, the Iron
is the prehistoric period in any area during which
cutting tools and weapons were mainly made of iron or steel. The
adoption of this material coincided with other changes in society,
including differing agricultural practices, religious beliefs and
The Iron Age is the last principal period in the three-age system
prehistoric societies, preceded by the Bronze
. Its dates and context vary depending on the geographical
region. The Iron Age in each area ends with the beginning of the
historical period, i.e. the local production of ample written
sources. Thus, for instance, the British Iron Age ends with the
The term "Iron Age" was originally derived from the "Ages of Man
", i.e. the ages of human existence
on the Earth according to Classical
. While modern historians assume earlier ages in this
scheme to be completely mythical ("The
" and the "Silver Age
the later Bronze Age
and Iron Age of
classical mythology are assumed to have preserved the memory of
actual periods when the metals mentioned dominated human
Classically, the Iron Age is taken to begin in the 12th century
in the ancient
, ancient Iran
, ancient India
(with the post-Rigvedic Vedic
), and ancient Greece
(with the Greek Dark Ages
). In other
regions of Europe
, it started much later. The
Iron Age began in the 8th century BC in Central Europe
and the 6th century BC in
. Iron use, in
and forging for tools, appears in
by 1200 BC, making it one of
the first places for the birth of the Iron Age. (It is believed
that meteoric iron
, or iron-nickel
alloy, was used by various ancient peoples thousands of years
before the Iron Age. This iron, being in its native metallic state,
required no smelting of ores.)
The Iron Age is divided into two subsections, Iron I and Iron II.
Iron I (1200–1000 BC) illustrates both continuity and discontinuity
with the previous Late Bronze Age
There is no definitive cultural break between the thirteenth and
twelfth century throughout the entire region, although certain new
features in the hill country, Transjordan and coastal region may
suggest the appearance of the Aramaean and Sea People groups. There
is evidence, however, that shows strong continuity with Bronze Age
culture, although as one moves later into Iron I the culture begins
to diverge more significantly from that of the late second
Age is usually said to end in the Mediterranean with the onset of historical tradition during
Hellenism and the Roman Empire,
in India with the
onset of Buddhism and Jainism, in China with the onset of Confucianism, and in Northern Europe with the
early Middle Ages.
The arrival of iron use in various areas is discussed in more
detail below, broadly in chronological order.
Iron use in the Bronze Age
Middle Bronze Age, increasing
numbers of smelted iron objects (distinguishable from meteoric iron by the lack of nickel in the
product) appeared throughout Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Indian subcontinent, the Levant, the
Mediterranean, and Egypt.
Some sources suggest that iron was
being created in some places then as a byproduct of copper
refining, as sponge iron
, and was not
reproducible by the metallurgy of the time.
The earliest systematic production and use of iron implements
originates in Anatolia. African production of iron has been
suggested to have begun at around the same time, and possibly even
before Anatolia, but recent discoveries suggest that iron working
appeared in Anatolia since 2000 BC. Recent archaeological research at Ganges Valley,
India showed early iron working by 1800 BC.
By 1200 BC, iron
was widely used in the Middle East
did not supplant the dominant use of bronze
for some time.
Transition from bronze to iron
Bronze was previously used to make tools because its melting point
is lower than that of iron. The Iron Age began with the development
of higher temperature smelting techniques. During the Iron Age, the
best tools and weapons were made from steel, an alloy consisting of
iron with a carbon
content between 0.02% and
1.7% by weight. Steel
weapons and tools were
nearly the same weight as those of bronze
but stronger. However, steel was difficult to produce with the
methods available. Therefore, many Iron Age tools were fashioned of
. Wrought iron is weaker
than bronze, but because it was less expensive, and more easily
sharpened, people used it anyway. Iron is by itself an adequately
strong metal without additional alloys (although it could be
further strengthened by case-hardening
or forge welding
small amounts of steel to areas
subject to wear such as edges). Bronze, on the other hand, requires
copper and tin, which are less common than iron. Additionally, iron
can be sharpened by grinding whereas bronze must be reforged.
Around 1800 BC, for reasons yet unknown to archaeologists, tin
became scarce in the Levant
, causing a
decline in bronze production. Copper, also, came to be in short
supply. As a result, pirate groups around the Mediterranean, from
around 1800–1700 BC onward, began to attack fortified cities in
search of bronze, to remelt into weaponry.
