The Iron Age

The Iron Age is the final technological and cultural stage in the Stone–Bronze–Iron sequence. During this Age metalworking techniques evolved drastically. Iron, a much more resistant material,  gradually replaced bronze, beginning from the Middle East and reaching southeastern Europe around 1200 BC.

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iron melting

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How was the transition from Bronze to Iron Age?

Deprived of their choice metal, ancient metallurgists cast about to find a new material to work with. What they came up with was iron that was hardly a new discovery, Yet for 800 years, ancient metallurgists preferred to work with bronze. The reasons are simple:

  • Ancient metallurgists didn’t understand the properties of iron as they did bronze.
  • Iron is not much harder than bronze.
  • Bronze and tin are relatively easy to extract from ore, whereas iron ore requires a much more energy intensive and complicated process to smelt.
  • Bronze can be easily melted in a pot over a fire while working iron requires a specialized furnace.

These factors were enough to dissuade most ancient metallurgists from using iron while they had the makings of bronze at their disposal. Deprived of tin by the collapse of trade, those metallurgists began learning how to work with iron. It was then that they made an important discovery.

Photograph:People in eastern Europe made iron tools more than 2,400 years ago.
People in eastern Europe made iron tools more than 2,400 years ago.

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How men learned to smelt?

There is continuous debate to understand how the ancient people learned how to smelt.

Probably the first smelting was done by accident by making a campfire on top of tin or lead ores. That may accidentally have produced metallic tin and lead at the bottom of the campfire because the temperatures to smelt tin and lead are easily achieved in a campfire. These metals can then be re-melted and cast into the form of ornaments, tools or weapons.

Prehistoric people smelting bronze (Credit: Sheila Terry/Science Photo Library)
iron melting

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How was Iron Age lifestyle ?

The way of life in the age of bronze improved greatly thanks to housing. The typical building on a settlement would have been the large roundhouse. The main frame of the roundhouse would have been made of upright timbers, which were interwoven with coppiced wood  to make wattle walls. The roof was constructed from large timbers and densely thatched. The main focus of the interior of the house was the central open-hearth fire. This was the heart of the house  to provide cooked food, warmth and light. Because of its importance within the domestic sphere, the fire would have been maintained 24 hours a day.

All of the domestic life would have occurred within the roundhouse.

The Britons lived in villages of round houses

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A chronological phase of our society

Like for the other periods of prehistory its chronological limits vary considerably according to geographical and cultural context. Some civilizations never knew the Iron Age, while having a social development and / or considerable technical, such as pre-Columbian civilizations.

Therefore now it tends to indicate Iron Age not a chronological stage or an evolutionary stage, but the presence of a technique that influenced deeply and durably the cultures of some society, especially in Europe.

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