There is a lot of talk, books, and science about the development of iron into increasing qualities and types of steel, but I do not see the same attention given to bronze. This is not counting the development from copper into bronze near the start of the bronze age, as that is commonly taught in some detail. However, such articles often stop at the point of the development of bronze, and so give the impression that once they had bronze, it never got better. Or at least, it is left rather mysterious as to how much better it got through history.
By the end of the bronze age, around 500 to 300 BC, did bronze metallurgical quality peak (assuming it did not reach peak quality earlier)? Or did bronze continue to get better and stronger, even in the iron age?
As an example, was bronze of a far higher quality in the modern era, with fewer impurities, and higher strengths and tolerances? Or was it very similar to ancient examples of the metal?
Not an expert, but the main improvements were in the forge and specially, the fundition process. Making big swords requires much more molten material than a small knife, so the ancient metallurgists worked specially in improving these. At the end the forges became large enough and, critically, hot enough to melt iron minerals, and thus bronze was abandoned for iron and steel.
Remember: iron replaced bronze not because it was better but because it was cheaper. Bronze swords were still used by the upper-class for several centuries well into the iron age - until steel was perfected enough. First iron swords were brittle, while good bronze ones (the ones properly aloyed with tin) were not. The biblical giant Goliath used a bronze armor and an iron sword, which states clearly which metal was thought to be better to protect your life, and which was cheap and easily replaceable*.
(*) To be more precise, making thin flat layers of iron to make an armor was a technique not yet mastered in the early iron age. Doing that with bronze isn't easier, but bronze works were a mature technology by then.
Let's start with your last question:
was bronze of a far higher quality in the modern era
Of course, and you answered it yourself
with fewer impurities, and higher strengths and tolerances
you can add to that: and much better temperature control.
Metallurgists may not agree with me, but the difference between ancient bronze and modern bronze is not that big, for all practical purposes.
The difference between iron and steel is big. A steel sword is stronger and certainly less brittle than an iron sword. A modern bronze sword can be somewhat sharper/stronger than an ancient bronze sword, but you need an expert to tell the difference.
In the study of the historical period known as prehistory, there are two moments that mark human evolution. The first is the Stone Age and the second is the Metal Age. Each one has its very particular characteristics, but it is in the Metal Age where groups of people begin to form villages and begin to establish sedentary towns, able to produce their tools and food to stay alive and to live in a community.
Iron was extracted from iron–nickel alloys, which comprise about 6% of all meteorites that fall on the Earth. That source can often be identified with certainty because of the unique crystalline features (Widmanstätten patterns) of that material, which are preserved when the metal is worked cold or at low temperature. Those artifacts include, for example, a bead from the 5th millennium BC found in Iran  and spear tips and ornaments from ancient Egypt and Sumer around 4000 BC. 
These early uses appear to have been largely ceremonial or decorative. Meteoritic iron is very rare, and the metal was probably very expensive, perhaps more expensive than gold. The early Hittites are known to have bartered iron (meteoritic or smelted) for silver, at a rate of 40 times the iron's weight, with the Old Assyrian Empire in the first centuries of the second millennium BC. 
Meteoric iron was also fashioned into tools in the Arctic, about the year 1000, when the Thule people of Greenland began making harpoons, knives, ulus and other edged tools from pieces of the Cape York meteorite. Typically pea-size bits of metal were cold-hammered into disks and fitted to a bone handle.  These artifacts were also used as trade goods with other Arctic peoples: tools made from the Cape York meteorite have been found in archaeological sites more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) distant. When the American polar explorer Robert Peary shipped the largest piece of the meteorite to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 1897, it still weighed over 33 tons. Another example of a late use of meteoritic iron is an adze from around 1000 AD found in Sweden. 
Native iron in the metallic state occurs rarely as small inclusions in certain basalt rocks. Besides meteoritic iron, Thule people of Greenland have used native iron from the Disko region. 
Iron smelting—the extraction of usable metal from oxidized iron ores—is more difficult than tin and copper smelting. While these metals and their alloys can be cold-worked or melted in relatively simple furnaces (such as the kilns used for pottery) and cast into molds, smelted iron requires hot-working and can be melted only in specially designed furnaces. Iron is a common impurity in copper ores and iron ore was sometimes used as a flux, thus it is not surprising that humans mastered the technology of smelted iron only after several millennia of bronze metallurgy. 
The place and time for the discovery of iron smelting is not known, partly because of the difficulty of distinguishing metal extracted from nickel-containing ores from hot-worked meteoritic iron.  The archaeological evidence seems to point to the Middle East area, during the Bronze Age in the 3rd millennium BC. However, wrought iron artifacts remained a rarity until the 12th century BC.
The Iron Age is conventionally defined by the widespread replacement of bronze weapons and tools with those of iron and steel.  That transition happened at different times in different places, as the technology spread. Mesopotamia was fully into the Iron Age by 900 BC. Although Egypt produced iron artifacts, bronze remained dominant until its conquest by Assyria in 663 BC. The Iron Age began in India about 1200 BC, in Central Europe about 800 BC, and in China about 300 BC.   Around 500 BC, the Nubians, who had learned from the Assyrians the use of iron and were expelled from Egypt, became major manufacturers and exporters of iron. 
Ancient Near East Edit
One of the earliest smelted iron artifacts, a dagger with an iron blade found in a Hattic tomb in Anatolia, dated from 2500 BC.  About 1500 BC, increasing numbers of non-meteoritic, smelted iron objects appeared in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Egypt.  Nineteen meteoric iron objects were found in the tomb of Egyptian ruler Tutankhamun, who died in 1323 BC, including an iron dagger with a golden hilt, an Eye of Horus, the mummy's head-stand and sixteen models of an artisan's tools.  An Ancient Egyptian sword bearing the name of pharaoh Merneptah as well as a battle axe with an iron blade and gold-decorated bronze shaft were both found in the excavation of Ugarit. 
Although iron objects dating from the Bronze Age have been found across the Eastern Mediterranean, bronzework appears to have greatly predominated during this period.  By the 12th century BC, iron smelting and forging, of weapons and tools, was common from Sub-Saharan Africa through India. As the technology spread, iron came to replace bronze as the dominant metal used for tools and weapons across the Eastern Mediterranean (the Levant, Cyprus, Greece, Crete, Anatolia and Egypt). 
Iron was originally smelted in bloomeries, furnaces where bellows were used to force air through a pile of iron ore and burning charcoal. The carbon monoxide produced by the charcoal reduced the iron oxide from the ore to metallic iron. The bloomery, however, was not hot enough to melt the iron, so the metal collected in the bottom of the furnace as a spongy mass, or bloom. Workers then repeatedly beat and folded it to force out the molten slag. This laborious, time-consuming process produced wrought iron, a malleable but fairly soft alloy.
Concurrent with the transition from bronze to iron was the discovery of carburization, the process of adding carbon to wrought iron. While the iron bloom contained some carbon, the subsequent hot-working oxidized most of it. Smiths in the Middle East discovered that wrought iron could be turned into a much harder product by heating the finished piece in a bed of charcoal, and then quenching it in water or oil. This procedure turned the outer layers of the piece into steel, an alloy of iron and iron carbides, with an inner core of less brittle iron.
Theories on the origin of iron smelting Edit
The development of iron smelting was traditionally attributed to the Hittites of Anatolia of the Late Bronze Age.  It was believed that they maintained a monopoly on iron working, and that their empire had been based on that advantage. According to that theory, the ancient Sea Peoples, who invaded the Eastern Mediterranean and destroyed the Hittite empire at the end of the Late Bronze Age, were responsible for spreading the knowledge through that region. This theory is no longer held in the mainstream of scholarship,  since there is no archaeological evidence of the alleged Hittite monopoly. While there are some iron objects from Bronze Age Anatolia, the number is comparable to iron objects found in Egypt and other places of the same time period, and only a small number of those objects were weapons. 
A more recent theory claims that the development of iron technology was driven by the disruption of the copper and tin trade routes, due to the collapse of the empires at the end of the Late Bronze Age.  These metals, especially tin, were not widely available and metal workers had to transport them over long distances, whereas iron ores were widely available. However, no known archaeological evidence suggests a shortage of bronze or tin in the Early Iron Age.  Bronze objects remained abundant, and these objects have the same percentage of tin as those from the Late Bronze Age.
Indian subcontinent Edit
The history of ferrous metallurgy in the Indian subcontinent began in the 2nd millennium BC. Archaeological sites in Gangetic plains have yielded iron implements dated between 1800 and 1200 BC.  By the early 13th century BC, iron smelting was practiced on a large scale in India.  In Southern India (present day Mysore) iron was in use 12th to 11th centuries BC.  The technology of iron metallurgy advanced in the politically stable Maurya period  and during a period of peaceful settlements in the 1st millennium BC. 
Iron artifacts such as spikes, knives, daggers, arrow-heads, bowls, spoons, saucepans, axes, chisels, tongs, door fittings, etc., dated from 600 to 200 BC, have been discovered at several archaeological sites of India.  The Greek historian Herodotus wrote the first western account of the use of iron in India.  The Indian mythological texts, the Upanishads, have mentions of weaving, pottery and metallurgy, as well.  The Romans had high regard for the excellence of steel from India in the time of the Gupta Empire. 
Perhaps as early as 500 BC, although certainly by 200 AD, high-quality steel was produced in southern India by the crucible technique. In this system, high-purity wrought iron, charcoal, and glass were mixed in a crucible and heated until the iron melted and absorbed the carbon.  Iron chain was used in Indian suspension bridges as early as the 4th century. 
