Prehistoric man’s employment of materials such as brassand iron , which gave rise to the period known as the age of metals , and the gradual abandonment of stone instruments represented a significant qualitative leap in the cultural process.
It is called age of the metals the period characterized by the generalization of the use of metallic instruments. In the system proposed in the 19th century by Scandinavian archaeologists, prehistory can be ordered in successive stages of technological development, according to the instruments used. Thus, the age of the stone follows the age of metals, which covers the ages of bronze and iron. However, the knowledge of metals did not occur simultaneously in the different regions of the ancient world. In Greece, for example, the age of metals began before 3000 BC, while in China this was around 1800 BC
The transition period between the Neolithic period (polished stone phase) and the bronze age is commonly called Chalcolithic, or copper age. Although initially rare, copper was already used in eastern Anatolia in 6500 BC, and its use soon became widespread. Alaca’s pre-Hittite necropolis boasts statues of deer and copper bulls, as well as numerous pieces of jewelery and jewelery.
Around 3500 BC, the rapid development of metallurgy contributed to urbanization in Mesopotamia . Around 3000 BC, the use of copper, already common in the Middle East, began to reach the neolithic cultures of the European continent. It was used in Hungary and Spain, regions rich in ores of that metal, and spread in Europe by nomadic tribes. However, it was the bronze – copper and tin alloy – introduced by artisans from Asia in search of tin, which revolutionized Europe. In a short time, the bronze age, enriched by the interchange with Crete, flourished in central Europe, Spain and England.
The Chalcolithic can be considered as part of the bronze age, but this alloy was very rarely used in the period. The bronze age actually developed between 4000 and 2000 BC. In Europe, it stretched until the twelfth century BC, when the great Celtic movements there brought the knowledge of iron.
Around 2000 BC, Byblos, port of Phoenician coast of Egyptian influence, was important metallurgical center of bronze. There sarcophagi of vassal kings or allies of the pharaohs of the XII dynasty were found, with silver vessels, bronze harps, knives and daggers. In Ugarit (Ras-Shamra), north of Syria, the employment of bronze, introduced at the end of the third millennium, spread very rapidly and reached its apogee at the time of the new Egyptian empire and the Mycenaean expansion in Syria.
In about 1500 BC, metallurgy flourished in Europe, where swords, bracelets and staples were sometimes worked with artistic techniques. The predominant motif in the works of the bronze age was the spiral, and in Germany and Scandinavia it was added the styling of animals, especially the swan.
The chronological division of the age of bronze provoked much controversy, due to the presence of diverse cultures in very different territories. Finally, scholars decided to establish three phases: old, middle and recent bronze.
In the cultures of the Aegean, bronze, tin, gold and silver were generalized in the last half of the third millennium in vessels and jewelry. In Crete and Cyclades, the ancient bronze goes from 2700 to 2100 BC and, on the mainland, from 2500 to 1900 BC
The medium bronze, which extends to 1600 BC, begins in 2700 BC in Crete, and in 2000 BC on the mainland. During this period, the metal arts show great progress in terms of arms size and abundance of bronze vessels and utensils. Of the recent bronze, that goes from 1600 to 1200 BC, there were several deposits of arms and objects.
The last technological and cultural stage of prehistory and the age of metals, the age of iron is the period in which this metal replaces bronze in the manufacture of utensils and weapons. Its onset also varies by geographical region. In the Middle East and Southeast Europe, it began approximately in 1200 BC, but in China only in 600 BC
Although in the Middle East, for example, iron has been used in a limited way as a rare and precious metal at least up to 3000 BC, there is no indication that it has been appreciated for the qualities that differentiate it from copper. Between 1200 and 1000 BC, however, the exchange of metallurgy and iron objects occurred rapidly and comprehensively.
The large-scale production of iron utensils has allowed for new forms of sedentary occupation of the land. On the other hand, the use of metal in the manufacture of weapons allowed the populations to arm themselves for the first time and to promote movements that, over the next two thousand years, changed the face of Europe and Asia.
The age of the European iron has been divided into two different stages, known by the name of two important archaeological sites: Hallstatt in Austria and La Tène in Switzerland.
Culture Hallstatt . The first iron age, or Hallstatt culture, developed between the 11th and 5th centuries BC and represented the first flowering of Celtic culture. It originated in the central and western regions of Europe, where more than two thousand tombs were found in excavations at the end of the 17th century.
Most of these tombs fall into two groups, relating to an initial phase (1050 to 750 BC) and a final one (750 to 450 BC). Near the cemetery was a prehistoric mine of salt and, due to the salt’s preservation capacity, implements, parts of clothing and even the bodies of the miners were preserved.
The remnants found in Hallstatt are generally divided into four phases (A, B, C and D), although there is controversy among scholars about their delimitation. In phase A, iron was rare and only in phase C its use became widespread. Among the many iron objects of this third phase were long and heavy iron and bronze swords with flowered tips, as well as the Hallstatt ax. Phase D, of which there are no traces in the eastern region of Austria, lasted until the appearance of La Tène culture in other areas.
Hallstatt art is rigidly geometric in terms of style and has evolved much more technically than aesthetically. There is a general tendency for the extravagant, and the decorative motifs are preferably symmetrical.
Culture . The second period of the European iron, called La Tène culture, began in the middle of the fifth century BC, when the Celts came into contact with the Greek and Etruscan influences of the southern Alps and spread through most of northern Europe and the islands British. The La Tène culture marks the apogee of Celtic culture and extends until the first century BC, when they lost their independence to the Romans.