The Iron Age is an archaeological era, referring to a period of time in the prehistory and protohistory of the Old World (Afro-Eurasia) when the dominant toolmaking material was iron. It is commonly preceded by the Bronze Age in Europe and Asia and the Stone Age in Africa, with exceptions. Meteoric iron has been used by humans since at least 3200 BC. Ancient iron production did not become widespread until the ability to smelt iron ore, remove impurities and regulate the amount of carbon in the alloy were developed. The start of the Iron Age proper is considered by many to fall between around 1200 BC and 600 BC, depending on the region.
|? Bronze Age|
Ancient Near East (1200 BC - 500 BC)
India (1200 BC - 200 BC)
Europe (1200 BC - 1 BC)
China (600 BC - 200 BC)
Korea (400 BC - 400 AD)
Japan (100 BC - 300 AD)
Philippines (1000 BC - 200 AD)
Vietnam (1000 BC - 630 AD)
Sub-Saharan Africa (1000 BC - 800 AD)
|? Ancient history|
The earliest known iron artifacts are nine small beads dated to 3200 BC, which were found in burials at Gerzeh, Lower Egypt. They have been identified as meteoric iron shaped by careful hammering. Meteoric iron, a characteristic iron-nickel alloy, was used by various ancient peoples thousands of years before the Iron Age. Such iron, being in its native metallic state, required no smelting of ores.
Smelted iron appears sporadically in the archeological record from the middle Bronze Age. While terrestrial iron is naturally abundant, its high melting point of 1,538 °C (2,800 °F) placed it out of reach of common use until the end of the second millennium BC. Tin's low melting point of 231.9 °C (449.4 °F) and copper's relatively moderate melting point of 1,085 °C (1,985 °F) placed them within the capabilities of the Neolithic pottery kilns, which date back to 6000 BC and were able to produce temperatures greater than 900 °C (1,650 °F). In addition to specially designed furnaces, ancient iron production needed to develop complex procedures for the removal of impurities, for regulating the admixture of carbon in combination with hot-working to achieve a useful balance of hardness and strength (steel), and for adding alloys to prevent rust; see Ferrous metallurgy.
The earliest tentative evidence for iron-making is a small number of iron fragments with the appropriate amounts of carbon admixture, found in the Proto-Hittite layers at Kaman-Kalehöyük and dated to 2200-2000 BC. Akanuma (2008) concludes that "The combination of carbon dating, archaeological context, and archaeometallurgical examination indicates that it is likely that the use of ironware made of steel had already begun in the third millennium BC in Central Anatolia". Souckova-Siegolová (2001) shows that iron implements were made in Central Anatolia in very limited quantities around 1800 BC and were in general use by elites, though not by commoners, during the New Hittite Empire (~1400-1200 BC).
Similarly, recent archaeological remains of iron working in the Ganges Valley in India have been tentatively dated to 1800 BC. Tewari (2003) concludes that "knowledge of iron smelting and manufacturing of iron artifacts was well known in the Eastern Vindhyas and iron had been in use in the Central Ganga Plain, at least from the early second millennium BC". By the Middle Bronze Age, increasing numbers of smelted iron objects (distinguishable from meteoric iron by the lack of nickel in the product) appeared in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. African sites are turning up dates as early as 1200 BC.
Modern archaeological evidence identifies the start of large-scale iron production in around 1200 BC, marking the end of the Bronze Age. Between 1200 BC and 1000 BC, diffusion in the understanding of iron metallurgy and use of iron objects was fast and far-flung. Anthony Snodgrass suggests that a shortage of tin, as a part of the Bronze Age Collapse and trade disruptions in the Mediterranean around 1300 BC, forced metalworkers to seek an alternative to bronze. As evidence, many bronze implements were recycled into weapons during this time. More widespread use of iron led to improved steel-making technology at lower cost. Thus, even when tin became available again, iron was cheaper, stronger, and lighter, and forged iron implements superseded cast bronze tools permanently.
Increasingly, the Iron Age in Europe is being seen as a part of the Bronze Age collapse in the ancient Near East, in ancient India (with the post-Rigvedic Vedic civilization), ancient Iran, and ancient Greece (with the Greek Dark Ages). In other regions of Europe, the Iron Age began in the 8th century BC in Central Europe and the 6th century BC in Northern Europe. The Near Eastern 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 13th and 12th century BC 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 2nd millennium.