Wootz steel was produced in India and Sri Lanka from around 300 BC.  Wootz steel is famous from Classical Antiquity for its durability and ability to hold an edge. When asked by King Porus to select a gift, Alexander is said to have chosen, over gold or silver, thirty pounds of steel.  Wootz steel was originally a complex alloy with iron as its main component together with various trace elements. Recent studies have suggested that its qualities may have been due to the formation of carbon nanotubes in the metal.  According to Will Durant, the technology passed to the Persians and from them to Arabs who spread it through the Middle East.  In the 16th century, the Dutch carried the technology from South India to Europe, where it was mass-produced. 
Steel was produced in Sri Lanka from 300 BC  by furnaces blown by the monsoon winds. The furnaces were dug into the crests of hills, and the wind was diverted into the air vents by long trenches. This arrangement created a zone of high pressure at the entrance, and a zone of low pressure at the top of the furnace. The flow is believed to have allowed higher temperatures than bellows-driven furnaces could produce, resulting in better-quality iron.    Steel made in Sri Lanka was traded extensively within the region and in the Islamic world.
One of the world's foremost metallurgical curiosities is an iron pillar located in the Qutb complex in Delhi. The pillar is made of wrought iron (98% Fe), is almost seven meters high and weighs more than six tonnes.  The pillar was erected by Chandragupta II Vikramaditya and has withstood 1,600 years of exposure to heavy rains with relatively little corrosion.
Historians debate whether bloomery-based ironworking ever spread to China from the Middle East. One theory suggests that metallurgy was introduced through Central Asia.  In 2008, two iron fragments were excavated at the Mogou site, in Gansu. They have been dated to the 14th century BC, belonging to the period of Siwa culture, suggesting an independent Chinese origin. One of the fragments was made of bloomery iron rather than meteoritic iron.  
The earliest iron artifacts made from bloomeries in China date to end of the 9th century BC.  Cast iron was used in ancient China for warfare, agriculture and architecture.  Around 500 BC, metalworkers in the southern state of Wu achieved a temperature of 1130 °C. At this temperature, iron combines with 4.3% carbon and melts. The liquid iron can be cast into molds, a method far less laborious than individually forging each piece of iron from a bloom.
Cast iron is rather brittle and unsuitable for striking implements. It can, however, be decarburized to steel or wrought iron by heating it in air for several days. In China, these iron working methods spread northward, and by 300 BC, iron was the material of choice throughout China for most tools and weapons.  A mass grave in Hebei province, dated to the early 3rd century BC, contains several soldiers buried with their weapons and other equipment. The artifacts recovered from this grave are variously made of wrought iron, cast iron, malleabilized cast iron, and quench-hardened steel, with only a few, probably ornamental, bronze weapons.
During the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), the government established ironworking as a state monopoly (repealed during the latter half of the dynasty and returned to private entrepreneurship) and built a series of large blast furnaces in Henan province, each capable of producing several tons of iron per day. By this time, Chinese metallurgists had discovered how to fine molten pig iron, stirring it in the open air until it lost its carbon and could be hammered (wrought). (In modern Mandarin-Chinese, this process is now called chao, literally stir frying pig iron is known as 'raw iron', while wrought iron is known as 'cooked iron'.) By the 1st century BC, Chinese metallurgists had found that wrought iron and cast iron could be melted together to yield an alloy of intermediate carbon content, that is, steel.    According to legend, the sword of Liu Bang, the first Han emperor, was made in this fashion. Some texts of the era mention "harmonizing the hard and the soft" in the context of ironworking the phrase may refer to this process. The ancient city of Wan (Nanyang) from the Han period forward was a major center of the iron and steel industry.  Along with their original methods of forging steel, the Chinese had also adopted the production methods of creating Wootz steel, an idea imported from India to China by the 5th century AD.  During the Han Dynasty, the Chinese were also the first to apply hydraulic power (i.e. a waterwheel) in working the bellows of the blast furnace. This was recorded in the year 31 AD, as an innovation by the Chinese mechanical engineer and politician Du Shi, Prefect of Nanyang.  Although Du Shi was the first to apply water power to bellows in metallurgy, the first drawn and printed illustration of its operation with water power appeared in 1313 AD, in the Yuan Dynasty era text called the Nong Shu. 
In the 11th century, there is evidence of the production of steel in Song China using two techniques: a "berganesque" method that produced inferior, heterogeneous steel and a precursor to the modern Bessemer process that utilized partial decarbonization via repeated forging under a cold blast.  By the 11th century, there was a large amount of deforestation in China due to the iron industry's demands for charcoal.  By this time however, the Chinese had learned to use bituminous coke to replace charcoal, and with this switch in resources many acres of prime timberland in China were spared. 
Iron Age Europe Edit
Iron working was introduced to Greece in the late 10th century BC.  The earliest marks of Iron Age in Central Europe are artifacts from the Hallstatt C culture (8th century BC). Throughout the 7th to 6th centuries BC, iron artifacts remained luxury items reserved for an elite. This changed dramatically shortly after 500 BC with the rise of the La Tène culture, from which time iron metallurgy also became common in Northern Europe and Britain. The spread of ironworking in Central and Western Europe is associated with Celtic expansion. By the 1st century BC, Noric steel was famous for its quality and sought-after by the Roman military.
The annual iron output of the Roman Empire is estimated at 84,750 t. 
Sub-Saharan Africa Edit
Though there is some uncertainty, some archaeologists believe that iron metallurgy was developed independently in sub-Saharan Africa (possibly in West Africa).  
Inhabitants of Termit, in eastern Niger, smelted iron around 1500 BC. 
In the region of the Aïr Mountains in Niger there are also signs of independent copper smelting between 2500 and 1500 BC. The process was not in a developed state, indicating smelting was not foreign. It became mature about 1500 BC. 
Archaeological sites containing iron smelting furnaces and slag have also been excavated at sites in the Nsukka region of southeast Nigeria in what is now Igboland: dating to 2000 BC at the site of Lejja (Eze-Uzomaka 2009)   and to 750 BC and at the site of Opi (Holl 2009).  The site of Gbabiri (in the Central African Republic) has yielded evidence of iron metallurgy, from a reduction furnace and blacksmith workshop with earliest dates of 896-773 BC and 907-796 BC respectively.  Similarly, smelting in bloomery-type furnaces appear in the Nok culture of central Nigeria by about 550 BC and possibly a few centuries earlier.     
There is also evidence that carbon steel was made in Western Tanzania by the ancestors of the Haya people as early as 2,300-2,000 years ago (about 300 BC or soon after) by a complex process of "pre-heating" allowing temperatures inside a furnace to reach 1300 to 1400 °C.      
Iron and copper working spread southward through the continent, reaching the Cape around AD 200.   The widespread use of iron revolutionized the Bantu-speaking farming communities who adopted it, driving out and absorbing the rock tool using hunter-gatherer societies they encountered as they expanded to farm wider areas of savanna. The technologically superior Bantu-speakers spread across southern Africa and became wealthy and powerful, producing iron for tools and weapons in large, industrial quantities.  
The earliest records of bloomery-type furnaces in East Africa are discoveries of smelted iron and carbon in Nubia that date back between the 7th and 6th centuries BC,    particularly in Meroe where there are known to have been ancient bloomeries that produced metal tools for the Nubians and Kushites and produced surplus for their economy.
Medieval Islamic world Edit
Iron technology was further advanced by several inventions in medieval Islam, during the Islamic Golden Age. These included a variety of water-powered and wind-powered industrial mills for metal production, including geared gristmills and forges. By the 11th century, every province throughout the Muslim world had these industrial mills in operation, from Islamic Spain and North Africa in the west to the Middle East and Central Asia in the east.  There are also 10th-century references to cast iron, as well as archeological evidence of blast furnaces being used in the Ayyubid and Mamluk empires from the 11th century, thus suggesting a diffusion of Chinese metal technology to the Islamic world. 
Geared gristmills  were invented by Muslim engineers, and were used for crushing metallic ores before extraction. Gristmills in the Islamic world were often made from both watermills and windmills. In order to adapt water wheels for gristmilling purposes, cams were used for raising and releasing trip hammers.  The first forge driven by a hydropowered water mill rather than manual labour was invented in the 12th century Islamic Spain. 
One of the most famous steels produced in the medieval Near East was Damascus steel used for swordmaking, and mostly produced in Damascus, Syria, in the period from 900 to 1750. This was produced using the crucible steel method, based on the earlier Indian wootz steel. This process was adopted in the Middle East using locally produced steels. The exact process remains unknown, but it allowed carbides to precipitate out as micro particles arranged in sheets or bands within the body of a blade. Carbides are far harder than the surrounding low carbon steel, so swordsmiths could produce an edge that cut hard materials with the precipitated carbides, while the bands of softer steel let the sword as a whole remain tough and flexible. A team of researchers based at the Technical University of Dresden that uses X-rays and electron microscopy to examine Damascus steel discovered the presence of cementite nanowires  and carbon nanotubes.  Peter Paufler, a member of the Dresden team, says that these nanostructures give Damascus steel its distinctive properties  and are a result of the forging process.  
There was no fundamental change in the technology of iron production in Europe for many centuries. European metal workers continued to produce iron in bloomeries. However, the Medieval period brought two developments—the use of water power in the bloomery process in various places (outlined above), and the first European production in cast iron.
