Human civilization and world history are divided into three epochs: ancient, post-classical, also known as mediaeval or the middle ages, and modern. The Iron Age was the last technical and cultural stage in the Stone–Bronze–Iron Age series. The chronology of the entire Iron Age, in which this metal largely super ceded bronze in tools and weapons, varied widely, commencing around 1200 BCE in the Middle East and southern Europe but not until around 600 BCE in China. The Iron Age spanned from around 1500 BCE to 500 BCE.
The Beginning of the Iron Age
The Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages are the three periods of early human history often studied. Historians employ this method to date early human history because implements made of hard materials like metal and stone are typically the sole relics of these ancient cultures. This periodization varies by area, although it is correct when discussing Afro-Eurasia. Evidence suggests that people in western Africa and southwestern Asia were the first to recognize that the dark-silver rocks sticking out of the soil could be turned into tools and weapons about 1500 BCE. Historians believe the metal was found by chance when some ore was placed into a fire and cooled into wrought iron.
The earliest iron-smelting technology appeared at a critical juncture in history. Around 1200 BCE, the Late Bronze Age, several important nations in the Eastern Mediterranean began to fall apart. The Egyptian, Greek, and Hittite cultures were all in crisis. This collapse was triggered by various circumstances, including earthquakes, droughts, and an invasion by a mysterious people known as “Sea Peoples.” The emergence of iron technology and the collapse soon transformed the ancient world into something that appeared to be less old. After the ecological disaster and invasion, iron changed regional power dynamics, commerce networks, natural habitats, and human social orders from the Mediterranean to China.
The Difference between Bronze and Iron Making
Iron-making technique was a tremendous breakthrough that took thousands of years to figure out. Smelting iron is far more difficult than smelting tin or copper. These metals and alloys can be cold-worked, but smelted iron must be hot-worked and can only be melted in specially built furnaces. Let’s compare how difficult it was to smelt bronze. In order to form bronze, melting of tin and copper together at around 950 degrees Celsius happens. This mixing was possible for early people in a ceramic furnace. Iron requires a furnace capable of temperatures of 1,538 degrees Celsius, which is far too high for a pottery fire. Iron has the benefit of just requiring one metal, which is considerably easier to obtain than copper or tin.
Achievements of the Iron Age
The human improvement of iron-making techniques promoted the rise of the agricultural and military sectors, followed by the industrial revolution. The basic tribal structure was supplanted by a burgeoning class system, the development of states, and the construction of new trade linkages made possible by iron. The legendary Great Silk Road trading route discovery happened during the early Iron Age.
Because iron was more durable than bronze, humans could fashion sharp instruments such as swords and spears. They also fashioned harvesting tools out of iron, such as ploughs and sickles. Iron tools were crucial in developing civilizations, communities and kingdoms. The discovery of limonite allows for the practice of smithery. Upgrading farming equipment replaced the simple wooden plough with an iron-tipped plough. It simplified agriculture and resulted in extremely high crop yields. The advent of the Woodpole Lathe enabled woodworkers to manufacture more practical and useful products from wood, such as bowls and buckets.
Unearthing of the oldest iron artefacts, nine little beads happened in tombs at Gerzeh, Lower Egypt, dating back to 3200 BC. Recognition of these tools as meteoric iron hammered into shape happened. Several ancient societies employed it thousands of years before the Iron Age. This iron does not require ore smelting because it is in its original metallic condition. In addition to particularly built furnaces, ancient iron manufacturing necessitated the development of intricate techniques in impurity removal, carbon admixture management, and hot-working to achieve a desirable balance of hardness and strength in steel.
List of Tools from the Iron Age
Forgers in the Iron Age used three fundamental tools to create iron objects: hammer, anvil, and tongs.
- Ard was a scratch plough with a sharp iron tip.
- Crop harvesting sickles.
- Coulter was a farm implement to break dirt.
- A ploughshare was a farming instrument used to make straight rows.
- Long wooden weapons with iron ends known as lances and spears.
- A rotary quern was a grain grinding equipment.
- A pottery wheel is a tool to create ceramics.
- A wood lathe is shapes wood and other materials.
- The ship’s rudder was made of iron, and it could navigate on its own.
- The iron chisel was a tool to cut wood, stone, metal, and other hard materials.
- Pots, cauldrons, and containers are examples of cooking tools.
