The Bronze Age
What was the Bronze Age?
The Bronze Age is a time period when bronze replaced stone as the preferred material for making tools and weapons. This led to improvements in agriculture and brought with it changes in the way people live.
Some groups of Bronze Age people developed early writing and other important advances included irrigation, the wheel and the potter’s wheel.
Different societies entered the Bronze Age at differing times. Some of the best known Bronze Age civilisations include those of the ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Mycenae, the Indus Valley and the Shang Dynasty in China.
Top 10 facts
- The Bronze Age is the name given to the period of time between the Stone and Iron Ages.
- Between 4000BC and 2000BC different societies around the world entered the Bronze Age. In Britain, the Bronze Age started around 2100BC and ended around 650BC.
- Bronze is an alloy or mixture of tin and copper. Bronze alloy is harder than either of the metals from which it is made. It could be used to make a greater range of tools and weapons than had previously been possible.
- Where societies developed early writing they are said to be part of a historic (as opposed to a prehistoric) time period. The ancient Egyptians could record their own histories and laws using hieroglyphs.
- Irrigation and the metal plough transformed the development of agriculture and meant that, where the climate permitted, it was possible to farm year round. Forest clearance led to the development of large farms and fields were separated by walls.
- Growth of trade for bronze and bronze products was aided by improved navigation skills. Knowledge of astronomy and mathematics also developed during this period.
- The invention of the wheel meant that animal-drawn vehicles could drive along tracks and roads.
- The potter's wheel and textile production meant that better pottery and clothing could be produced.
- Metal workers and those who traded in metals were probably the most important and wealthiest people in Bronze Age society.
- Some Bronze Age societies developed a ruling class who were supported by military power. Some Bronze Age kings ruled empires and administered laws.
- 5500 BCExtraction of metals begins in Persia and Afghanistan
- 4000 BCUr in Mesopotamia is world’s first city
- 3800 BCBronze discovered in Middle East
- 3500 BCFirst Egyptian cities develop
- 3300 BCBronze Age begins in Sumer
- 3300 BCStart of Indus Valley Civilization
- 2700 BCBeginnings of Sumerian written history
- 2100 BCBronze Age in Britain
- 1700 BCNordic Bronze Age; Shang Dynasty established in China
- 650 BCEnd of Bronze Age in Britain
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Did you know?
- The earliest writing systems were developed in Mesopotamia (cuneiform) and Egypt (hieroglyphs).
- The ancient cities of the Near East had populations of tens of thousand of people.
- Devon and Cornwall provided much of the tin for Western Europe during this period. Copper ore was mined in North Wales.
- Bronze Age graves from around Stonehenge show that migrants had travelled to Britain from Switzerland.
- The Bronze Age in Britain lasted approximately 1,700 years.
- The Beaker people may have introduced beer drinking into Britain.
Look through the gallery and see if you can spot the following:
- 'Flag Fen', a recreation of a Bronze Age British roundhouse
- A Bronze Age longboat
- Bronze Age daggers
- A Bronze Age beaker
- The Uffington white horse
- A Bronze Age shield
- A Bronze Age settlement reconstructed at Biskupin in Poland
Using bronze meant craftsmen could produce a greater range of tools and weapons than had previously been possible. Metal working skills could also be used to produce household and luxury goods and fine jewellery.
Agriculture benefited from bronze ploughs which were more efficient than earlier wooden ones. Bronze axes cleared forests and increased the land available for growing crops and grazing animals. Irrigation helped make farming more productive and dry stone walls marked field boundaries. People could now produce more food than they needed. Trade in metals and goods could take place over long distances thanks to improved sailing skills and early tracks and roads now carried carts and wagons drawn by animals.
Trade in bronze meant that some people grew rich and powerful. Over time this led to a more divided society from the king at the top, through priests, soldiers, farmers down to the lowliest slaves. Changes in the way people were buried and in the objects that they were buried with, help to show the differences between the rich man and the poor.
Empire building was now possible and a greater range of weapons including chariots and armour may have encouraged raids and warfare. Some of the great battles and wars of the period have left traces in the historical record, others are the subject of myth and legends such as the battles fought by the Greeks and Trojans over Helen of Troy, and still others form part of the stories told in the Old Testament such as the battle fought by Joshua at Jericho.
Some historians believe that bronze was first brought to Britain by the Beaker people. These migrants appear to have mixed with local people and other migrating groups and over time came together to form what is known as the Wessex culture. This is associated with single burials in round barrows, pottery ('beakers') used in burials and rich grave goods.
One form of Bronze age housing in Britain was the roundhouse. Built to a circular plan, this had wall posts of wood or stone filled in with wattle-(woven wood) and- daub, a mixture of mud and straw. The house had a central hearth around which people slept and was roofed with hides, thatch or turf.
People could now weave wool into cloth. Most people wore tunics, perhaps belted or worn with jewelled clasps. Women tended to wear longer skirts and men may have worn leggings, cloaks and hats. Razors and tweezers were used to remove hair. Richer people would have displayed their wealth on finer textiles and ornamentation.
Just for fun...
- Read a Bronze Age boy's story on the Dyfed Archaeological Trust website
- Make a roundhouse
- Take a Celts, Bronze Age, and Iron Age quiz to show off your knowledge
- Have a close look at Bronze Age artefacts: a Bronze Age axehead, a Bronze Age dagger blade and a Bronze Age battleaxe
- Work through the Museum of London's Archaeology activity pack
Children's books about the Bronze Age
Find out more
- Read the BBC Bitesize guide to life in the Bronze Age and watch a BBC Bronze Age animation
- A children's introduction to the Bronze Age
- Information about the Beaker people and Beaker pottery
- Read kids' information about the Bronze Age on the Kiddle encyclopedia website
- Understand more about Bronze Age Britain by looking at real objects from the time
- Find out more about the Bronze Age in Britain
- Read about the largest-ever Bronze Age wheel found in Britain
- What did people eat in the Bronze Age?
- Look closely at a Bronze Age cauldron with explanatory notes from the Ashmolean Museum
- Information about the Amesbury Archer: the archaeological discovery of a grave dating to around 2,300 BC (the early Bronze Age)
- In January 2016 archaeologists announced they had found Britain's "Pompeii" at Must Farm quarry in Cambridgeshire. The site includes the "best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found" in the UK; the round wooden houses, built on stilts, date to around 1000-800 BC
- Understand more about Bronze Age everyday life and technology
- See the remains of Bronze Age people in the Natural History Museum
- Investigate life in Bronze Age London with an interactive Museum of London resource
See for yourself
- The British Museum has a large collection of Bronze Age objects
- Visit Flag Fen, a Bronze Age archaeological site near Peterborough
- The National Museum at Cardiff has some Bronze Age treasures
- Visit the Bronze Age Boat Museum at Dover
- Visit the white horse at Uffington
- See the Wavertree burial urn at the Museum of Liverpool
- The Great Orme Bronze Age Mines in Llanduno, Wales are thought to be the largest prehistoric mine discovered in the world so far