus was the center of a highly developed bronze metalworking that was similar to the work of the Hittites in Assyria. In the northern Caucasus at this time, a northern Caucasian culture was spreading and developing in conjunction with catacomb culture; in the western Caucasus, there was a dolmen culture. From the latter half of the second millennium B.C. to the beginning of the first millennium B.C. new cultures exhibiting a high level of metalworking were evolving from the preexisting cultures of the Middle Bronze Age. In Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan this was the Central Transcaucasian archeological culture; in western Georgia, the Kolkhid culture; in the central Caucasus, the Koban culture; in the northwest, the Kuban region culture; and in Dagestan and Chechen, the Kaiakent-khorochoevsk culture.

In the steppe regions of the European USSR there were, at the beginning of the second millennium B.C., movements of catacomb culture tribes who were familiar with herding, agriculture, and the casting of bronze. At the same time tribes of the ancient pit culture continued to exist. The progress of the latter and the development of metalworking centers in the Ural region were aided in the middle of the second millennium B.C. by the establishment in the Transvolga region of a cutting culture. Well-armed with protruding-heel bronze axes, spears, and daggers and already familiar with horseback riding, tribes of this culture were dispersed through the steppes and penetrated as far north as the present cities of Murom, Penza, Ulianovsk, and Buguruslan, as well as east to the Ural River. Archaeologists have found extremely rich caches of work done by master casters that included half-finished and cast bronze objects; they have also found caches containing artifacts of precious metals that were the property of the tribal nobility. In the first half of the first millennium B.C. these tribes were subjugated by the Scythians, to whom they were related and with whom they mingled.

In the 16th and 15th centuries B.C. the Komarov culture began to spread through the present-day western Ukraine, Podoliia, and southern Byelorussia. In the northern regions this culture had a number of special features characteristic of the so-called Tshinets culture of Poland. In the second millennium B.C., late Neolithic tribes of the Fat’ianovsk culture settled among the hunting and fishing tribes who lived in the area between the Volga and the Oka rivers, in the Transvolga region through which the Viatka River flows, and in adjacent areas. These people were herders; their artifacts included high-quality round clay pots, stone bored axes and hammers, and protruding-heel copper axes. During the Bronze Age in the area between the Volga and the Oka rivers and in the vicinity of the Kama River bronze spears, celts, and daggers of the so-called Seima or Turbino type became widely known and distributed. Weaponry of the Seima type has been found in the Borodino (Bessarabian) cache, which was found in Moldavia and dates from the 14th or 13th century B.C., and also in the Urals, along Lake Issyk-Kul’ and along the Enisei River.

In Chuvashia, the Transvolga region, Bashkiria, and the Don region there are barrows and settlements of the Abasheva culture (the latter half of the second millennium B.C.). In the steppes of western Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the Altai Mountains, and along the middle section of the Enisei River a broad ethnic and cultural entity termed the Andronovo culture existed from the middle of the second millennium B.C. It comprised farmer and herder tribes.

Complexes of archaeological artifacts of a similar type spread in Middle Asia in the latter half of the second millennium B.C. The best known of them is the Tazabag’iab culture of Khorezm. The strong influence of the steppe tribes found expression in the penetration of the Andronovo culture into the Tien Shan region and to the southern borders of Middle Asia. It is possible that the dispersion of the steppe dwellers was partially prompted by the disintegration of the nonnomadic and agricultural civilization in southwestern Middle Asia (Namazga V). Distinctive Bronze Age artifacts of the steppe tribes have been unearthed in southwestern Tadzhikistan (Bishkent); this suggests that the spread of the Bronze Age steppe culture is linked to the migrations of the Indo-Iranian tribes.

In the last quarter of the second millennium B.C., bronze tools and weapons especially characteristic of the Karasuk culture of the Altai and the Enisei regions and the local (sepulchre) culture of the Transbaikal region spread into southern Siberia, the Transbaikal region, the Altai Mountains, and partially Kazakhstan. These tools and weapons were known in the cultures of Mongolia, northern China, and central China (in the ages of Yin and Chou, 14th-8th centuries B.C.).

The Bronze Age was isolated as a special stage in the history of culture even in antiquity by the Roman philosopher Lucretius Carus. The term “Bronze Age” was introduced to archaeological science during the first half of the 19th century by two Danish scholars, C. Thomsen and I. Worsaae. Significant contributions to the study of the Bronze Age were made at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century by the Swedish archaeologist O. Montelius and the French scholar J. Déchelette. Montelius, using the so-called typological method that he himself had developed, classified and dated archaeological evidence from the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age in Europe. At the same time the foundations were laid for a unified approach to the study of archaeological evidence. The process of isolating various archaeological cultures began. This approach was also developed in the Russian study of archaeology. V. A. Gorodtsov and A. A. Spitsyn established the most important Bronze Age cultures of Eastern Europe. Soviet archaeologists have isolated many Bronze Age cultures: in the Caucasus, G. K. Nioradze, E. I. Krupnov, B. A. Kuftin, A. A. lessen, B. B. Piotrovskii, and others; in the Volga region, P. S. Rykov, I. V. Sinitsyn, O. A. Grakova, and others; in the Urals, O. N. Bader, A. P. Smirnov, K. V. Sal’nikov, and others; in Middle Asia, S. P. Tolstov, A. N. Bernshtam, V. M. Masson, and others; and in Siberia, S. A. Teploukhov, M. P. Griaznov, V. N. Chernet-sov, S. V. Kiselev, G. P. Sosnovskii, A. P. Okladnikov, and others. Soviet archaeologists and foreign Marxist archaeologists study the archaeological cultures of the Bronze Age from the viewpoint of historical materialism. The economic and social development of societies whose remnants are from the Bronze Age, the particular features of social, political, and cultural life of ancient tribes and peoples, their interrelationships, and their ultimate fate are all being studied today by A. Ia. Briusov, Kh. A. Moora, M. E. Foss, T. S. Passek, M. I. Artamonov, N. Ia. Merpert, and others.

Along with the idealistic trend, there is in bourgeois science an approach that is close to a materialistic understanding of the processes of history, represented by the English scholars G. Childe and G. Clark. Scholars of this school follow with interest the work of Marxist archaeologists, especially in the areas of history and economics.


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Bronze Age

a. a technological stage between the Stone and Iron Ages, beginning in the Middle East about 4500 bc and lasting in Britain from about 2000 to 500 bc, during which weapons and tools were made of bronze and there was intensive trading
b. (as modifier): a Bronze-Age tool
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