1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bronze Age

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BRONZE AGE, the name given by archaeologists to that stage in human culture, intermediate between the Stone and Iron Ages, when weapons, utensils and implements were, as a general rule, made of bronze. The term has no absolute chronological value, but marks a period of civilization through which it is believed that most races passed at one time or another. The "finds" of stone and bronze, of bronze and iron, and even of stone and iron implements together in tumuli and sepulchral mounds, suggest that in many countries the three stages in man's progress overlapped. From the similarity of types of weapons and implements of the period found throughout Europe a relatively synchronous commencement has been inferred for the Bronze Age in Europe, fixed by most authorities at between 2000 B.C. to 1800 B.C. But it must have been earlier in some countries, and is certainly known to have been later in others; while the Mexicans and Peruvians were still in their bronze age in recent times. Not a few archaeologists have denied that there ever was a distinct Bronze Age. They have found their chief argument in the fact that weapons of these ages have been found side by side in prehistoric burial-places. But when it is admitted that the ages must have overlapped, it is fairly easy to undertand the mixed "finds." The beginning, the prevalence and duration of the Bronze Age in each country would have been ordered by the accessibility of the metals which form the alloy. Thus in some lands bronze may have continued to be a substance of extreme value until the Iron Age was reached, and in tumuli in which more than one body was interred, as was frequently the case, it would only be with the remains of the richer tenants of the tomb that the more valuable objects would be placed. There is, moreover, much reason to believe that sepulchral mounds were opened from age to age and fresh interments made, and in such a practice would be found a simple explanation of the mixing of implements. Another curious fact has been seized on by those who argue against the existence of a Bronze Age. Among all the "finds" examined in Europe there is a most remarkable absence of copper implements. The sources of tin in Europe are practically restricted to Cornwall and Saxony. How then are we to explain on the one hand the apparent stride made by primitive man when from a Stone Age civilization he passed to a comparatively advanced metallurgical skill? On the other, how account for a comparatively synchronous commencement of bronze civilization when one at least of the metals needed for the alloy would have been naturally difficult of access, if not unknown to many races? The answer is that there can be but little doubt that the knowledge of bronze came to the races of Europe from outside. Either by the Phoenicians or by the Greeks metallurgy was taught to men who no sooner recognized the nature and malleable properties of copper than they learnt that by application of heat a substance could be manufactured with tin far better suited to their purposes. Copper would thus have been but seldom used unalloyed; and the relatively synchronous appearance of bronze in Europe, and the scanty "finds" of copper implements, are explained. We may conclude then that there was a Bronze Age in most countries; that it was the direct result of increasing intercommunication of races and the spread of commerce; and that the discovery of metals was due to information brought to Stone-Age man in Europe by races which were already skilful metallurgists.

The Bronze Age in Europe is characterized by weapons, utensils and implements, distinct in design and size from those in use in the preceding or succeeding stage of man's civilization. Moreover—and this has been employed as an argument in favour of the foreign origin of the knowledge of bronze—all the objects in one part of Europe are identical in pattern and size with those found in another part. The implements of the Bronze Age include swords, awls, knives, gouges, hammers, daggers and arrow-heads. A remarkable confirmation of the theory that the Bronze Age culture came from the East is to be found in the patterns of the arms, which are distinctly oriental; while the handles of swords and daggers are so narrow and short as to make it unlikely that they would be made for use by the large-handed races of Europe. The Bronze Age is also characterized by the fact that cremation was the mode of disposal of the dead, whereas in the Stone Age burial was the rule. Barrows and sepulchral mounds strictly of the Bronze Age are smaller and less imposing than those of the Stone Age. Besides varied and beautiful weapons, frequently exhibiting high workmanship, amulets, coronets, diadems of solid gold, and vases of elegant form and ornamentation in gold and bronze are found in the barrows. These latter appear to have been used as tribal or family cemeteries. In Denmark as many as seventy deposits of burnt bones have been found in a single mound, indicating its use through a long succession of years. The ornamentation of the period is as a rule confined to spirals, bosses and concentric circles. What is remarkable is that the swords not only show the design of the cross in the shape of the handle, but also in tracery what is believed to be an imitation of the Svastika, that ancient Aryan symbol which was probably the first to be made with a definite intention and a consecutive meaning. The pottery is all "hand-made," and the bulk of the objects excavated are cinerary urns, usually found full of burnt bones. These vary from 12 to 18 in. in height. Their decoration is confined to a band round the upper part of the pot, or often only a projecting flange lapped round the whole rim. A few have small handles, formed of pierced knobs of clay and sometimes projecting rolls of clay, looped, as it were, all round the urn. The ornamentation consists of dots, zigzags, chevrons or crosses. The lines were frequently made by pressing a twisted thong of skin against the moist clay; the patterns in all cases being stamped into the pot before it was hardened by fire.

See[edit]

  • ARCHAEOLOGY, &c. Also Lord Avebury, Prehistoric Times (1900).
  • Sir J. Evans, Ancient Bronze Implements of Great Britain (1881).
  • Chartre's Age du bronze en France.