Bronze Age, period in the development of technology when metals were first used regularly in the manufacture of tools and weapons. Pure copper and bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, were used indiscriminately at first; this early period is sometimes called the Copper Age. The earliest use of cast metal can be deduced from clay models of weapons; casting was certainly established in the Middle East by 3500 B.C. Following the Neolithic period, the development of a metallurgical industry coincided with the rise of urbanization. The organized operations of mining, smelting, and casting undoubtedly required the specialization of labor and the production of surplus food to support a class of artisans, while the search for raw materials stimulated the exploration and colonization of new territories. This process culminated in the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Sumer. Later, the Minoan civilization and the Mycenaean civilization opened extensive trade routes in central Europe, where tin and copper were mined. This activity fostered native industries and political unification, especially in Hungary, Austria, and the Alpine region. It laid the foundations of the Iron Age civilization, which was to follow under Greek, Etruscan, and Scythian influences. In the New World the earliest bronze was cast in Bolivia c.A.D. 1100. The Inca civilization used bronze tools and weapons but never mastered iron.
See V. G. Childe, The Prehistory of European Society (1958, repr. 1962); J. W. Alsop, From the Silent Earth (1964); G. Clark, World Prehistory: An Outline (2d ed. 1969); A. H. Jones, Bronze Age Civilization (1975); B. Fell, Bronze-Age America (1982).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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