Vere Gordon Childe, 1930

The Bronze Age

First Published: by Cambridge University Press, 1930
Mark-up: Steve Painter


This book is intended to take up the story of prehistoric industrial development in North-western Europe from the point at which Mr M.C. Burkitt's[1] Our Early Ancestors left it. While not a sequel to that work, mine presupposes such knowledge of general prehistory and the New Stone Age as may be found there and is intended to appeal to the same class of students. On the other hand, the nature and increased complexity of the material involves difference of treatment. And for the purposes of this more intensive study some of the divisions and classifications of the Bronze Age material, foreshadowed in one preliminary chapter of Mr Burkitt's book, have needed modification on lines explained here. Otherwise, I have refrained from duplicating his work save in so far as was necessary to make this book a complete and independent whole.

The bibliography aims primarily at indicating general works from which more detailed references can be obtained. Nevertheless some articles of outstanding importance or describing phases of Bronze Age civilization not yet adequately dealt with in larger comprehensive works have been included, even when they appear in comparatively obscure periodicals.

My thanks are due to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and to the Trustees of the British Museum for permission to reproduce figures; to Mrs M.C. Burkitt for her skillful redrawing of some of the figures; and to Mr A.J. Edwards for reading the proofs.



The story of human culture has long been divided conventionally into three main volumes according to the material generally employed for the principal cutting implements. At first our forerunners could only make knives and axes by chipping or grinding stone, bone or ivory. The period when such tools were alone in use is termed the Stone Age and constitutes the first volume, Mr Burkitt's books cited in the Bibliography give a good summary of its contents. The second volume opens when man has learned that certain kinds of stone may be compelled by heating under suitable conditions to yield a substance which, while hot, can be modelled or even run into a mould, but on cooling retains its shape and becomes harder and more durable than stone and takes as good an edge. This epoch is termed the Bronze Age not very happily, since the first metal used industrially to any extent was copper; only by an accident in the areas where archaeology was first extensively studied Denmark, England and France was the copper already mixed with tin in the majority of early metal tools. The Bronze Age comes to an end when methods have been devised for extracting economically and working efficiently the much commoner metal, iron, which then replaces copper and its alloys in the manufacture of the crucial implements.

Thanks to the Epics, the Greeks were naturally well aware that the Iron Age in which they dwelt had been preceded by one in which “men used weapons of bronze and wrought with bronze; for black iron was not”. But it is Lucretius who first expressly states that bronze tools and weapons mark a stage intermediate between the age of stone implements and the Iron Age he knew. A Dane, Thomsen, revived or rediscovered Lucretius' division early last century. And the tripartite division was soon applied also to England, France, Germany and Italy.

In these regions the system works admirably. A well-defined group of remains from tombs and villages can be assigned to a period of time when bronze was current but anterior to the adoption of iron. Yet in this sense the Bronze Age occupies a disproportionately short epoch in our series. The Stone Age had lasted a hundred thousand years or so; the Iron Age in Great Britain is already two thousand five hundred years old and seems as vigorous as ever. Against this the Bronze Age in Britain can only claim fifteen hundred or, on the most generous estimate, two thousand years. But, if in Northern Europe bronze played a leading role in industry for a relatively short span of years, in the Aegean area, Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Indus valley, bronze, or at least copper, had been in regular use for fully twice as long. And those three or four thousand years witnessed man's first emergence from barbarism to civilisation, the foundation of the first cities, the harnessing of animal motive power, the invention of writing, the establishment of consciously ordered government, the beginnings of science, the specialisation and consequent perfection of the primary industrial arts, and the inauguration of international trade and intercourse. Hence our Bronze Age volume makes up in wealth of incident for its modest bulk.

All the vital elements of modern material culture are immediately rooted in the Bronze Age though their presuppositions may go back to the closing phase of the Stone Age (the so-called Neolithic Period). Nay more; modern science and industry not only go back to the period when bronze was the dominant industrial metal, their beginnings were in a very real sense conditioned and inspired by the mere fact of the general employment of bronze or copper. It is worthwhile considering briefly the presuppositions of such a general use of metal in order to make the point plain.