- Swords, daggers, lances, and spears are common hunting tools.
Early Iron Age Settlements
In the early Iron Age, farmers produced crops, chopped back vegetation with iron hoes and axes, and herded animals and sheep. They supplemented their farming by harvesting wild plant foods, hunting, and collecting shellfish if they lived near the ocean. Villages expanded to accommodate several hundred people where favourable agricultural conditions, such as in the Tugela River valley in the east. There was some trading between farming groups. The discovery and evidence for salt-making specialization happened in the northeast and among the hunter-gatherer populations of South Africa. Finely crafted life-size clay skulls dating to the 7th century CE and discovered near the city of Lydenburg in eastern South Africa are all that remains of the people who formerly inhabited this region.
The erection of early Iron Age towns happened in low-lying locations like river valleys and the coastal plain allowing woodlands and savannas shifting (slash-and-burn) agriculture. However, beginning in the 11th century, during the period known as the Late Iron Age, agricultural groups began to colonize the higher-lying grasslands. It is unknown if finding these new societies happened by invaders or due to the spread of new information to existing populations. New people began creating various types of pottery in numerous regions and constructing stone towns. These and other changes in behaviour patterns most likely reflect the rising importance of cattle in economic life.
Early Iron Age and Trade
During the Bronze and Iron Ages, ancient Eurasia was interwoven and interdependent. Wars and trade linked the Eastern Mediterranean and Western India and the areas in between. Over numerous centuries, armies and merchants introduced bronze and iron technology and these trade networks. Communities in global zones such as the Americas and the Pacific Ocean were excluded from the Iron Age changes. The use of iron technology didn’t start in these areas until the fifteenth century CE. The Hittites, who controlled an empire in Anatolia from 1500 BCE to 1177 BCE, provided the earliest evidence of widespread iron smelting.
Early Iron Age and its Impact on Agriculture
The iron smelting technique progressively extended across Eurasia from Anatolia to Mesopotamia. By approximately 1000 BCE, Indian farmers required more rice paddies to support the expanding population of new towns. To create a way for rice, they employed iron tools to clear the woods around the subcontinent’s big rivers. People in China embraced the iron smelting technique around 700 BCE, improving iron manufacturing by constructing larger, hotter furnaces capable of melting iron to a more liquid condition. The method of pouring iron-ore into moulds is known as cast iron. This metal was too fragile for weapons, but it was ideal for manufacturing inexpensive iron ploughs, tools, pots, and art. Because of the abundance of cast iron implements, Chinese farmers were able to enhance and intensify agricultural productivity. More food resulted in fast population growth in China, as iron technology did in Mesopotamia and India.
Evidence shows that the iron-smelting technique arose independently in Sub-Saharan Africa while the Hittites began dealing with metal. The Bantu language already linked various populations in Central Africa. On the other hand, iron enabled them to clear African forests and extend their agricultural society across a span greater than the United States.
Early Iron Age and its Impact on the Environment
Humans have always influenced the environment, but Iron Age cultures changed it unprecedentedly. Iron smelting furnaces required a large amount of fuel. Wood was the most abundant and hottest-burning fuel accessible to ancient cultures. People grew reliant on improved production to maintain rising populations once they employed iron implements. As a result, they chopped down more trees to create wider fields and utilized the wood to power their furnaces. With more people came the demand for more iron tools, which necessitated the use of more wood. So farmers headed out to cut more trees and clear more land, armed with new iron axes. As a result, forests began to disappear quickly.
Early Iron Age and Weaponry
Because many ancient civilizations did not know how to turn iron ore into a weapon, using iron didn’t always happen in warfare. This honour is bestowed to the Hittites, who were the first to forge iron into weapons and armour. The use of iron revolutionized combat. The Hittites investigated the characteristics and composition of metals and had iron mines in the northern section of their realm near the Black Sea. They first smelted the ore, which melted it into liquid form. Instead of smelting it over a wood fire, they employed charcoal, adding carbon to the iron and increasing its strength. After pouring the metal into forms, they utilized an unheard-of procedure in which they heated the iron piece to soften it before shaping it with a hammer.