Powered bloomeries Edit
Sometime in the medieval period, water power was applied to the bloomery process. It is possible that this was at the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux as early as 1135, but it was certainly in use in early 13th century France and Sweden.  In England, the first clear documentary evidence for this is the accounts of a forge of the Bishop of Durham, near Bedburn in 1408,  but that was certainly not the first such ironworks. In the Furness district of England, powered bloomeries were in use into the beginning of the 18th century, and near Garstang until about 1770.
The Catalan Forge was a variety of powered bloomery. Bloomeries with hot blast were used in upstate New York in the mid-19th century.
Blast furnace Edit
The preferred method of iron production in Europe until the development of the puddling process in 1783–84. Cast iron development lagged in Europe because wrought iron was the desired product and the intermediate step of producing cast iron involved an expensive blast furnace and further refining of pig iron to cast iron, which then required a labor and capital intensive conversion to wrought iron. 
Through a good portion of the Middle Ages, in Western Europe, iron was still being made by the working of iron blooms into wrought iron. Some of the earliest casting of iron in Europe occurred in Sweden, in two sites, Lapphyttan and Vinarhyttan, between 1150 and 1350. Some scholars have speculated the practice followed the Mongols across Russia to these sites, but there is no clear proof of this hypothesis, and it would certainly not explain the pre-Mongol datings of many of these iron-production centres. In any event, by the late 14th century, a market for cast iron goods began to form, as a demand developed for cast iron cannonballs.
Finery forge Edit
An alternative method of decarburising pig iron was the finery forge, which seems to have been devised in the region around Namur in the 15th century. By the end of that century, this Walloon process spread to the Pay de Bray on the eastern boundary of Normandy, and then to England, where it became the main method of making wrought iron by 1600. It was introduced to Sweden by Louis de Geer in the early 17th century and was used to make the oregrounds iron favoured by English steelmakers.
A variation on this was the German forge. This became the main method of producing bar iron in Sweden.
Cementation process Edit
In the early 17th century, ironworkers in Western Europe had developed the cementation process for carburizing wrought iron. Wrought iron bars and charcoal were packed into stone boxes, then sealed with clay to be held at a red heat continually tended in an oxygen-free state immersed in nearly pure carbon (charcoal) for up to a week. During this time, carbon diffused into the surface layers of the iron, producing cement steel or blister steel—also known as case hardened, where the portions wrapped in iron (the pick or axe blade) became harder, than say an axe hammer-head or shaft socket which might be insulated by clay to keep them from the carbon source. The earliest place where this process was used in England was at Coalbrookdale from 1619, where Sir Basil Brooke had two cementation furnaces (recently excavated in 2001–2005  ). For a time in the 1610s, he owned a patent on the process, but had to surrender this in 1619. He probably used Forest of Dean iron as his raw material, but it was soon found that oregrounds iron was more suitable. The quality of the steel could be improved by faggoting, producing the so-called shear steel.
Crucible steel Edit
In the 1740s, Benjamin Huntsman found a means of melting blister steel, made by the cementation process, in crucibles. The resulting crucible steel, usually cast in ingots, was more homogeneous than blister steel.  : 145
Early iron smelting used charcoal as both the heat source and the reducing agent. By the 18th century, the availability of wood for making charcoal was limiting the expansion of iron production, so that England became increasingly dependent for a considerable part of the iron required by its industry, on Sweden (from the mid-17th century) and then from about 1725 also on Russia. [ citation needed ] Smelting with coal (or its derivative coke) was a long sought objective. The production of pig iron with coke was probably achieved by Dud Dudley around 1619,  and with a mixed fuel made from coal and wood again in the 1670s. However this was probably only a technological rather than a commercial success. Shadrach Fox may have smelted iron with coke at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire in the 1690s, but only to make cannonballs and other cast iron products such as shells. However, in the peace after the Nine Years War, there was no demand for these.  
Abraham Darby and his successors Edit
In 1707, Abraham Darby I patented a method of making cast iron pots. His pots were thinner and hence cheaper than those of his rivals. Needing a larger supply of pig iron he leased the blast furnace at Coalbrookdale in 1709. There, he made iron using coke, thus establishing the first successful business in Europe to do so. His products were all of cast iron, though his immediate successors attempted (with little commercial success) to fine this to bar iron. 
Bar iron thus continued normally to be made with charcoal pig iron until the mid-1750s. In 1755 Abraham Darby II (with partners) opened a new coke-using furnace at Horsehay in Shropshire, and this was followed by others. These supplied coke pig iron to finery forges of the traditional kind for the production of bar iron. The reason for the delay remains controversial. 
New forge processes Edit
It was only after this that economically viable means of converting pig iron to bar iron began to be devised. A process known as potting and stamping was devised in the 1760s and improved in the 1770s, and seems to have been widely adopted in the West Midlands from about 1785. However, this was largely replaced by Henry Cort's puddling process, patented in 1784, but probably only made to work with grey pig iron in about 1790. These processes permitted the great expansion in the production of iron that constitutes the Industrial Revolution for the iron industry. 
In the early 19th century, Hall discovered that the addition of iron oxide to the charge of the puddling furnace caused a violent reaction, in which the pig iron was decarburised, this became known as 'wet puddling'. It was also found possible to produce steel by stopping the puddling process before decarburisation was complete.
The efficiency of the blast furnace was improved by the change to hot blast, patented by James Beaumont Neilson in Scotland in 1828.  This further reduced production costs. Within a few decades, the practice was to have a 'stove' as large as the furnace next to it into which the waste gas (containing CO) from the furnace was directed and burnt. The resultant heat was used to preheat the air blown into the furnace. 
Apart from some production of puddled steel, English steel continued to be made by the cementation process, sometimes followed by remelting to produce crucible steel. These were batch-based processes whose raw material was bar iron, particularly Swedish oregrounds iron.
The problem of mass-producing cheap steel was solved in 1855 by Henry Bessemer, with the introduction of the Bessemer converter at his steelworks in Sheffield, England. (An early converter can still be seen at the city's Kelham Island Museum). In the Bessemer process, molten pig iron from the blast furnace was charged into a large crucible, and then air was blown through the molten iron from below, igniting the dissolved carbon from the coke. As the carbon burned off, the melting point of the mixture increased, but the heat from the burning carbon provided the extra energy needed to keep the mixture molten. After the carbon content in the melt had dropped to the desired level, the air draft was cut off: a typical Bessemer converter could convert a 25-ton batch of pig iron to steel in half an hour.
Finally, the basic oxygen process was introduced at the Voest-Alpine works in 1952 a modification of the basic Bessemer process, it lances oxygen from above the steel (instead of bubbling air from below), reducing the amount of nitrogen uptake into the steel. The basic oxygen process is used in all modern steelworks the last Bessemer converter in the U.S. was retired in 1968. Furthermore, the last three decades have seen a massive increase in the mini-mill business, where scrap steel only is melted with an electric arc furnace. These mills only produced bar products at first, but have since expanded into flat and heavy products, once the exclusive domain of the integrated steelworks.
Until these 19th-century developments, steel was an expensive commodity and only used for a limited number of purposes where a particularly hard or flexible metal was needed, as in the cutting edges of tools and springs. The widespread availability of inexpensive steel powered the Second Industrial Revolution and modern society as we know it. Mild steel ultimately replaced wrought iron for almost all purposes, and wrought iron is no longer commercially produced. With minor exceptions, alloy steels only began to be made in the late 19th century. Stainless steel was developed on the eve of World War I and was not widely used until the 1920s.
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Bronze Age, third phase in the development of material culture among the ancient peoples of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, following the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods (Old Stone Age and New Stone Age, respectively). The term also denotes the first period in which metal was used. The date at which the age began varied with regions in Greece and China, for instance, the Bronze Age began before 3000 bce , whereas in Britain it did not start until about 1900 bce .
When did the Bronze Age begin?
The date at which the Bronze Age began varied with regions in Greece and China, for instance, it began, before 3000 BCE, whereas in Britain, it did not start until about 1900 BCE.
What is the Chalcolithic period?
The beginning of the Bronze Age is sometimes called the Chalcolithic (Copper-Stone) Age, referring to the initial use of pure copper. Scarce at first, copper was initially used only for small or precious objects. Its use was known in eastern Anatolia by 6500 BCE, and it soon became widespread.
How did the Bronze Age end?
From about 1000 BCE, the ability to heat and forge another metal, iron, brought the Bronze Age to an end, and led to the beginning of the Iron Age.
When did the use of bronze increase?
During the 2nd millennium, the use of true bronze greatly increased. The tin deposits at Cornwall, England, were much used and were responsible for a considerable part of the large production of bronze objects during that time. The age was also marked by increased specialization and the invention of the wheel and the ox-drawn plow.
The beginning of the period is sometimes called the Chalcolithic (Copper-Stone) Age, referring to the initial use of pure copper (along with its predecessor toolmaking material, stone). Scarce at first, copper was initially used only for small or precious objects. Its use was known in eastern Anatolia by 6500 bce , and it soon became widespread. By the middle of the 4th millennium, a rapidly developing copper metallurgy, with cast tools and weapons, was a factor leading to urbanization in Mesopotamia. By 3000 the use of copper was well known in the Middle East, had extended westward into the Mediterranean area, and was beginning to infiltrate the Neolithic cultures of Europe.
This early copper phase is commonly thought of as part of the Bronze Age, though true bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was used only rarely at first. During the 2nd millennium the use of true bronze greatly increased the tin deposits at Cornwall, England, were much used and were responsible for a considerable part of the large production of bronze objects at that time. The age was also marked by increased specialization and the invention of the wheel and the ox-drawn plow. From about 1000 bce the ability to heat and forge another metal, iron, brought the Bronze Age to an end, and the Iron Age began.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.
