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Iron Age

Iron Age Axe found on Gotland
Iron Age Axe found on Gotland

This article is about the archaeological period known as the Iron Age, for the mythological Iron Age see Iron Age (mythology).

In archaeology, the Iron Age is the stage in the development of any people where the use of iron implements as tools and weapons is pre-eminent. The adoption of this new material coincided with other changes in past societies often including differing agricultural practices, religious beliefs and artistic styles.

The Iron Age is the last principle period in the three-age system for classifying pre-historic societies and its meaning varies depending on the country or geographical region. This variation even occurs within Europe where the Iron Age distinction was first identified; the Nordic Iron Age and Roman Iron Age are examples. The Iron Age was preceded by the Bronze Age in Europe and Asia whilst in the rest of the world it was adopted directly after one or other sub-phases of the Stone Age.

For each indiviual region, the period is very hard to state in years, but the Iron Age corresponds to the stage at which iron production was the most sophisticated form of metalworking. Iron's hardness, high melting point and the abundance of iron ore sources made iron more desirable and cheaper than bronze and contributed greatly to its adoption as the most commonly used metal. The arrival of iron use in various areas is listed below, broadly in chronological order.


The Iron Age in Asia

Near East

The Iron Age is believed to have begun with the discovery of iron smelting and smithing techniques in Anatolia or the Caucasus in the late 2nd millennium BC. From here it spread rapidly throughout the Near East as iron weapons replaced bronze weapons by the early 1st millennium BC.

East Asia

Cast-iron artifacts are found in China that date as early as the Zhou dynasty of the 6th century BC. An Iron Age culture of the Tibetan Plateau has tentatively been associated with the Zhang Zhung culture described in early Tibetan writings.

The European Iron Age

Iron working was introduced to Europe around 1000 BC, probably from Asia Minor and slowly spread westwards over the succeeding 500 years.

Eastern Europe

The early 1st millenium BC marks the Iron Age in Eastern Europe. In the steppes north of the Black Sea and Azov Sea, as in the other steppe areas of Eurasia, the Iron Age corresponded with the transition of the Eastern European inhabitants from sedentary, pastoral agrarian people to nomadic, animal breeding tribes. In Poland, the Lusatian culture covers both the late Bronze and early Iron Age. It is followed in some areas by the Pomeranian culture. The ethnic ascriptions of many Iron age cultures has been bitterly contested, as the roots of Germanii and Slavs were sought in this area.

Central Europe

In Central Europe, the Iron Age is generally divided in the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture (HaC and D, 800-450) and the late Iron Age La Tčne culture (beginning in 450 BC). The Iron age ends with the Roman Conquest.

British Isles

For a fuller discussion see the British Iron Age article. In Britain, the Iron Age lasted from about the 5th century BC until the Roman conquest and until the 5th century AD in non-Romanised parts. Defensive structures dating from this time are often impressive, for example the brochs of northern Scotland and the hill forts that dotted the rest of the islands.

Bronze figurine, found at Öland
Bronze figurine, found at Öland

Northern Scandinavia and Finland

Scandinavia (including Finland) and Northern Balticum shows a small-scaled iron producing very early, but a further dating is currently impossible. The time varies from 3000 BC-1000 AD. This knowledge is associated to the non-Germanic part of Scandinavia. Metalworking and Asbestos-Ceramic pottery are somewhat synonymous in Scandinavia due to the latter's capability to resist and preserve heat. The iron ore used is believed to have been iron sand (such as red soil ), because its high phosphore content can be identified in slag. Together with asbestos ware is sometimes found axes belonging to the Ananjino Culture . The Asbestos-Ceramic remains a mystery, because there are other adiabatic vessels with unknown usage.

Northern Germany and Southern Scandinavia

The Iron Age is divided into the Pre-Roman Iron Age and the Roman Iron Age. This is followed by the migration period. Northern Germany and Denmark was dominated by the Jastorf culture, whereas the culture of the southern half of the Scandinavia was dominated by the very similar Nordic Iron Age.

African Iron Age

Around 500BC, iron and copper working spread southwards through the continent, reaching the Cape around 200AD. The widespread use of iron revolutionised the Bantu farming communities who adopted it, driving out the stone tool using hunter-gatherer societies they encountered as they expanded to farm wider areas of savannah. The technologically superior Bantu spread across southern Africa and became rich and powerful, producing iron for tools and weapons in large, industrial quantities.

The Iron Age elsewhere

In the Americas and Australasia iron working was introduced in the historical period by European colonists.

Three-age system: Stone Age | Bronze Age | Iron Age

See also:

Last updated: 02-08-2005 15:36:50
Last updated: 02-25-2005 20:49:10