During the Iron Age, the best tools and weapons were made from steel, particularly alloys which were produced with a carbon content between approximately 0.30% and 1.2% by weight. Alloys with less carbon than this, such as wrought iron, cannot be heat treated to a significant degree and will consequently be of low hardness, while a higher carbon content creates an extremely hard but brittle material that cannot be annealed, tempered, or otherwise softened. 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, and alloys that were easier to make, such as wrought iron, were more common in lower-priced goods. Many techniques have been used to create steel; Mediterranean ones differ dramatically from African ones, for example. Sometimes the final product is all steel, sometimes techniques like case-hardening or forge welding were used to make cutting edges stronger.
In the Mesopotamian states of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria, the initial use of iron reaches far back, to perhaps 3000 BC. One of the earliest smelted iron artifacts known was a dagger with an iron blade found in a Hattic tomb in Anatolia, dating from 2500 BC. The widespread use of iron weapons which replaced bronze weapons rapidly disseminated throughout the Near East (North Africa, southwest Asia) by the beginning of the 1st millennium BC.
The Iron 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 and Balkans in the late 2nd millennium BC (c. 1300 BC). However, this theory has been challenged by the emergence of those placing the transition in price and availability issues rather than the development of technology on its own. The earliest bloomery smelting of iron is found at Tell Hammeh, Jordan around 930 BC (14C dating).
The development of iron smelting was once attributed to the Hittites of Anatolia during the Late Bronze Age. It was believed that they maintained a monopoly on ironworking, and that their empire had been based on that advantage. Accordingly, the invading Sea Peoples were responsible for spreading the knowledge through that region. This theory is no longer held in the common current thought of the majority of scholarship, since there is no archaeological evidence of the alleged Hittite monopoly. While there are some iron objects from Bronze Age Anatolia, the number is comparable to iron objects found in Egypt and other places of the same time period; and only a small number of these objects are weapons. As part of the Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age, the Bronze Age collapse saw the slow, comparatively continuous spread of iron-working technology in the region.
In Europe, the use of iron covers the last years of the prehistoric period and the early years of the historic period. The regional Iron Age may be defined as including the last stages of the prehistoric period and the first of the proto-historic periods. Iron working was introduced to Europe in the late 11th century BC, probably from the Caucasus, and slowly spread northwards and westwards over the succeeding 500 years. The widespread use of the technology of iron was implemented in Europe simultaneously with Asia.
Archaeological artifact from the work developed in the area of Citânia de Briteiros
The Iron Age in Europe is characterized by an elaboration of designs in weapons, implements, and utensils. These are no longer cast but hammered into shape, and decoration is elaborate curvilinear rather than simple rectilinear; the forms and character of the ornamentation of the northern European weapons resembles in some respects Roman arms, while in other respects they are peculiar and evidently representative of northern art.
The widespread use of the technology of iron was implemented in Asia simultaneously with Europe.
The Iron Age in Central Asia began when iron objects appear among the Indo-European Saka in present-day Xinjiang between the 10th century BC and the 7th century BC, such as those found at the cemetery site of Chawuhukou.
The history of metallurgy in the Indian subcontinent began during the 2nd millennium BC. 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 1800-1200 BC. Archaeological excavations in Hyderabad show an Iron Age burial site. Rakesh Tewari believes that around the beginning of the Indian Iron Age (13th century BC), iron smelting was widely practiced in India. Such use suggests that the date of the technology's inception may be around the 16th century BC.
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. One iron working centre in east India has been dated to the first millennium BC. In Southern India (present day Mysore) iron appeared as early as 12th to 11th centuries BC; these developments were too early for any significant close contact with the northwest of the country. The Indian Upanishads mention metallurgy. and the Indian Mauryan period saw advances in metallurgy. As early as 300 BC, certainly by AD 200, high quality steel was produced in southern India, by what would later be called the crucible technique. In this system, high-purity wrought iron, charcoal, and glass were mixed in a crucible and heated until the iron melted and absorbed the carbon.
The protohistoric Early Iron Age in Sri Lanka lasted from 1000 BC to 600 BC. Radiocarbon evidence has been collected from Anuradhapura and Aligala shelter in Sigiriya. The Anuradhapura settlement is recorded to extend 10 ha (25 acres) by 800 BC and grew to 50 ha (120 acres) by 700-600 BC to become a town. The skeletal remains of an Early Iron Age chief were excavated in Anaikoddai, Jaffna. The name 'Ko Veta' is engraved in Brahmi script on a seal buried with the skeleton and is assigned by the excavators to the 3rd century BC. Ko, meaning "King" in Tamil, is comparable to such names as Ko Atan and Ko Putivira occurring in contemporary Brahmi inscriptions in south India. It is also speculated that Early Iron Age sites may exist in Kandarodai, Matota, Pilapitiya and Tissamaharama.