The Bronze Age was also a time in which humans developed metal tools. Mineral deposits in Anatolia resulted in the development of metallurgy in this region. The advancement from copper to bronze occurred during this time as a result. Archeologists have discovered metal implements near royal graves that confirm this.
Trade between Anatolia and other world civilizations increased during this time. This further allowed this region to be influenced by a wide variety of world cultures.
Bronze Age farmers practiced mixed agriculture. Cattle and sheep or goats were the most important domestic animals, although pigs also were kept. At some sites horses were present, but usually in very small numbers. Over time there was an increase in the relative proportion of sheep to cattle. The recovery of large numbers of spindle whorls and loom weights from Middle and Late Bronze Age settlements suggests that sheep generally were kept for their wool rather than their meat. Wheat and barley were the main cereals grown, and peas, beans, and lentils also were cultivated. During the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, several new crops were introduced, including spelt wheat, rye, and flax the latter was a source of fiber and oil. Agricultural implements, such as digging sticks, hoes, and ards, probably were manufactured from wood and therefore rarely survive, although during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, bronze sickles became relatively common. Ard marks are known from several sites, most famously, Gwithian in Cornwall.
Bronze Age field systems have been identified in several regions. On Dartmoor in Devon a series of field systems covering thousands of hectares of land were constructed around the fringes of the moor. These systems appear to have been carefully laid out during a single planned phase of expansion into the uplands around 1700 b.c. The boundaries themselves were built of earth and stone and enclose rectilinear fields of varying sizes. Individual boundaries can be up to several kilometers in length. Within each field system, roundhouses, droveways, cairns, and other features can be identified. The roundhouses were not distributed evenly among the various parcels of land, however, but were clustered together into "neighborhood groups," suggesting a communal pattern of landholding. The large-scale, organized, and cohesive nature of land division on Dartmoor has suggested to some researchers that a centralized political authority must have been responsible for the planning and construction of the boundaries, although the possibility of intercommunity cooperation also has been raised.
In other parts in Britain and Ireland rather different forms of land enclosure can be identified. On the East Moors of the Peak District, for example, small field systems 1–25 hectares in area have been identified. These systems comprise groups of irregular fields of broadly curvilinear form. In contrast to the situation on Dartmoor, such individual field systems were not laid out during a single phase of construction but seem to have grown and developed over time, with new plots enclosed as the need arose. Their scale suggests that they probably represent the landholdings of individual families or household groups. As on Dartmoor, however, the development of new forms of land management may indicate the intensification of agricultural production.
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&rsquo 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&mdashthat is, dolmens, menhirs, and cromlechs&mdashcontinued 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&rsquoianovsk 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&rsquo 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&rsquoiab 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 &ldquoBronze Age&rdquo 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&rsquonikov, 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.
End of the Bronze Age
This book examines in detail the events surrounding the transition from Bronze Age to Early Iron Age societies in the eastern Mediterranean. For Drews this was “one of history’s most frightful turning points” in his view, “for those who experienced it, it was a calamity” (p. 3). The aim of this book is to explain the widespread destruction of cities ca. 1200 B.C. (“the Catastrophe”). The scale of the problem is this: “Within a period of forty or fifty years at the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the twelfth century almost every significant city or palace in the eastern Mediterranean world was destroyed, many of them never to be occupied again” (p. 4).
In order to gain an eastern Mediterranean perspective on the Catastrophe, a chronological scheme is presented (Ch. 1: “The Catastrophe and its Chronology”). In particular a “low” chronology for Egypt is followed, i.e., Ramesses the Great ruled from 1279 to 1212 (rather than 1304 or 1290) (p. 5). This allows events in Egypt to be linked to the destruction of cities in the Near East. The Catastrophe is then surveyed (Ch. 2) by looking at the evidence from Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria, the Southern Levant, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Aegean Islands, and finally Crete.
Chapters 3 to 8 form Part 2 (“Alternative Explanations of the Catastrophe”) and discuss the ways that the Catastrophe has been explained since it was first recognized. Earthquakes (Ch. 3) provide the first explanation, “an ‘act of God’ of proportions unparalleled in all of history” (p. 33). Ugarit’s enmity with Egypt (attested by a tablet from the Rap’anu Archive) was taken to mean that it was on good terms with “the Sea Peoples”, and therefore a natural explanation for the destruction had to be found (p. 34). Similar theories have been suggested for Knossos, Troy VIh, Mycenae and Tiryns (pp. 35-36). Drews points out that few cities in antiquity are known for certain to have been destroyed by an “act of God” (p. 38). Indeed, Egyptian records show that the raiders who attacked Egypt in 1179 had previously sacked cities. Drews notes that the widespread burning of cities (in days before gas and electricity could assist with the total devastation), the relative absence of skeletons or items of value buried in the debris (rather than being secreted away in holes and pits), and the unscathed masonry at sites in the Argolid point away from natural causes and towards human intervention.
The evidence for Migrations (Ch. 4) is based in part on the interpretation of Egyptian monuments, and in part on nineteenth-century emphases on the movement of peoples. The great Libyan invasion of the Delta in 1208 has been seen by some as a Volkswanderung, although the foreigners within the Libyan host would now appear to be barbarian auxiliaries rather than whole nations on the move. Drews then goes on (in Ch. 5) to challenge V. Gordon Childe’s view—expressed in What Happened in History (1942) and Prehistoric Migrations in Europe (1950)—that the move from bronze to iron allowed, in Drew’s words, “the most important shift in the class struggle in the five thousand years between the Urban Revolution and the Industrial Revolution” (p. 74). Drews claims that this metallurgical shift saw no major change in the art of war. Moreover, iron does not appear to have come into widespread use for over a century after the Catastrophe (p. 75). However, instead of providing exact numbers of bronze and iron weapons, proportions are given (12th century, 96% bronze, 3% iron 11th, 80% bronze: 20% iron 10th, 46% bronze, 54% iron), and these may disguise problems with archaeological survival.
The explanation of drought (Ch. 6) bringing about the Catastrophe is traced back to Rhys Carpenter’s 1965 Cambridge lecture, where it was asserted that “drought-stricken people” resorted to violence to feed themselves. There may indeed have been droughts and food shortages c. 1200, but at Pylos, palace accounts show that just prior to the Catastrophe “women and children were receiving, on average, 128 percent of their daily caloric requirement” (p. 81). Drews goes on to suggest that what shortages there were may have been due to raiders (p. 84). Drews dismisses the suggestion that palace organisations collapsed thereby causing the Catastrophe (Ch. 7). This theory seems to ignore the fact that the “Systems” were functioning “quite well on the eve of the Catastrophe”, as evidenced by the scribal records from Ugarit (p. 89). Indeed, some systems were able to function after the Catastrophe: in mainland Greece, western Anatolia and Cyprus (p. 88).
The current hypothesis about raiders is seen as “undoubtedly correct but in its present form … incomplete” (p. 91) (Ch. 8). Drews agrees with Bernie Knapp that the “Sea Peoples” were “an agglomeration of raiders and city-sackers”, but suggests that instead of seeing their presence as a result of the Catastrophe they were the cause. He speculates why raiders suddenly became successful:
“A military explanation seems to provide all that is necessary. Shortly before 1200, barbarian raiders discovered a way to overcome the military forces on which the eastern kingdoms relied. With that discovery, they went out into the world and made their fortunes” (p. 93).
With those sentences, the reader is prepared for Part 3 (Chs. 9-14: “A Military Explanation of the Catastrophe”) and Drews’s main contribution to the debate about the Catastrophe (“So far as I know, the Catastrophe has never been explained squarely in terms of revolutionary military innovations” [p. 33]).
Ch. 9 (“Preface to a Military Explanation of the Catastrophe”) discusses the problems in reconstructing military tactics at the time of the Catastrophe. Drews admits that prior to c. 700 BC “questions [about warfare] begin to multiply, and about the second millennium we are grossly ignorant” (p. 97). In spite of the criticism that he could be seen as “unprofessional”, Drews asserts that “it is time that we begin to guess” about warfare in the Late Bronze Age (p. 98). The thesis which is to be tested is that in the Late Bronze Age kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean a king measured his might in horses and especially chariotry.
“The thesis of the present study is that the Catastrophe came about when men in ‘barbarian’ lands awoke to the truth that had been with them for some time: the chariot-based forces on which the Great Kingdoms relied could be overwhelmed by swarming infantries, the infantrymen being equipped with javelins, long swords, and a few essential pieces of defensive armor. The barbarians … thus found it within their means to assault, plunder, and raze the richest palaces and cities on the horizon, and this they proceeded to do” (p. 104).
Part 3 thus deals with Chariot Warfare of the Late Bronze Age (Ch. 10), Footsoldiers in the Late Bronze Age (Ch. 11), Infantry and Horse Troops in the Early Iron Age (Ch. 12) and Changes in Armor and Weapons at the End of the Bronze Age (Ch. 13).