Bronze was much more abundant in the period before the 12th to 10th
century, and Snodgrass suggests that a shortage of tin, as a result
of the trade disruptions
Mediterranean at this time, forced peoples to seek an alternative
to bronze. That many bronze items were recycled and made from
implements into weapons during this time, is evidence of
Ancient Near East
Age in the Ancient Near East is
believed to have begun with the discovery of iron smelting and
smithing techniques in Anatolia or the
Caucasus in the late
2nd millennium BC (circa 1300
The use of iron weapons instead of bronze weapons spread rapidly
throughout the Near East
or the southwest
by the beginning of the 1st millennium BC.
Anatolians had begun forging weapons out of iron, which was a
superior metal to bronze, by 1500 BC at the latest.
The use of iron weapons by the Hittites
believed to have been a major factor in the rapid rise of the
Hittite Empire. Because the area in which iron technology
first developed was near the Aegean, the
technology expanded into both Asia and Europe simultaneously, aided
by Hittite expansion.
and the related Philistines
are often associated with the introduction of iron technology into
Asia, as are the Dorians
with respect to
Finds of Iron
Early examples and distribution of non precious metal
|Total Bronze Age
|Total Iron Age
Inhabitants at Termit, in eastern Niger became the
first iron smelting people in West Africa
and among the first in the world around 1500 BC.
copper working then continued to spread southward through the
continent, reaching the Cape around
Iron Age finds in East and Southern
Africa, corresponding to the early 1st millennium Bantu
The widespread use of iron
revolutionized the Bantu
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 savannah
The technologically superior Bantu-speakers spread across southern
Africa and became wealthy and powerful, producing iron for tools
and weapons in large, industrial quantities. In addition to wrought
iron, very early instances of carbon
were found to be in production around 2000 years before
present in northwest Tanzania
, based on
complex preheating principles. These discoveries, according to
Schmidt and Avery (archaeologists credited with the discovery) are
significant for the history of metallurgy.
Archaeological sites in India, such as
Malhar, Dadupur, Raja
Nala Ka Tila and Lahuradewa in present day Uttar Pradesh show iron implements in the period 1800 BC – 1200
Some scholars believe that by the early 13th century BC
, iron smelting was practiced
on a bigger scale in India, suggesting that the date of the
technology's inception may be earlier.
The beginning of the 1st millennium BC saw extensive developments
in iron metallurgy in India. Technological advancement and mastery
of iron metallurgy was achieved during this period of peaceful
settlements. An iron working centre in east
is dated to the first millennium BC.
Southern India (present day Mysore) iron
appeared as early as 11th to 12th centuries BC; these developments
were too early for any significant close contact with the northwest
of the country.
The Indian Upanishads
pottery, and metallurgy.
The Indian Mauryan
period saw advances in
As early as 300 BC, certainly by AD 200, high quality steel was
produced in southern India, by what would later be called the
. In this system,
high-purity wrought iron, charcoal, and glass were mixed in
crucible and heated until the iron melted and absorbed the
near the city of Gaocheng (藁城) in Shijiazhuang (now Hebei province),
an iron-bladed bronze tomahawk (铁刃青铜钺) dating back to the 14th
century BC was excavated.
After a scientific examination,
the iron was shown to be made from meteoric
. The Iron Age in East Asia began,
however, when iron objects began to appear in present-day Xinjiang
between the 10th century BC
7th century BC
, such as those found
at the cemetery site of Chawuhukou. This was soon followed by the
development of iron metallurgy on the Manchurian plain by the
9th century BC
. Iron metallurgy
reached the Yangzi Valley
end of the 6th century BC
. The few
objects were found at Changsha and Nanjing. The mortuary evidence
suggests that the initial use of iron in Lingnan belongs to the mid
to late Warring States
about 350 BC).
The techniques used in Lingnan are a combination of bivalve moulds
of distinct southern tradition and the incorporation of piece mould
technology from the Zhongyuan
The products of the
combination of these two periods are bells, vessels, weapons and
ornaments and the sophisticated cast.
Age culture of the Tibetan Plateau has tentatively been associated with the Zhang Zhung culture described in early
objects were introduced to the Korean
peninsula through trade with chiefdoms and state-level
societies in the Yellow
Sea area in the fourth century BC, just at the end of
the Warring States Period but before the Western Han Dynasty began.