Archaeology in Thailand at sites Ban Don Ta Phet and Khao Sam Kaeo yielding metallic, stone, and glass artifacts stylistically associated with the Indian subcontinent suggest Indianization of Southeast Asia beginning in the 4th to 2nd centuries BC during the late Iron Age.
In Philippines and Vietnam the Sa Huyun culture showed evidence of an extensive trade network. Sa Huynh beads were made from glass, carnelian, agate, olivine, zircon, gold and garnet; most of these materials were not local to the region, and were most likely imported. Han-Dynasty-style bronze mirrors were also found in Sa Huynh sites. Conversely, Sa Huynh produced ear ornaments have been found in archaeological sites in Central Thailand, Taiwan (Orchid Island).:211-217
In China, Chinese bronze inscriptions are found around 1200 BC. The development of iron metallurgy was known by the 9th century BC. The large seal script is identified with a group of characters from a book entitled Sh? Zhoù Pi?n (c. 800 BC). Iron metallurgy reached the Yangzi Valley toward the 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 period (from about 350 BC). Important non-precious husi style metal finds include Iron tools found at the tomb at Guwei-cun of the 4th century 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.
Iron objects were introduced to the Korean peninsula through trade with chiefdoms and state-level societies in the Yellow Sea area in the 4th 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. The time 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, Baekje, Goguryeo, and Gaya Iron ingots were an important mortuary item and indicated the wealth or prestige of the deceased in this period.
Iron items, such as tools, weapons, and decorative objects, are postulated to have entered Japan during the late Yayoi period (c. 300 BC-AD 300) or the succeeding Kofun period (c. AD 250-538), most likely through contacts with the Korean Peninsula and China.
Distinguishing characteristics of the Yayoi period include the appearance of new pottery styles and the start of intensive rice agriculture in paddy fields. Yayoi culture flourished in a geographic area from southern Ky?sh? to northern Honsh?. The Kofun and the subsequent Asuka periods are sometimes referred to collectively as the Yamato period; The word kofun is Japanese for the type of burial mounds dating from that era.
In Africa, where there was no continent-wide universal Bronze Age, the use of iron succeeded immediately the use of stone. Metallurgy was characterized by the absence of a Bronze Age, and the transition from "stone to steel" in tool substances. Early evidence for iron technology in Sub-Saharan Africa can be found at sites such as KM2 and KM3 in northwest Tanzania. Nubia was one of the relatively few places in Africa to have a sustained Bronze Age along with Egypt and much of the rest of North Africa.
In the Black Pyramid of Abusir, dating before 2000 BC, Gaston Maspero found some pieces of iron. In the funeral text of Pepi I, the metal is mentioned. A sword bearing the name of pharaoh Merneptah as well as a battle axe with an iron blade and gold-decorated bronze shaft were both found in the excavation of Ugarit. A dagger with an iron blade found in Tutankhamun's tomb, 13th century BC, was recently examined and found to be of meteoric origin.
Iron metal is singularly scarce in collections of Egyptian antiquities. Bronze remained the primary material there until the conquest by Assyria. The explanation of this would seem to lie in the fact that the relics are in most cases the paraphernalia of tombs, the funeral vessels and vases, and iron being considered an impure metal by the ancient Egyptians it was never used in their manufacture of these or for any religious purposes. It was attributed to Seth, the spirit of evil who according to Egyptian tradition governed the central deserts of Africa.
Very early copper and bronze working sites in Niger may date to as early as 1500 BC. There is also evidence of iron metallurgy in Termit, Niger from around this period. In Central Africa, iron working may have been practiced as early as the 3rd millennium BC. It was once believed that iron and copper working in Sub-Saharan Africa spread in conjunction with the Bantu expansion, from the Cameroon region to the African Great Lakes in the 3rd century BC, reaching the Cape around AD 400.
Sub-Saharan Africa has produced very early instances of carbon steel found to be in production around the 1st century AD 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.
|Iron Age Examples|
...the blade's composition of iron, nickel and cobalt was an approximate match for a meteorite that landed in northern Egypt. The result "strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin"...