In the first place it implies a knowledge of the radical transformation of the physical properties of the substance by heat. The first smiths had discovered that a hard and intractable reddish substance, copper, became malleable and plastic on heating. You may even pour it like water into a vessel, but on cooling it becomes as hard as ever, assuming now the shape of the receptacle. Of course metallic copper occurs “native” in nature. By hammering, it may be shaped into imitations of the simpler forms of stone or bone tools. The Indians of Ohio employed the native metal in this way and treated it as a peculiarly workable sort of stone, hammering it without the aid of heat. But such an application of Stone Age processes to native copper does not mark the beginnings of the age of metals. There is no reason to suppose that it led directly thereto. The superiority of copper over stone or horn lies in its being fusible and malleable. It can be shaped by casting into forms the old materials could never assume, and the material in itself imposes no limit to the size of the object to be fashioned from it. A piece of stone or bone can only be shaped by chipping, grinding or cutting bits off it; your molten copper is completely plastic: you may use as little or as much as you want without impairing its solidity; you may even weld pieces together indissolubly by heating and hammering.

The change in the properties of copper by heat is really very startling; it is distinctly more dramatic than the effect of baking upon potter's clay. By that process a vessel is certainly rendered durable and deprived of porosity. But the form and the texture are not superficially altered. Moreover the process is irreversible. It is a far greater leap from solid cold copper to the glowing liquid metal, yet the change can be produced as often as desired. To recognise the continuity underlying such transformations, to appreciate their practical significance and to devise means for their control demanded a power of inference and synthesis unusual in barbarians. The discoverers must implicitly make the distinction between substance and its appearances and so may justly claim a place among the founders of science.

The effective utilisation of the discoveries just analysed involved the elaboration of a highly complicated technique through a series of inventions. The masters of these mysteries, the first smiths, were perhaps the first independent craftsmen. Any hunter or farmer could make a flint knife or arrow-head and grind out a stone axe-head in his spare time. His wife could stitch together robes of skins, even spin and weave, and mould and fire clay pots. The art of the smith was so complicated that prolonged apprenticeship was required. His labour was so long and exacting that it could not be performed just in odd moments of leisure; it was essentially a full-time job. And the smith's products were so important to the community that those engaged directly in food production must provide for his primary needs in addition to their own. Among primitive peoples today the smith always does enjoy just such a privileged position as might be expected. In a Bronze Age village we often find one hut, but never more, that was obviously the smithy. In a Neolithic village on the contrary no certain traces of industrial specialisation are often detectable.

Even more startling and mysterious were the transmutations involved in the extraction of the metal. As we have noted, metallic copper occurs in nature, but with a few exceptions, notably in North America and South Africa, only in minimal quantities. In all other regions, before copper could come into general use, the metal must be extracted from its ores — oxides, sulphides, silicates or carbonates — by a chemical process termed reduction. Copper ores are crystalline or amorphous substances, greenish blue, red or grey in colour, found in veins in old metamorphic or eruptive rocks. What could be more startling than the evocation from these greenish or grey stones, crystalline or powdery in texture, of the tough malleable red metal! Here is a complete transmutation of the very nature of a material! The process of reduction is indeed simple enough; heat in contact with charcoal will effect it. But it was a stupendous feat of generalisation on the part of the barbarian to connect green crystalline stones with the tough red metal. The recognition of the underlying continuity marked the beginning of chemistry.

The discovery of silver, lead and tin would be a natural corollary. The possessors of these secrets would easily gain credit for supernatural powers among barbarians to whom all stones looked much alike. They would constitute a class or guild no less powerful than the smiths. It would be their task to search out and smelt the peculiar stones that would yield the coveted metals.

Copper ores in small quantities and of poor quality are very widely distributed. No doubt early man often exploited lodes that are so poor or have been so thoroughly worked in the past that they are no longer mentioned in textbooks on mining geology. And surface lodes were certainly once plentiful. But the time would soon come when such deposits had been exhausted and the prospectors must burrow underground for their ore. Mining for flint had been practised in the Stone Age, but it was a comparatively simple matter to dig pits and cut galleries in the chalk (where the good flints occur). Metal ores are embedded in very hard rock that can only be cut with difficulty today. The exploitation of copper on a large scale implied the solution of delicate problems in mining engineering).[2] The Bronze Age miners of Europe knew how to split rock by kindling fire against it and then throwing water on it; they had worked out methods of timbering subterranean galleries and had devised pulley-buckets for raising the ore. A curious sidelight on the unity of early metallurgy is provided by the discovery in all ancient mines that have been examined, whether in the Caucasus, Sinai, Austria, Spain or Britain, of grooved hammer-stones (ie stones girt with an artificial groove to receive the binding thongs with which they were hafted at the end of a split stick).

