(Chapter V, section 1)


THE BRONZE AGE:

Introduction


The dividing line between the Neolithic and the age of metal is difficult to draw and essentially artificial. Like that of any other material, the introduction of copper and bronze into Europe was a gradual process. In much of the continent the use of this new substance was first implanted on established agricultural peoples, and for this reason it is generally supposed that the Bronze Age was a period of cultural diffusion but racial quiescence. This supposition is only a half-truth. In the areas of high civilization, in which metal was first notably used—Mesopotamia and Egypt—the continuity of local branches of the Mediterranean race remained quite constant in these thickly settled and well-established valleys. That this was by no means equally true of the lands to the north and west, we shall presently see.

The Bronze Age was a period of ethnic complexity. It is a unit only in the common use of a single metallic alloy by a number of peoples who obtained the technique of producing tools, weapons, containers, and ornaments of this substance from the lands of earliest civilization. Within its span occurred major shiftings of population, if not equalling, at least comparable to those of the Neolithic.

In the East, where bronze was early and iron late, the Bronze Age lasted for fifteen hundred years or more. In Mesopotamia and Egypt the efflorescence of high civilization occurred entirely within the Age of Bronze, and by the time that the harder metal had come in, the highest cultural levels had long been attained, and the two valleys had lost their cultural leadership.

In Europe, however, bronze furnished in many regions but a brief interlude of a few hundred years between stone and iron. Only in far peripheries, as in Britain, where iron arrived tardily, did the Bronze Age flourish long. Here, as in Mesopotamia and Egypt, it lasted nearly fifteen hundred years; but the two equal spans barely overlapped. A Neolithic child in Denmark might have had a Bronze Age father; similarly a Bronze Age Child in Britain might have been begotten by a lonely Kelt trained in the use of iron and visiting the western islands before his people.

Most authors make a distinction between the Ages of Copper and of Bronze. In both Mesopotamia and Egypt there was an experimental

MAP 3

period before the use of tin as an alloy, and the determination of the proper proportions of the two metals, were known. Copper spread northward and westward in these early days, and many of the weapons and ornaments of western Europe in the so-called Chalcolithic or Aeneolithic (Copper Age) period resemble early Egyptian or Sumerian forms. The earliest copper and bronze objects were carried to outlying and barbarous parts by traders, and could only be obtained by those who had something to offer in exchange. The Aencolithic Italian or Spaniard could no more produce a metal dagger than a modern Arab can make a machine-gun. In the full Bronze Age, however, imported ingots were cast locally into the desired form, and there was a smith in every village of consequence.

During the Neolithic, the farmer or herdsman could shape most of the tools and containers which he needed from local materials. Trade was carried on more in luxury objects such as sea-shells, than in primary neces sities. But during the Bronze Age, trade affected everyone, for the metal with which ordinary tools and weapons were made came from relatively few places. Copper came from Spain, the Carpathian region, and the Caucasus. Tin was found in Bohemia, Cornwall, and again in Spain. Extensive trade necessarily arose to bring the products of these mining regions together.

In order to possess bronze objects, the European peoples needed some valuable commodity to give in exchange. In the north, this was of course amber. The principal amber road ran from Denmark to Saxony and Thuringia, to Bohemia, to the Inn River in Austria; and over the Brenner Pass to the Po. The people of Bohemia acted as middle-men, buying amber from the Danes with gold which they had obtained from Transylvania in exchange for tin. Thus, even in the Bronze Age, European culture rested upon a basis of interchange of local products.

This extensive trafficking in material objects must have implied considerable travel on the part of a large class of merchants. Such travel necessarily meant exchanges of populations in some degree. Childe believes that the earliest Bronze Age objects made in central Europe were cast by artisans who had emigrated from southern Russia or Asia Minor, forming little colonies in the barbarous European villages.

The Neolithic period in most of Europe fell in a wet, warm climatic age during which much of the continent was covered with forest, and this profusion of vegetation had hindered migrations and the development of pastoral nomadism. During the Bronze Age, however, the Sub-Boreal climate,1 which then prevailed, was more continental and drier; and regions which had formerly been forested now became parkland, or in many cases open steppes.

In many parts of the north European plain the drought may have been great enough to discourage agriculture and to force some peoples to rely wholly on their flocks and herds, thus changing their habit of life from farming to pastoral nomadism. Droughts of this kind also fostered tribal migrations and political disturbances in Mesopotamia and Anatolia, in the early part of the second millennium B.C., indicate that widespread movements of economic origin were prevalent at this time.

About the middle of the Bronze Age we find the first definite evidence of the domestication of the horse as an animal of traction. Horse-using nomads invaded Mesopotamia and brought about the Babylonian Dark Age. Others, the Hyksos, appeared in Egypt, where they first conquered the Delta, and then obtained control over the entire kingdom. In the absence of definite information, it has been supposed that these inroads were the indirect result of desiccation farther north, where the steppes had become too dry for cultivation, and the erstwhile farmers had turned to pastoral nomadism.

Although all movements on the eastern European plain were by no means westward, we may find, in later times, significant parallels to the Bronze Age migrations which brought the Hyksos to Egypt, the Nasžili-speakers to Asia Minor, and other barbarians to Mesopotamia. The westward migrations of the Scyths, Huns, Turks, and Mongols were simply consecutive events in a reciprocal sequence which may have commenced long before the days of Herodotus.

All Bronze Age movements were not entirely overland, however. Metal seekers from the eastern Mediterranean followed the megalith-builders along their sea route from the Aegean to the Italian islands, thence to Spain, and around Gibraltar to Britain and the north. During the Late Bronze Age movements of peoples may be established archaeologically, but the racial interpretation is complicated by the adoption of that unfortunate practice, cremation, which destroys the evidence which physical anthropologists require.
 


Notes:

1 Much of the Neolithic of Scandinavia, where the Bronze arrived late, fell also in the Sub-Boreal.