Chariots are seen as mobile platforms from which archers could fire. The scale of this type of forces was apparently large. At Kadesh, the Hittite king could field 3500 chariots, and this was probably matched by Ramesses II (p. 107). The Pylos tablets mention at least two hundred pairs of wheels, and the purchase of wood for 150 axles, and so Drews suggests that a “typical palace at the end of the thirteenth century numbered in the low or middle hundreds” (p. 107). The evidence of tablets from Knossos appears to indicate that “the field strength of Knossos’s chariotry must have been somewhere between five hundred and one thousand” (p. 108). After assessments of the possible costs in keeping a chariot in the field—including Stuart Piggott’s estimate that one chariot team would require 8-10 acres of good grain-land (pp. 111-2)—Drews turns to a speculative section on “How Chariots were used in Battle” (pp. 113-29). He rejects the view that Mycenaean chariots were of no use on the battlefield or that bows were a marginal weapon. Indeed he suggests that the large batches of arrows recorded in the Knossos tablets (6010 and 2630) were the “ammunition” for chariot teams (at 40 arrows a team) (p. 124). This leads to a reconstruction of chariot tactics (pp. 127-9) with lines of chariots charging each other and archers firing as they came into range the point was to bring down as many of the opposing horses as possible. Drews goes on to argue that the Dendra Corslet was armor for a cavalryman as it is inappropriate for an infantryman (p. 175).
Drews considers the view that “Late Bronze Age chariotries fought in support of massed infantry formations” as “a misapprehension and an anachronism” (p. 137). For him infantry were needed more for campaigns in mountainous or rough terrain. This means interpreting the Pylos “Battle Scene” fresco as èlite warriors in guerrilla combat with a group of barbarians (pp. 140-1, pl. 2). Drews sees the main function of infantrymen as a support group—“runners”—for the chariots, sent to Finish off the wounded foe, as seen in the Kadesh reliefs from Abydos (p. 144 pl. 3). In contrast, the Early Iron Age saw an increased use in footsoldiers (Ch. 12).
Drews then discusses changes in armor and weapons at the time of the Catastrophe (Ch. 13). In particular, he notes the use of the javelin. This he argues could be thrown on the run against chariots the thrower would be a moving target for the chariot-borne archer. In particular he notes that the blade was elliptical, which would allow it to be easily retrieved this was especially important if only two were carried into battle. At the same time the Naue Type II sword was found in use in the eastern Mediterranean and was particularly good at slashing (p. 194). Its origins appear to lie in central and northern Europe. As the “raiders” on the eastern kingdoms seem to have used swords in large numbers— 9111 swords were captured from the Libyan raid on Egypt in 1208—Drews suggests that the Naue Type II sword was adopted to meet the challenge (p. 201). In turn this development saw a move towards the use of large bodies of infantry.
Drews brings together the military strands of his argument in a closing chapter (14) on “The End of Chariot Warfare in the Catastrophe”. The increasing emphasis on infantry weaponry suggests that those outside the kingdoms of the east had “found a way to defeat the greatest chariot armies of the time” “raiders must have used javelins to good effect, destroying the chariot armies and ending the era of chariot warfare” (p. 210). Yet this reviewer is left feeling uncomfortable with this emphasis on military technology. The battle in which Meryre’s Libyan force was defeated by Merneptah in 1208 (p. 215: “The Catastrophe burst upon Egypt… when Meryre … ventured to invade the western Delta”) is often cited through the book. It does indeed provide important information. The Great Karnak Inscription (J. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 3, no. 574) recorded the presence of Ekwesh (= Achaeans), Lukka (= Lycians), Shardana (= Sardinians), Shekelesh (= Sicilians), and Tursha (= Tyrrhenians, i.e., Italians) among the Libyan auxiliaries from northern lands (p. 49). Using his reconstruction, Drews envisages a major infantry force, armed with swords, confronting the Egyptian chariots. Moreover, the “barbarian” background of the auxiliaries would mean that they were skilled with the javelin, which could be thrown on the run against chariot teams. With this superior technology, Meryre expected to win: the count of severed penises and hands revealed that some 10,000 men of the Libyan force died, of whom 2201 were Ekwesh (p. 49). I do not understand the claim that “Meryre’s failure … seems to have publicized the possibilities of the new kind of warfare” (p. 219). It seems hard to deny that there were military changes, but it might be that other factors were at work given that the new tactics were not always successful.
In addition to the archaeological evidence, Drews draws on a range of textual material which includes tablets from Ugarit, Linear B texts, and Egyptian inscriptions. Yet these texts only give a small glimpse of the wider problem: as one Ugarit letter recorded, “behold, the enemy’s ships came (here) my cities (?) were burned, and they did evil things in my country” (p. 14). Linear B tablets provide inventory records for chariots. Yet there is no clear textual statement that the raiders of Ugarit were barbarian skirmishers who were able to overpower the chariot forces of the kingdom. However, Drews has been honest he admits that he has had to guess in places. He has differentiated between evidence and speculation so that those who will continue to debate the Catastrophe can use the book effectively. What is more important is that he has laid to rest some archaeological factoids which in their turn were based on no more than guesswork.
Aegean Metallurgy in the Bronze Age: Proceedings of an International Symposium Held at the University of Crete, Rethymnon, Greece, on November 19-21, 2004
This monograph represents the publication of an international conference held at the University of Crete, Rethymnon, Greece on November 19-21, 2004. The well-illustrated volume is an important, up-to-date contribution to the study of prehistoric metallurgy in the Aegean and wider Mediterranean basin. The goal of the volume is to consider recent discoveries and new approaches for the study of metallurgy over the wide spatial and temporal areas of Aegean prehistory. The articles publish new excavation data, discuss recent analytical results, demonstrate the usefulness of quantitative databases and apply new scientific approaches to the study of metals. Although the volume is not a handbook and the quality of papers varies, the publication is a valuable reference guide for specialists and generalists alike. The most significant themes and revelations include: the importance of arsenical copper in the FN-EBA or the “Age of Arsenical Copper” according to Muhly (71), 1 evidence for 4th and early 3rd millennium silver-working, a greater understanding of smelting technology including the specialized nature of some smelting sites, the importance of the Late Cypriot I metal industry in exporting copper to Neopalatial Crete and the scientific methods available for examining metallic compositions. The proceedings demonstrate the shifting nature of metallurgical interests that now range from mining and smelting to casting, hammering, repairing and recycling. The monograph complements the recent publication of Metallurgy in the Early Bronze Age Aegean, signifying the general trend towards an “archaeology of metal production” and away from provenience studies. 2
Tzachili (7-33) presents a helpful chronological and thematic introduction while stressing that metallurgical development was “non-linear and un-even, with many centres and a veritable mosaic of techniques” (9). The rocky relationship between archaeologists and archaeometallurgists over the last 50 years is highlighted and the current phase is termed “the age of maturity, the age of constant dialogue” (29). The necessity of collaboration for future advancements in Aegean metallurgy is also stressed by Kakavogianni et al. (57). Modern metallurgical studies shy away from typologies and focus on analysis of elemental composition, ores, smelting, refining and production, yet Tzachili suggests that typological and metallurgical approaches should be combined. A discussion of the EBA Petralona hoard is a noteworthy contribution since it is not well published and because hoarding is a significant EBA (in addition to LBA) activity. In concluding the volume, Tzachili (327-329) considers the problem of Minoan ore sources and asserts the necessity for further research. Crete lacks ore sources by modern mining standards however, it is possible that there were suitable ore sources in antiquity, as Tzachili discusses in her review of the scant evidence for ancient ores.
Muhly (35-41) provides an enlightening historiographic review of Minoan archaeometallurgy. Although archaeometallurgy is a ‘very high-tech research field’, the basic research goals and questions (compositional, provenance and ore source issues) remain the same today as they were in the late 19th century (35). The 20th century saw two important developments in the investigation of the provenance of metals through elemental analysis: the Studien zu den Anfängen der Metallurgie, or SAM Project, and lead isotope analysis. Muhly believes that the papers from this conference signal a shift in Aegean metallurgy: a change from elemental analyses to fundamental metallurgical issues including: mining, initial smelting, re-smelting and refining, casting and production.
The contributions to the first and largest thematic section, “The First Steps: Silver, Copper and Arsenical Bronze”, read well together and examine FN-EBA metalwork. Kakavogianni, Douni and Nezeri (45-57) report exciting discoveries for early Attic silver-working. As a consequence of construction work for the Olympic preparations in Attica, a number of FN-EH I sites were uncovered. The litharge, or lead oxide (PbO) by-products of cupellation (a process that removes silver from lead ores), found at these sites verify the existence of early silver-working. . The most significant site, FN-EH I Lambrika (Koropi), yielded large amounts of litharge, suggesting an organized workshop. Morphological variations of litharge fragments imply that different cupellation methods were used. As this material is relatively new, the article leaves many questions unanswered, yet early Attic metalworking seems remarkable.
Papadopoulos (59-67) presents similar evidence for cupellation at Limenaria (southwestern Thasos) during the early 4th millennium BC. Litharge fragments, an early silver pin, and argentiferous lead ores from the island indicate that silver was extracted from local ores and was worked in the FN period. EBA metalworking at Limenaria expanded to copper production reminiscent of that found in the southern Aegean, which is attested by significant quantities of slag, cupriferous iron-ore fragments and a metal-working clay crucible. It is assumed that the copper-bearing ores were of local origin, however, this does not seem to have been proven.
The earliest stage of Minoan metal consumption in the form of arsenical copper is evident in Muhly’s discussion of the Ayia Photia cemetery (69-74). There is a strong Cycladic cultural presence within the cemetery, yet it is unclear whether the metalwork from the burial ground is Minoan or Cycladic. Muhly proposes an EM I date for the Ayia Photia metalwork, which he considers more Minoan in nature. There are some metallurgical connections to the Cyclades in the cemetery including the appearance of silver, lead and two Cycladic-like crucibles, yet it remains unclear whether the Ayia Photia metalwork was local or imported since the EM I cemetery would predate most Cycladic metallurgical evidence.
