What is the Bronze Age?

In the 19th century, the Danish antiquarian Christian Jürgensen Thomsen noticed, while studying antiquities from his country, that local human societies cut stone before they mastered metal production, initially bronze and then iron. Based on this observation, he divided them chronologically into three ages: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. This classification can be applied to Europe and the Near East, but is not universal: not all human societies around the globe adopted these changes, and for those that did, they did not occur everywhere at the same time.

Morgan's reasoning

In the southern part of the Caucasus, Jacques de Morgan observed the absence of “settlements or necropolises that can be returned to their bronze state.”  He attributes this to a lack of tin deposits in the area, although there was a local supply of copper. Both metals are required to make bronze. Morgan therefore assumed that ancient populations were unable to produce bronze. Moreover, he presumed that if the Caucasus had been a centre of metal production, trade networks would have existed with Assyria to the south and this would have been mentioned in historical texts. His reasoning was based on a lack of evidence.

Beyond Morgan's intuition

The fieldwork was continued after Morgan left, particularly by Russian teams who eventually discovered remains which proved bronze was produced in the region from local copper and imported tin. This suggests objects were manufactured in the region and people must have known how to produce metal. They also worked with copper, silver, and gold. The work of Claude Schaeffer on the stratigraphy of the Near East has provided a more accurate dating for the Bronze Age.

Learn more: talk by Christine Lorre (03/12/2013).

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