Sunday, December 17

The Bronze Age – Does Technology Drive History?

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The Bronze Age marked a great time of change in the way people lived their lives between 3000BC and 600BC. The introduction of the bronze alloy revolutionized the way farming, engineering, art, and warfare were done. Without the introduction of bronze, civilizations would have no idea that metals could be combined to create stronger alloys. It would be many years later until they find a stronger metal than the copper and stone they were using. The discovery of the technology of bronze drove the development and advancement of civilizations all across the world.

                Bronze was first discovered in 4500BC in Asia, but it was not fully understood at the time so it wasn’t fully utilized until the 3000s. At this time, civilizations were beginning to set up far reaching trade routes.[1] With the extension of the trade routes, nations were able to acquire more and more raw materials; one of them being copper, the main ingredient of bronze. Skilled smelters who dealt with copper tried to only use the purest copper ore they could find, but the problem was that all copper ore has impurities in it. When smelters used up all the purest ore they could find, they began smelting the impure ore.[2] This impure ore had trace amounts of other metals and chemicals inside of it. One of the common impurities was tin. When tin and copper is smelted together, the resulting alloy is bronze. The smelters soon realized that they had discovered a much stronger metal than the previously used copper, and soon after that what we know as the Bronze Age began to flourish.

                The introduction of bronze tools greatly changed the way farming and construction was done. Tools used by the prehistoric farmer were used for tasks such as breaking the ground, removing weeds, and bringing up nutrients from the subsoil.[3] The most common tools were spades, hoes, digging sticks, ploughs, and sickles. Prior to the Bronze Age, farmers would use a wooden digging stick to break the ground and plant their crops. With the introductions of bronze, spades and shovels were invented and greatly eased the pain of trying to dig in the soil with a wooden stick. Bronze sickles made the process of harvesting the crops much faster than if it was done by hand. When it came to construction and engineering, bronze tools played various parts. There was rarely much bronze used in the actual structure being built. The main construction materials were still wood and stone. Bronze tools, such as axes and saws, allowed for people to cut down trees with much less effort.[4] This is where you start to see log cabins being constructed. Other bronze tools made it much easier to construct bridges out of wood. Before this, a bridge was considered a tree that lied across a gap.

                The field that was most affected by the advancement into the Bronze Age was warfare. Prior to the introduction of bronze, warring civilizations would use stone and copper weapons. These two materials are brittle and would often break during combat. The copper-tin combination provided much more durability than just copper alone. The first bronze weapons to be crafted were daggers and short swords. People were unable to craft longer weapons such as long swords because the bronze would begin to bend easily at that length. These longer weapons would not become practical until the discovery of steel. The design of the bronze sword was extremely advanced engineering for the time period. The designed was thick and narrow at the hilt and thin, yet broad closer to the tip of the blade.[5] This provided the necessary cutting power and was still very durable. Besides the sword, other weapon designs began to appear, such as the dagger-axe, spear, halberd, and arrows. In addition to the design of offensive weapons, warriors needed a defense against their enemies’ bronze weapons. This is where bronze shields and armor begin to surface. Despite them being incredibly heavy, they were a necessity for defense. Bronze not only made way for new weapons to be invented, but it also improved previously invented weapons.

                The discovery of bronze was a huge factor in the advancement of civilizations across the world during the Bronze Age. Bronze was the first alloy discovered. It showed that it was possible to combine other metals and have the result be much stronger than what went in. This mindset is what led smelters to discover steel after the Bronze Age. Bronze was a gateway that led into a whole new realm of understanding when it came to metalworking. Smiths and smelters previously only thought that the most pure metal ore produced the best metals. They were proven wrong when a new alloy was discovered accidently from smelted from impure copper ore. This new metal allowed various aspects of society to advance to something much greater. With only copper and stone, the people were faced with a metaphorical brick wall that they could not get pasted. Bronze tools allowed engineers to construct much larger and stable structures much more easily. These tools also spend up and reduced the required labor of farm work. Bronze brought warfare out of the stone and copper age and provided a much more useful and durable material to craft weapons and armor. The bronze alloy revolutionized the way societies acted and it would unknowingly lead to the advancement of civilizations in the future.

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[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronze_Age_Europe

[2] http://mygeologypage.ucdavis.edu/cowen/~GEL115/115CH4.html

[3] European Societies in the Bronze Age by A. F. Harding p. 124

[4] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/83859/building-construction/59311/Bronze-Age-and-early-urban-cultures

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronze_Age_sword

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