Vasilakis’ paper on Minoan silver-working considers the craft from the FN to the LM III (75-85). Numerous illustrations and photographs detail the development of and preferences for silver objects on Crete. Jewelry, personal implements, vessels and weapons comprise the artifact types, and the silver technology clearly becomes more elaborate over time. The article, however, lacks interpretative analysis and the data resemble a general catalogue, which is disappointing considering the paucity of scholarship on Minoan silver-working.
Gale, Kayafa and Stos-Gale (87-104) examine the role of metallurgy in EH Attica. Metallurgical remains and metal objects found at Raphina and Askitario in the 1950s are reported and analyzed. Evidence for metallurgical activity at these eastern Attic coastal sites includes slag, tuyères, stone moulds and perforated furnace fragments. Slag analysis confirms that cupriferous ores were smelted at Raphina furthermore, the furnace temperature reached 1200 degrees Celsius, an advantageous temperature for tapping slag. Lead isotope analysis reveals that EH II smelting at Raphina employed Lavrion ores, which are also attested in Crete and Thera. The article emphasizes the importance of metalworking in EBA Attica and the key metallurgical position of Lavrion throughout prehistory.
Betancourt (105-111) describes the important FN to EM III/MMIA smelting site at Chrysokamino, Crete. The Chrysokamino metallurgical evidence includes perforated chimney and bowl furnace fragments, a tuyère, pot bellows, copper prills, slag and small pieces of copper and iron ore. Flow lines within slag fragments indicate that slag was tapped out of the furnace for retrieval purposes. Arsenic was detected within copper prills, indicating that arsenic was added, either accidently or deliberately, during smelting. The Chrysokamino furnace produced impure copper at a limited level. The specialized nature of the site is emphasized by the fact that the ore was probably imported. The article by Catapotis, Pryce and Bassiakos (113-121) complements Betancourt’s study. Three experimental smelts were conducted to investigate Chrysokamino smelting technology. The experiments demonstrated that perforated chimney walls significantly increased the temperature within the upper furnace. Experiments also determined that olive-pressings were not used as fuel and slag was tapped only under extremely high thermal conditions.
Tselios examines the technological production of metal objects in Prepalatial Crete through metallographic analysis (123- 129). The structures of EM weapons and tools were examined through investigation of polished thin sections taken from the objects’ cutting edges. Combinations of casting, hammering and annealing were detected, thus shedding light on production and repair sequences. Variations in metallographic examination may reveal divergent functions and values for the objects. The potential of metallographic studies is wide-ranging as the method essentially examines production and use-wear.
The next five papers are grouped within “The Minoan Metallurgical Tradition” and primarily deal with the 2nd millennium. Gillis and Clayton (133-142) once again address the perplexing tin conundrum. They also provide analytical results of tin isotope studies, include an extensive tin bibliography and suggest future avenues of research. The authors hoped that tin isotope analysis would enlighten provenance issues, yet tin fingerprinting remains unlikely. Different tin sources were shown to produce variant isotopic ratios, yet experimental work is necessary to verify the stability of tin isotopes throughout metallurgical procedures. If tin isotopes are unchangeable, tin studies could expand with the examination of tin within bronze objects.
Two articles assess the metalworking industry at Neopalatial Mochlos by discussing recently excavated material. Soles (143-156) highlights 10 LM I metal hoards ranging from foundry hoards, traders’ hoards and ceremonial assemblages. Two hoards, however, contain a single metal object and should not be classified as hoards in my opinion. Lead isotope analyses indicate that copper oxhide ingots and fragments from these hoards originated in Cyprus. This information refutes previous notions that Cypriot copper first reached Crete during the 13th century. Soles believes that the foreign finds at Mochlos mirror the later Uluburun cargo, revealing that 14th century trade routes may have originated during the Neopalatial period. Brogan’s article (157-167) assesses the craft organization of metal-working prior to the construction of the LM IB artisans’ quarter, where metal objects were cast and hammered at a household level. Metallurgical remains are now attested from the main settlement at Mochlos including bellows, slag, crucibles, tongs, moulds, unworked copper strips, stone tools and pumice. The new metallurgical evidence indicates that craft activity was dispersed throughout the site prior to the artisan’s quarter. The combination of the metallurgical remains and hoards will revise views of the metallurgical activities at Mochlos.
A single paper discusses Aegean gold working: Papasavvas (169-181) examines the LM IA-B gold ring from Syme Viannou and considers the manufacture of signet rings. Although signet rings appear cast solid, the Syme ring (type IV) consists of manipulated gold sheets joined by hard soldering. The bezel was made of the two gold sheets encapsulating a pitch or resin core, which enabled detailed impressions on the gold surface through the implementation of hand and hammer burins. The delicate nature of engraving and soldering testifies to the precision and fine workmanship of Minoan artisans.
La Marle’s discussion (183-193) of the relationship between technological shifts and lexical usage in Linear A is intriguing, yet difficult to assess for non-linguists. La Marle asserts that Linear A lexical groups relate to different copper-alloys and that shifts in lexical usage mirror copper-alloy changes. Fundamental to La Marle’s argument is his theory that Linear A is an Indo-Iranian language. 3 As Linear A decipherments are contentious, 4 the validity of multiple Linear A words representing various metal combinations is highly questionable.
Two papers in the “Quantitative Assessments” section highlight the diachronic developments in Aegean metallurgy based upon patterns gleaned from large databases. Hakulin (197-209) considers metallurgical changes on LM Crete through an examination of tools, weapons, vessels, cultic and personal objects from various contexts. The majority of bronze objects are from the Neopalatial period, when tools are the most common bronze item, settlements are the typical context and stone moulds are the preferred casting method. Following the Neopalatial period, dominant preferences shift toward weapons, burials and lost-wax casting, possibly reflecting the Mycenaean presence on the island. Kayafa’s paper is the only entry that considers Mycenaean metallurgy in any detail (211-223). A massive database (17,500 objects) was compiled of prehistoric Peloponnesian copper-based objects, mostly from settlements, burials and hoards. This diachronic assessment enables one to consider a range of questions that deal with temporal and regional consumption patterns and possible socio-cultural changes. The greatest quantity of copper-based objects occurs during the LH III period, when preferences shift from copper-based luxury to functional objects.
The trade of metals, and specifically copper oxhide ingots, mandates the inclusion of the Central and Eastern Mediterranean in the study of Aegean metallurgy, as evident in “The Wider Mediterranean Context” section. Lo Schiavo (227-245) reviews the archaeological context for oxhide ingots in Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica and southern France, provides an extensive bibliography and updates the picture with recent finds. An intriguing hypothesis is postulated: Nuragic (Sardinian) ships were responsible for traveling east and acquiring Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean goods, highlighted by Cypriot oxhide ingots. Although this theory cannot be proven, miniature Sardinian bronze boats may reflect the significance of Nuragic ships. A brief postlude to Lo Schiavo’s article (Farinetti: 246-248) reports the creation of a digital archive known as Oxhide, which will catalogue all Central Mediterranean oxhide ingots and their analytical results. The completion and publication of this project will be a welcome addition for scholars interested in the consumption and exchange of Mediterranean metals.
Kassianidou presents intriguing evidence that revises old assumptions for Cypriot metallurgy during the MC – LC period (249-267). Kassianidou rightly proposes that primitive copper smelting developed in the MC period (Ambelikou, Alambra, Kalopsidha, Pyrgos and Katydata), and became more advanced by the early LC period with the creation of tuyères at Politiko- Phorades and Enkomi. LC I Politiko- Phorades was a specialized smelting site that transformed copper sulphide ores to matte further matte refining was necessary to produce pure copper. The traditional picture of early Cypriot metallurgy as being rather limited has been transformed to include the probable exportation of copper to Crete in the MC-LC I period. This scenario confirms recent lead isotope analysis suggesting Cypriot origins for metal objects dating to the LM IB (Mochlos and Gournia) and MM IIB (Malia) periods.
Four papers in “Technological Questions” demonstrate various scientific approaches for analyzing ancient metals. Alloys are discussed throughout the monograph, but Papadimitriou (271-287) provides a helpful diachronic view of prehistoric alloy use and development. The change in forming techniques, such as casting and hard-working, are considered through metallographic analysis. The castability and desired hardness of the object affect both the selected alloy and the formation technique. Different alloys have divergent effects on the final product revealing specific, technical choices to the bronzesmith. Cultural and technological needs understandably dictated the proliferation of variant copper-alloy types.
Exciting new possibilities for archaeometallurgical studies are discussed by Anglos et al. (289-296). An innovative, transportable machine, Element One (LMNTI) has been designed to analyze metallic objects in-situ with minimal damage. The machine employs laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) to assess metallic elemental compositions. EM-MM metal finds, primarily copper-based, from Ayios Charalambos cave were analyzed with this new technology and the elemental compositions were reported. One limitation of LIBS, however, is that elements are not evaluated quantifiably. The potential application of a transportable instrument to acquire metallic elemental information in the field is an exciting development for Aegean prehistory and archaeometallurgy.
Compositional analysis of metal finds from LM III Armenoi is reported by Kallithrakas-Kontos and Maravelaki-Kalaitzaki (297-303). Energy Dispersive X-ray Fluorescence (EDXRF) is a non-destructive analytical technique for assessing elemental characterization of metals. The strength of the paper is the demonstration of non-destructive EDXRF analysis for metallic elemental composition and the application of infra-red spectroscopy (FTIR) for conservation purposes of corroded areas. The identification of two tin beads increases the number of Aegean tin objects, yet only 11 objects were examined from Armenoi and the overall importance of the cemetery’s metals is vague.