Yoon proposes that
iron was first introduced to chiefdoms located along North Korean
river valleys that flow into the Yellow Sea such as the Cheongcheon
and Taedong Rivers. Iron production quickly followed in the 2nd
century BC, and iron implements came to be used by farmers by the
1st century in southern Korea. The earliest known cast-iron axes in
southern Korea are found in the Geum River basin.
that iron production begins is the same time that complex chiefdoms
of Proto-historic Korea
emerged. The complex
chiefdoms were the precursors of early states such as Silla
, and Gaya
Iron ingots were an important mortuary item and indicated the
wealth or prestige of the deceased in this period.
The is an era in the history of
from about 500 BC to AD 300. Distinguishing
characteristics of the Yayoi period include the appearance of new
pottery styles and the start of an intensive rice agriculture in
paddy fields. The Yayoi followed the Jōmon period (14,000 BC to 500 BC) and
Yayoi culture flourished in a geographic area from southern
Kyūshū to northern Honshū.
The succeeding lasts from around 250 to 538. The word
is Japanese for the type of burial mound
dating from this era. The Kofun and the
subsequent Asuka periods
referred to collectively as the Yamato
. Iron items, such as tools, weapons, and decorative
objects, are postulated to have entered Japan during this era or
the late Yayoi period, most likely through contacts with the Korean
Peninsula and China.
working was introduced to Europe around 1000 BC, probably from
Minor and slowly spread northwards and westwards over the
succeeding 500 years.
The early 1st millennium BC marks the Iron Age in Eastern Europe.
In the Pontic steppe
and the Caucasus region
, the Iron Age
begins with the Koban
and the Chernogorovka and Novocherkassk
cultures from ca. 900 BC. By 800 BC, it was spreading to Hallstatt C
via the alleged "Thraco-Cimmerian
with Chernogorovka and Novocherkassk cultures, on the territory of
ancient Russia and Ukraine the Iron Age is to a significant extent associated
with Scythians, who developed iron culture
since the 7th century BC.
The majority of remains of their
iron producing and blacksmith's industries from 5th to 3rd century
BC was found near Nikopol
in Kamenskoe Gorodishche
, which is
believed to be the specialized metallurgic
region of the ancient Scythia
From the Hallstatt culture, the Iron Age spreads west with the
expansion from the 6th century BC. In
Poland, the Iron Age reaches the late Lusatian culture
in about the 6th century,
followed in some areas by the Pomeranian
The ethnic ascriptions of many Iron Age cultures has been bitterly
contested, as the roots of Germanic
peoples were sought in this area.
Central Europe, the Iron Age is generally divided in the early Iron
Age Hallstatt culture (HaC and D,
800–450) and the late Iron Age La Tène culture (beginning in 450 BC).
The Iron Age ends
with the Roman Conquest.
the Iron Age was probably introduced by the Villanovan culture but this culture is
otherwise considered a Bronze Age culture, while the following
civilization is regarded as part of Iron Age proper.
Etruscan Iron Age was then ended with the rise and conquest of the
, which conquered the
last Etruscan city of Velzna
in 265 BC
Isles, the Iron Age lasted from about 800 BC until the
Roman conquest and until the 5th century in non-Romanised
parts. Structures dating from this time are often
impressive, for example the brochs and
duns of northern Scotland and the hill forts that
dotted the islands.
The Iron Age is divided into the Pre-Roman Iron Age
and the Roman Iron Age
. This is followed by the
. Northern Germany
and Denmark was dominated by the Jastorf
, whereas the culture of the southern half of the
Scandinavia was dominated by the very similar Gregan Iron
production typically involved the harvesting of bog iron
. Scandinavian peninsula, Finland and Estonia show sophisticated iron production very early, but
further dating is currently impossible.
The range varies
from 3000–2000 BP
. This knowledge is
associated with the non-Germanic part of Scandinavia. Metalworking
somewhat synonymous in Scandinavia
to the latter's capacity to resist and retain heat. The iron ore
used is believed to have been iron sand
(such as red soil
), because its high
phosphorus content can be identified in slag
They are sometimes found together with asbestos ware
axes belonging to the Ananjino Culture
. The Asbestos-Ceramic ware
remains a mystery, because there are other adiabatic
vessels with unknown usage.
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