Achievements of the Iron Age in Different Parts of the World
Iron Age in Ancient Near East
The discovery of iron smelting and smithing abilities in Anatolia, the Caucasus, and the Balkans started the Iron Age in the Ancient Near East in approximately late 1300 BCE. The Early Iron Age in the Caucasus is often separated into two periods: Early Iron I, about 1100 BCE and Early Iron II, around the tenth to ninth centuries BCE. Many Late Bronze Age material culture practices survived into the Early Iron Age. The first usage of iron in the Mesopotamian states of Sumer, Akkad, and Assyria dates back to around 3000 BCE. The discovery of a dagger with an iron blade in a Hattic tomb in Anatolia around 2500 BCE is one of the first smelted iron objects. By the beginning of the first millennium BCE, the widespread usage of iron weaponry, which supplanted bronze weapons, had spread throughout the Near East.
Iron Age in Europe
Introduction of ironworking happened in Europe in the late 11th century BCE from the Caucasus, and it gradually moved northwards and westwards over the next 500 years. However, it did not happen at the same moment throughout Europe. The Prehistoric Ireland Iron Age began approximately 500 BCE, after the Greek Iron Age had already finished, and ended around CE 400. The extensive usage of iron technologies occurred in Europe and Asia simultaneously. The development of weapons, tools, and utensil designs marks the European Iron Age. Dating of The British Isles’ Iron Age happens between 800 BCE and the Roman conquest of 43 CE. After being referred to as Celts, Europeans introduced knowledge of ironworking technology to Britain. By 500–400 BCE, the use of iron artefacts had spread throughout the British Isles, progressively supplanting the usage of bronze.
Iron Age in Sub-Saharan Africa
The African Iron Era, also known as the Early Iron Age Industrial Complex, was happening between the second century CE and roughly 1000 CE in Africa when iron smelting started. Unlike in Europe and Asia, the Bronze or Copper Age preceded the Iron Age in Africa. To smelt iron, African Iron Age tribes employed a bloomery method. They erected a cylindrical clay furnace and heated it with charcoal and a hand-operated bellows to the smelting temperature. In 400–200 BCE, the first dated iron-smelting furnaces in Sub-Saharan Africa were shaft furnaces with several bellows and interior diameters ranging from 31 to 47 inches.
Iron Age in Central and East Asia
The discovery of Chinese bronze inscriptions happened in China around 1200 BCE, before the discovery of iron smelting. Iron smenting happened by the 9th century BCE. As a result, at the commencement of iron use in China, prehistory had given way to history periodized by reigning dynasties. By the end of the sixth century BCE, iron metallurgy had reached the Yangtse Valley. Iron items came to the Korean peninsula around the 4th century BCE through commerce in the Yellow Sea region, near the end of the Warring States Period but before the Western Han Dynasty began. Items made with Iron, such as tools, weapons, and decorative objects, came into Japan during the late Yayoi period 300 BCE–CE 300 or the succeeding Kofun period CE 250–538, most likely via contacts with the Korean Peninsula and China.
Iron Age in South and Southeast Asia
In the third millennium BCE, using iron, they made a copper/bronze bell with an iron clapper, a copper/bronze rod with two iron ornamental buttons, and a copper/bronze mirror handle with a decorative iron button. Unearthing of Artefacts from 2,400 BCE to 1800 BCE, including miniature knives and blades, happened in the Indian state of Telangana. Practising metallurgy was prevalent on the Indian subcontinent before the third millennium BCE. Iron metallurgy advanced rapidly in India during the first millennium BCE. Archaeology in Thailand at Ban Don Ta Phet and Khao Sam Kaeo revealing metallic, stone, and glass objects aesthetically connected with the Indian subcontinent. This suggests that Southeast Asia was Indianized beginning in the 4th to 2nd century BCE during the late Iron Age. The Sa Huynh civilization in the Philippines and Vietnam demonstrated an extensive trading network.
Most people enjoyed an agricultural lifestyle before the Industrial Revolution, which would occur centuries later. Most people were farmers, and their life centred on the agricultural seasons. Forming of societies in villages where families did farming of the land and created basics for survival by hand. Creation and cultivation of all of the necessities were local. During the Iron Age, the development of iron implements aided in making farming easier and more efficient. Introduction of new agriculture and livestock happened throughout the Iron Age. With more time, people started creating more supplies to sell or trade. Some agricultural families spent time producing salt, quern stones, or iron. The majority of towns include traces of clothing production, woodworking, and even blacksmithing. For generations, iron has been used to improve people’s lives. However, with better ways of refining iron, the globe entered the most rapid expansion phase.