A further chemical discovery was involved in the advanced metallurgy of the Bronze Age. The addition to copper of a small proportion of tin reduces its melting-point, minimises the danger of flaws from bubbles in casting and increases the hardness of the cold alloy. Here was another transmutation, the combination of two dissimilar substances to produce a third different from both. The alloy can be obtained either by smelting together the ores of tin and copper, or by melting tin (or tin ore) with copper. In the first instance the alloy may have been produced accidentally through the use of a copper ore with which tin was mixed. It is, for instance, curious that in Mesopotamia tin-bronze was comparatively common before 3000BC but becomes rare after that date[3]. A possible explanation is that the Sumerians had unconsciously been using a stanniferous ore the supplies of which gave out or were cut off by 3000. In any case it seems certain that by then they were deliberately trying to produce the superior metal and seeking substitutes, adding, for instance, lead, What is still more significant, by 2000BC the mixture now universally admitted to give the best results, of one part tin to nine of copper, had already been recognised as the standard combination. That implies a great deal of critical examination — ie experiment in the modern sense — since there is nothing in nature to suggest those particular proportions.

Experiments were also made with other alloys. In Hungary, the Baltic lands, and the Caucasus antimony was sometimes used as a substitute for tin. We have mentioned the possibility of a similar use of lead by the Sumerians. Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, has on the other hand not been found before the Iron Age.

Thirdly, in addition to the physical and chemical discoveries just described, the general use of metal presupposes regular and extensive trade relations. It is indeed true that copper ores are fairly widely distributed and that in early days poor lodes, now exhausted or at least uneconomical, were exploited. None the less the sources are definitely limited. The supplies are situated almost exclusively in mountainous regions; the great civilisations of the Orient grew up in river valleys entirely lacking in any ores. Similarly the most populous centres of Neolithic culture in Europe, the loess lands of Central Europe, the Ukraine, and Denmark, are some way from the nearest copper lodes. Regular communications must be established between Egypt and Sinai, between Sumer and the Zagros or Caucasus, between Denmark and the Eastern Alps, Slovakia or England, before even copper could be regularly used there.

The position is still worse when bronze and not pure[4] copper is demanded; for now two foreign products are needed one of which is distinctly rare. Tin occurs certainly in the Malay Peninsula, South Africa, Khorasan, Tuscany, the Bohemian Erzgebirge, Western and Southern Spain, Southern France, Brittany and Cornwall, probably also in the Caucasus and Syria and possibly even in Central Greece. Only in the Caucasus, Bohemia, Spain and Cornwall do copper lodes occur in any proximity to the tin ores. In most cases, therefore, the use of bronze world involve trade in two distinct metals that must be brought to a single meeting-point from different quarters. The extant evidence suggests, for instance, that Central European and Scandinavian bronze workers drew their copper from Slovakia or the Austrian Alps and their tin from Bohemia or sometimes England.

At the same time, within a given ethnic group the individual farmer must sacrifice his economic independence and the village its self-sufficiency as the price of the new material. Each Neolithic household could manufacture the requisite knives, axe-heads and awls of flint, stone or bone; the Neolithic village need never look beyond its own domains for the necessary material nor did, save in the case of luxury articles such as shells. But metal tools the farmer must, as we have already seen, purchase from the expert, the village smith. And the latter must, except in exceptional circumstances, import his raw materials from outside the communal boundaries. This is perhaps the essential difference between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The most striking feature of a Neolithic community was its self-sufficiency. The sacrifice of that self-sufficiency was only possible when certain sociological and economic conditions had been fulfilled and brought in its train a series of other political and industrial changes. That in itself would explain why the Bronze Age did not begin simultaneously all over the world or even all over Europe. Peoples develop at unequal rates, and the effective demand for and use of metal is only possible when a certain stage of development has been reached. The development of internal and foreign commerce implied in a Bronze Age presupposes a certain degree of political stability. One of the economic foundations of the first Egyptian state was the exploitation of the copper lodes of Sinai as a state enterprise by periodical expeditions supported by the royal armies. Similarly trade must go hand in hand with improvement in the means of communication. The wheeled car and the sailing ship appear in the Ancient East as heralds of the age of metals. The same commercial needs must at least have given an impulse to the development of writing and seal-cutting. Letters and contracts dealing with trade bulk largely in any collection of Babylonian documents. And seals served in place of a signature (for few could master the ancient scripts) as well as to put a tabu upon the object sealed.

