Today we journey to the east, and nearly 7,000 years back in time, to when man first began to use and implement a rudimentary material of modern day: metal. Following the previous Paleolithic and Neolithic Eras, humankind transitioned into the mythological “Third Age of Man”, also known as the Bronze Age. Historically, the western Bronze Age is narrowed down to about 3000 BCE, however evidence from the Middle East, China, and even Serbia show primitive metallurgy production 1500-2000 years prior to that date.
Bronze is described as any alloy which is 85-95% copper with the remainder composed of tin and, often during ancient times, arsenic was added to the mix. The oldest tin-alloy bronze artifacts are axe heads that were discovered in Serbia, dating to 4500 BCE, indicating a shift from stone tools and weapons to the new durable bronze alloy.
One thousand years later, in approximately 3500 BCE, bronze tools and statuettes began appearing in the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley of Iraq, used by the Ancient Sumerian people. Bronze in this region was most likely found when tin-rich stones were gathered for campfires, and the heat from the flames melted and mixed the metal components contained in the rocks. There were two main forms of bronze used during this age; the first was “classic bronze” (10% tin) and the second, “mild bronze” (6% tin). Classic bronze was used for casting weapons and tools, whereas mild bronze was hammered into sheets for helmet and armor production.
During the middle of the Bronze Age, between 2500-1500 BCE, casting methods became so advanced that large scale statues and ship fittings were readily manufactured from molds made of sand, wax, stone and clay. In Ancient Greek culture, bronze sculptures were regarded as the highest form of art; however, few pieces have survived, unlike their Roman marble copies. Bronze had numerous applications throughout the ancient world, including mirrors, musical instruments, bells, building materials, coins, and ceremonial relics.
The Bronze Age wrapped up around the end of the first millennium BCE, when the more abundant metal ore, iron, replaced the costly and much scarcer bronze ore. Bronze still saw use during the Iron Age into Late Antiquity, as bronze is less vulnerable to corrosion than iron, and does not spark when struck against metal surfaces. During the Dark Ages, most bronze art from the Classical Period was either destroyed or melted to build additional weapons for the barbarian conquerors of the former Roman Empire. With the discovery of gunpowder in 9th century China, bronze was once again implemented in the creation of cannons, and by the 13th century, bronze cannons began seeing action on the battlefields of Europe.
In modern times, we associate bronze with the third place position in sporting competitions, which was introduced during the 1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics. The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village houses several examples of antique bronze artifacts. To learn more about bronze and other ancient metallurgy, visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.
Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.