Hein and Kilikoglou address the thermal aspects related to smelting (305-313). Ceramic elements of the smelting process, (furnace bowls and chimneys, crucibles and tuyères) needed to withstand the high smelting temperatures. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) enabled analysis of ceramic thin-sections which revealed vitrification levels and corresponding firing temperatures. In order to gauge the thermal levels within the furnace, finite element analysis (FEA) was employed to produce a computer model of heat transfer on the furnace’s ceramic elements. The paper emphasizes the value of computer modeling in ascertaining pyrotechnological smelting details.
Karimali stresses that future research must consider undervalued, parallel industries associated with metallurgy, such as lithics (315-325). Although some stone instruments (flat axes) served as prototypes for metallic versions, lithic production did not languish with the initial appearance of metallic implements. Stone tools used for cutting, paring and piercing (axes, adzes, chisels, drills, knives, sickles and pointed implements) were preferred over metal types in the FN and EBA periods, while metal versions essentially displaced stone types by the MBA and LBA. Other stone tools, however, such as hammers, grinding stones, mortars, pestles and querns were never supplanted by metal types. The relationship of coexistence or replacement between stone and metal tools seems influenced by elite associations with carpentry, stone masonry and weaponry.
For a volume on Aegean metallurgy, there is a dearth of papers dealing with the Cyclades and the Mycenaean mainland, as the publication is very Minoan-centric, thus reflecting current research. The lack of Mycenaean metallurgical studies, however, is surprising considering the high number of Pylian bronzesmiths in the Linear B records and the quantity of Mycenaean copper-based objects from the Peloponnese. 5 A concise glossary detailing the various technical approaches would have aided non-archaeometallurgists, and there are numerous typographical errors throughout the monograph. These criticisms, however, do not detract from the volume’s worthwhile informative discussions and important metallurgical revelations.
Table of Contents: 1. Iris Tzachili. Aegean Metallurgy in the Bronze Age: Recent Developments, 7-33.
2. James D. Muhly. An Introduction to Minoan Archaeometallurgy, 35-41.
The First Steps: Silver, Copper and Arsenical Bronze 3. Olga Kakavogianni, Kerasia Douni and Fotini Nezeri. Silver Metallurgical Finds dating from the End of the Final Neolithic Period until the Middle Bronze Age in the Area of Mesogeia, 45-57.
4. Stratis Papadopoulos. Silver and Copper Production Practices in the Prehistoric Settlement at Limenaria, Thasos, 59-67.
5. James D. Muhly. Ayia Photia and the Cycladic Element in Early Minoan Metallurgy, 69-74.
6. Andonis Vasilakis. Silver Metalworking in Prehistoric Crete. An Historical Survey, 75-85.
7. Noel H. Gale, Maria Kayafa and Zofia A. Stos-Gale. Early Helladic Metallurgy at Raphina, Attica, and the Role of Lavrion, 87-104.
8. Philip P. Betancourt. The Copper Smelting Workshop at Chrysokamino: Reconstructing the Smelting Process, 105-111.
9. Mihalis Catapotis, Oli Pryce and Yannis Bassiakos. Preliminary Results from an Experimental Study of Perforated Copper-smelting Shaft Furnaces from Chrysokamino (Eastern Crete), 113-121.
10. Thomas Tselios. Pre-palatial Copper Metalworking in the Mesara Plain, Crete, 123- 129.
The Minoan Metallurgical Tradition 11. Carole Gillis and Robin Clayton. Tin and the Aegean in the Bronze Age, 133-142.
12. Jeffrey Soles. Metal Hoards from LM IB Mochlos, Crete, 143-156.
13. Thomas M. Brogan. Metalworking at Mochlos before the Appearance of the Artisans’ Quarters, 157-167.
14. George Papasavvas. A Closer Look at the Technology of some Minoan Gold Rings, 169-181.
15. Hubert La Marle. Minoan metallurgy and Linear A: Definitions, Lexical Slides and Technological Changes, 183-193.
Quantitative Assessments 16. Lena Hakulin. Bronzeworking on Late Minoan Crete: An Overview based on Published Data, 197-209.
17. Maria Kayafa. Copper-based Artefacts in the Bronze Age Peloponnese: A Quantitative Approach to Metal Consumption, 211-223.
The Wider Mediterranean Context 18. Fulvia Lo Schiavo. Oxhide Ingots in the Central Mediterranean: Recent Perspectives, 227-245.
Emeri Farinetti. A Digital Archive for Oxhide Ingots, 246-248.
19. Vasiliki Kassianidou. The Formative Years of the Cypriot Copper Industry, 249-267.
Technological Questions 20. George Papadimitriou. The Technological Evolution of Copper Alloys in the Aegean during the Prehistoric Period, 271-287.
21. Demetrios Anglos, James D. Muhly, Susan C. Ferrence, Krystalia Melessanaki, Anastasia Giakoumaki, Stephania Chlouveraki and Philip P. Betancourt. LIBS Analysis of Metalwork from the Ayios Charalambos Cave, 289-296.
22. Nikos Kallithrakas-Kontos and Noni Maravelaki-Kalaitzaki. EDXRF Study of Late Minoan Metal Artworks, 297-303.
23. Anno Hein and Vassilis Kilikoglou. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) of Metallurgical Ceramics Assessment of their Thermal Behaviour, 305-313.
24. Lia Karimali. Lithic and Metal Tools in the Bronze Age Aegean: a Parallel Relationship, 315-325.
25. Iris Tzachili. An Addendum: Were there Sources of Metal Ores on Crete or not? 327-329.
1. The importance of arsenical copper was first observed by Zenghelis in the early 20th century and re-emphasized in the mid-1960s by Renfrew and Charles, yet today there is a better understanding of the proliferation of arsenical copper throughout the Aegean in the late 4 th and 3 rd millennia. For the fundamental studies on arsenical copper see: Zenghelis, C. 1905. “Sur le bronze préhistorique,’ in Mélanges Nicole, 603-610 Renfrew, C. 1967. “Cycladic Metallurgy and the Aegean Early Bronze Age,” AJA 71, 1-20 Charles, J.A. 1967. “Early Arsenical Bronzes: A Metallurgical View,” AJA 71, 21-26.
2. Day, P.M. and R.C.P. Doonan (eds.). 2007. Metallurgy in the Early Bronze Age. Sheffield studies in Aegean archaeology, 7, xi. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
3. La Marle, H. 2000. Introduction au Linéaire A 1996-1999. Linéaire A. la première écriture syllabique de Crète. 4 volumes. Paris: Paul Geuthner.
4. Bennett, E. 1985. “Linear A Houses of Cards,” in Pepragmena tou E’ Diethnous Kritologikou Synedriou (Agios Nikolaos, 25 Septemvriou – 1 Oktovriou 1981), edited by T. Detorakis, 47-56. Irakleios, Kritis: Etairia Kirtikon Isotorikon Meleton.
5. For references regarding the number of bronzesmiths at Pylos, see: Gillis, C. 1997. “The Smith in the Late Bronze Age: State Employee, Independent Artisan, or Both?” in TEXNH: Craftsmen, Craftswomen, and Craftsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age. Proceedings of the 6th International Aegean Conference. Philadelphia, Temple University, 18-21 April 1996. Aegaeum 16, edited by R. Laffineur and P. Betancourt, 506 note 5. Liège: Université de Liège.
Neolithic Art in China (7500-2000 BCE)
For more about Neolithic crafts in Asia, see: Asian Art (from 38,000 BCE).
CHRONOLOGY OF WORLD ART
For important dates, see:
History of Art Timeline.
For styles and genres, see:
History of Art.
Chinese art during the Neolithic era - the final stage in the history of Prehistoric art - emerged during the period 7500 BCE to 2000 BCE. Neolithic culture was characterized by a more settled lifestyle, based on farming and rearing of domesticated animals, its use of more sophisticated tools led directly to a growth in crafts such as pottery and weaving. Even though most ancient art in China, as elsewhere, remained largely functional in nature, artists were also able to focus on ornamentation and decoration, as well as primitive forms of jewellery art involving jade carving and precious metalwork. Other types of art introduced during the Neolithic included wood-carving and relief sculpture, as well as ivory carving and freestanding stone sculpture. But the key medium of Neolithic art in China (as elsewhere) was Chinese Pottery, a style of ancient pottery characterized by a wide range of delicate, polished and coloured vessels for both functional and ceremonial purposes. Chinese Stone Age art during the Neolithic period has been classified by archeologists into a mosaic of some 22 regional cultures whose influence and importance are still being determined. These overlapping cultures grew up mostly along the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys (see below). See also: Traditional Chinese Art: Characteristics.
Characteristics and History of Neolithic Art in China
Early Neolithic (c.7500-5000)
Ceramic art was the defining creative activity of Neolithic society in China. The earliest pots to appear were almost exclusively utilitarian earthenware, hand-made (by coiling), mainly red in colour and fired in bonfires. Decorative designs were applied by stamping, impressing and other simple techniques. The painted bands seen on this pottery may represent prototype examples of the Painted Pottery culture, which flourished during the period 4,000-2,000 BCE. To see how Chinese Neolithic pots fit into the evolution of ceramics, see: Pottery Timeline (26,000 BCE - 1900). Silk-making, the characteristic Chinese textile process, also began during the 6th millennium. Early Neolithic Chinese artists are also known for their famous Jiahu Carvings - turquoise carvings and bone flutes - discovered in the Yellow River Basin of Henan Province, Central China, around 7000-5700 BCE.