The general propositions just enunciated involve some archaeological corollaries specially germane to the subject of this book. The discoveries and inventions implicit in metal-working are so abstruse and complex that independent origin at several points — in the Old World at any rate — is excluded as fantastically improbable; knowledge of the essential techniques must, that is to say, have been diffused from some centre. The uniformity of processes throughout the Ancient East and Europe at the dawn of the Bronze Age affords some positive justification for the diffusionist assumption[5]. It is, indeed, quite likely that miners and smiths constituted distinct crafts or even castes, membership of which implied initiation but conferred some degree of immunity from the bondage of tribal custom. We must then envisage the spread of the knowledge of metal as a dual process: on the one hand we should expect a distribution of metal objects by trade comparable to the spread of European firearms among contemporary savages. The diffusion of metallurgical knowledge, on the other hand, must be associated with an actual spread of initiates either as prospectors voyaging in quest of ore, or as perambulating smiths seeking their fortunes by plying their trade among barbarians, or as slaves or others who have secured initiation in the original centre or one of its offshoots, returning home. These two processes must be kept distinct. The first may produce a chalcolithic age in a given region; ie a few metal objects may be imported and used side by side with native tools of stone and imitated locally in flint or bone.

A true Bronze Age can only arise with the advent of metallurgists or smiths.

Even so, the substitution of metal for stone tools and weapons must inevitably be a gradual process. It will take a long period of education and considerable commercial organisation before the peasant farmer finds it cheaper to buy, say a bronze sickle, than to make one at home out of flint. A long interval will accordingly elapse after the introduction of bronze before it has finally ousted stone. So in Egypt agricultural implements continued to be made out of flint down to the New Kingdom or for nearly two thousand years after metal had become reasonably common. In Bronze Age settle- settlements and graves in Europe too even well-made stone axe-heads (celts) occur. Not all stone tools therefore are Neolithic, nor is their presence incompatible with a Bronze Age date.

We must equally beware of attaching too great importance to the use of pure copper. A regular supply of tin involves, as we have seen, more extensive commercial relations than the corresponding supply of copper. The advantages of bronze would not in all circumstances counterbalance its much higher price. During the third millennium pure copper was largely used in Mesopotamia though bronze was known even before 3000BC, in Egypt only copper was employed, and in the Aegean bronze was rare and generally poor in tin (ie with less than the standard 10 per cent.). In continental Europe a large number of tools and weapons of pure copper may be assigned to a period anterior to the local Bronze Age on account of their form and context. This period may be justly styled a “Copper Age” or “the Copper Age” with some qualification, such as “in Hungary”. At the same time, there are other objects of pure copper or very poor bronze that nonetheless belong to an advanced phase of the local Bronze Age. The negative result of analysis in this case does not indicate high antiquity but merely an interruption of the tin supply in the region where the objects were cast — an historical event explicable in economic or political terms.

Again it is obvious that the regular use of metal would not begin simultaneously everywhere. The mystery can only be imparted to those in contact with its masters. It will radiate slowly from the centre. It will reach only those who have something to offer the smith or the prospector; these can utilise their knowledge only in so far as they control supplies of ore or can obtain the requisite raw material by trade or political action. Actually metallurgy was being practised in Mesopotamia and Egypt during the fourth millennium BC, at the beginning of the third it had been implanted in the Aegean area whence it was diffused up the Danube valley and along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. The Bronze Age in Bohemia and Britain begins about 2000BC, in Denmark about 1600, in Siberia perhaps six centuries later. In the Pacific islands it never began at all.

The earlier stages of this process in which the actual discovery of metallurgy took place lie outside the scope of this book, which is devoted primarily to the Bronze Age of North-western and Central Europe. Nothing comparable to the extraordinary civilisations that had grown up by 3000BC in the valleys of the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates and the Indus existed north of the Alps till Caesar came with his legionaries. No description of the Oriental cultures and no sketch of their rise could usefully be compressed within the compass of these pages. But we ask our readers to remember, when picturing the lives of their barbarian ancestors who reared round barrows on the Downs and lived in hut-circles on the moors, that the Royal Tombs of Ur had long been forgotten, and the Pyramids were already hoary with age. The great temples of Karnak and the palaces of Knossos are roughly contemporary with our stone circles, and few, if any, of our hill forts can compare in age even with the acropolis of Mycenae. But though a worthy description is impracticable here, the Oriental and East Mediterranean civilisations exercised such a profound influence on Bronze Age Europe, inspiring and moulding her metallurgical traditions, that their authors must be at least named if the sequel is to be intelligible. Moreover, the chronology of illiterate Europe rests entirely upon archaeological synchronisms with cultural phases dated by the written records of Egypt and Sumer.