Middle Neolithic (c.5000-4000 BCE)
Chinese Middle Neolithic art is represented by deep-bodied jugs, red or red-brown ware, notably pointed-bottomed amphorae. In the East of the country, pottery was characterized by fine clay or sand-tempered pots ornamented with comb markings, incised markings, and narrow, appliqued bands. In the region of the lower Yangtze River, porous, charcoal-tempered black pottery was produced, featuring cauldrons, as well as cups and bowls. In addition, carvings and other forms of sculpture began to appear - including a number of remarkable bird designs carved on bone and ivory - as well as the earliest examples of Chinese lacquerware. See also: Mesopotamian Art (4500-539 BCE).
Late Neolithic (c.4000-2000 BCE)
Chinese Late Neolithic pottery includes a range of delicate, coloured and polished, ceremonial vessels, exemplifying the Painted Pottery culture of the age. These featured burnished bowls and basins of fine red pottery, a proportion of which were painted, usually in black, with spirals, dots and flowing lines. In the northeast the Hongshan culture was characterized by small bowls, fine painted pottery, as well as jade amulets in the shape of birds, turtles, and dragons. The middle and lower Yangtze River valley cultures were known for their ring-footed vessels, ceramic whorls, eggshell-thin goblets and bowls decorated with black or orange designs double-waisted bowls. For a comparison, see also: Ancient Persian Art (from 3500 BCE).
By 3000 BCE, Chinese ceramicists had attained a craftsmanship and elegance which was quite exceptional. Designs included gourd-shaped panels, sawtooth lines, radial spirals, and zoomorphic figures. The predominant Longshan Culture (3000-2000 BCE) was characterized by its lustrous, eggshell-thin black pottery, and its proficiency in componential construction - in which spouts, legs, and handles were added to the basic form.
In addition to fine pottery, the Late Neolithic in China witnessed the development of jade carving, lacquering and other jewellery crafts, confirmed by the increasing number of precious artifacts discovered in the graves of wealthy individuals. It was also during the third millennium that bronze metallurgy evolved. The earliest known bronze objects in China were found in the Majiayao culture site, dating to between 3100 and 2700 BCE.
For the history and development of Stone Age cultures in East Asia, see: Chinese Art Timeline (c.18,000 BCE - present). For the earliest
painting/sculpture, see: Oldest Stone Age Art: Top 100 Artworks.
Neolithic Cultures in China (7500-2000 BCE)
Pengtoushan Culture (7500-6100)
Based around the central Yangtze River region in northwestern Hunan, among artifacts found in Pengtoushan graves was cord-marked pottery. Compare Pengtoushan pottery with Jomon pottery, the earliest form of Japanese Art, which was typically supported in baskets which were destroyed by the firing process and whose weaving left its trace on the belly.
Peiligang Culture (7000-5000)
Centered on the Yi-Luo river basin valley in Henan. Typical Peiligang artifacts include a diverse assortment of ceramic items, mainly for functional purposes such as storage and cooking.
Houli Culture (6500-5500)
Centered on Shandong.
Xinglongwa Culture (6200-5400)
Located along the Inner Mongolia-Liaoning border. Xinglongwa culture is noted for its cylindrical pottery, as well as a limited amount of jade objects.
Cishan Culture (6000-5500)
Based around the Yellow River in southern Hebei, noted for its tripod pottery.
Dadiwan Culture (5800-5400)
Located in Gansu and western Shaanxi, it shared several features in common with the Cishan and Peiligang cultures.
Xinle Culture (5500-4800)
Centered on the lower Liao River on the Liaodong Peninsula. Archeological digs have produced numerous Xinle artifacts including pottery, jade objects, and some of the oldest wood carvings in the world.
Zhaobaogou Culture (5400-4500)
Centered on the Luan River valley in Inner Mongolia and northern Hebei, it is noted for its pottery vessels decorated with geometric and zoomorphic designs, and its stone and terracotta figurines.
Beixin Culture (5300-4100)
This was centered on Shandong.
Hemudu Culture (5000-4500)
Based around Yuyao and Zhoushan, Zhejiang, as well as the islands of Zhoushan. It is known for its chunky, black-coloured, porous pottery, often embellished with plant and geometric designs. Hemudu artists also produced carved jade objects, carved ivory ornaments and small, clay sculptures.
Daxi Culture (5000-3000)
Centered around the Three Gorges region of the middle Yangtze River, the culture is noted for its dou (cylindrical bottles), white pan (plates), red pottery, and jade ornaments.
Majiabang Culture (5000-3000)
Located in the Taihu Lake area and north of Hangzhou Bay, it spread across southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang. It is known for its jade ornaments and ivories.
Yangshao Culture (5000-3000)
One of the most important of the so-called Painted Pottery cultures of the Chinese Neolithic era, it flourished in Henan, Shaanxi, and Shanxi. Discovered by the Swedish archeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson and named after its type site, Yangshao, in Henan, it evolved in several stages, classified according to pottery styles, as follows: (1) Banpo stage (4800-4200). (2) Miaodigou stage (4000-3000). (3) Majiayao stage (3300-2000). (4) Banshan stage (2700-2300). (5) Machang stage (2400-2000). Chinese painters of the Yangshao culture were noted for their excellent white, red, and black painted pottery decorated with human, animal, and geometric designs. Certain incised markings on Yangshao pottery have been speculatively interpreted as an early form of Chinese writing. The Yangshao culture is also noted for its early production of silk.
Hongshan Culture (4700-2900)
Discovered by the Japanese archeologist Torii Ryuzo in 1908 and excavated in the 1930s by Kosaku Hamada and Mizuno Seiichi, this culture evolved in Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, and Hebei in northeastern China. Hongshan artists are known for their jade carvings (especially their pig dragons), copper rings and clay figurines, including statuettes of pregnant women. At Niuheliang, archeologists uncovered an underground religious complex containing a quantity of painted ceramic vessels and decorated with mural paintings - see also: Chinese Painting. Tombs excavated nearby were found to contain jade objects, as well as sculptures of dragons and tortoises. The Hongshan people attributed particular importance to jade. Several types of jade were used in carving - including light-green, cream or even blackish-green - and popular shapes included a creature with the head of a pig (or bear) and the curled body of a dragon. Examples can be seen in the Liaoning Provincial Institute of Archeology, Shenyang.
Dawenkou Culture (4100-2600)
Centered on Shandong, Anhui, Henan, and Jiangsu, and best known for its turquoise, jade and ivory carvings, as well as its long-stemmed ceramic cups, it is divided into three main stages, according to objects discovered in graves: (1) Early phase: c.4100-3500. (2) Middle phase: c.3500-3000. (3) Late phase: c.3000-2600.
Liangzhu Culture (3400-2250)
This was the last Neolithic jade culture of the Yangtze River Delta, and is famous for its tomb artifacts, featuring finely worked jade objects - made from tremolite, actinolite and serpentine jades - including pendants engraved with decorative designs of birds, turtles and fish. Liangzhu artists were also noted for their silk, ivory and lacquer objects, as well as their fine pottery. Liangzhu art is exemplified by its mysterious jade congs - cylindrical tubes encased in rectangular blocks - which were associated with Neolithic shamanism, and which anticipated the taotie design of Shang and Zhou Dynasty bronzes. Examples can be seen in the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Archeology, Hangzhou. Compare Liangzhu culture with Egyptian Art (3100 onwards).
Majiayao Culture (3100-2700)
Located in the upper Yellow River region in Gansu and Qinghai, it is noted for its pioneering copper and bronze objects, as well as its painted pottery.
Qujialing Culture (3100-2700)
Centered around the middle Yangtze River region in Hubei and Hunan, it is famous for its signature ceramic balls, painted spindle whorls, and egg shell pottery.
Longshan Culture (3000-2000)
Based in the central and lower Yellow River region, and named after the town of Longshan, home of the original Chengziya archeological site, Longshan artists were noted for their ceramic work - especially their highly polished, black-coloured, thin-walled egg-shell pottery. Working with refined clay, a fast potter's wheel and a very hot kiln, Longshan ceramicists produced some exceptional items, including tall, thin, ceremonial "stem cups", with sides typically no more than 0.5 millimetres thick. These fine objects inspired the slender, wide-mouthed wine goblets, known as gu, made during the later era of Shang Dynasty art (c.1600-1000 BCE). Longshan Culture is also known for its sericulture (silk production).
Baodun Culture (2800-2000)
Centered on the Chengdu Plain, it is known for its pottery as well as its early pebble-dash architecture.
Shijiahe Culture (2500-2000)
Based around the middle Yangtze River region in Hubei, it is noted for its painted spindle whorls, inherited from the preceding Qujialing culture, its pottery figurines and distinctive jade carvings.
Bronze Age Art in China
Although Chinese Bronze Age art originated in the upper Yellow River region around the end of the 4th millennium BCE (c.3100), Bronze metallurgy is more closely associated with Erlitou Cultural developments (2100-1500) under the Xia Dynasty (c.2100-1700 BCE) and the early Shang Dynasty between 1700 and 1500 BCE - see, for instance the famous Sanxingdui Bronzes (1200 BCE). Meantime the US National Gallery of Art, Washington DC., defines the Bronze Age in China as spanning the period c.2000-770 BCE.
Note: For a comparison, see: Korean Art (c.3,000 BCE onwards.)
Described in ancient historical chronicles, the Xia Dynasty was China's first dynasty. For more, see: Xia Dynasty Culture (2100-1700).