On the banks of the Nile in Upper Egypt[6] a series of graves, arrangeable by typological[7] study in a regular sequence, reveals the progress in industries and arts of peasant communities down to the time, about 3400-3100BC, when a king of Upper Egypt, traditionally known as Menes, united the whole land under a single sceptre. The record begins at a remote period, termed the Badarian (after a site near Assiout[8]) when enough rain still fell in Upper Egypt for big trees to grow where now all is sand. That implies a climatic regime approximating to that ruling in North Africa during the European Ice Age, when the great belt of heavy cold air (termed an arctic anticyclone) over our glaciers diverted southward the rain-bearing Atlantic squalls (cyclones). We are therefore at latest in what in Europe would be the Mesolithic Age. But the Badarian villagers on the Nile were already farmers enjoying a culture comparable to that of the fellahin today: they could make beautiful pots, grind vases out of hard stone, weave linen, plait baskets, flake flint superbly, put a glaze on stone beads and carve ivory into combs, pins and figurines. They were also able to obtain shells from the Red Sea and malachite, probably from Sinai, by some sort of trade. They were even acquainted with metallic copper since beads and a pin of the metal have been found in their graves. The Badarians had been accustomed to paint their eyes with malachite, a carbonate of copper. The metal might have been discovered by the reduction of a little of this paint dropped on to the glowing ashes of a hearth. Still it would not be correct to say that the Badarians were metallurgists or lived in a copper age.

The same remark is true of the succeeding period, termed Early Predynastic or Amratian, The communities are now bigger, trade relations have been extended so that even lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, obsidian from Armenia or Melos, coniferous woods from Syria and gold from Nubia were available. Even copper objects are more numerous than before, but all are of perfectly simple forms that might easily have been obtained by cold working in imitation of bone and flint models.

Genuinely metallic types that presuppose a knowledge of casting are first found late in the third phase, termed Middle Predynastic or Gerzean. But now changes in pottery, dress and weapons denote the cultural subjugation of Upper Egypt to a new power, immediately centred in the unexplored Delta but very possibly Asiatic in origin. The metal objects of the period, that are indeed very sparse, may be products of a school of metallurgy created by the (unknown) Early Predynastic inhabitants of Lower Egypt or directly inspired by some external centre in Asia. Some elements in Middle Predynastic culture certainly came from the latter quarter. In any case the clash of native African and Asiatic traditions caused a general spurt in culture, mirrored in progress and specialisation in all the arts. At the same time accumulation of wealth and its concentration in individual hands are marked by the elaboration of some tombs and an increasing range in the comparative wealth of the grave goods.

In the Late Predynastic or Semainian phase the dual traditions traceable in Middle Predynastic times were fused. Moreover continued accumulation of wealth in a country, bereft of ore, building stone and timber, rendered necessary and possible an extension and regularisation of trade, till Egypt was at last in contact with another civilisation that had grown up in the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Concomitantly industry was further specialised to the great benefit of most crafts, though the pots of this period, being regular factory products, are far less attractive than the more individual creations of earlier times. Some favourably situated villages grew into real towns, and the chief of one of them, Abydos, that commanded one main caravan route to the Red Sea and the East, was eventually able to master the whole land to the Mediterranean coasts, founding what is termed the First Dynasty (about 3100BC).

From this point the written record supplements the archaeological. We see the royal arms extended to the copper mines of Sinai and then the colonisation of Byblos in North Syria to secure control of the cedars of Lebanon. Therewith we arrive at the Old Kingdom, Dynasties III to VI, which witnessed the building of the Pyramids, but eventually collapsed into anarchy through internal exhaustion and Asiatic aggression.

The country rose again under the Middle Kingdom, Dynasties XI-XIII (2000-1780BC), only to collapse once more beneath the onslaught of the barbarian invaders known as the Hyksos.

The greatest period in Egyptian history followed the national revolt against the invaders led by the Seventeenth Dynasty and completed under the Eighteenth (beginning 1580BC). The Thothmes reconquer Syria and Palestine; the Amenhoteps conduct diplomacy in quite modern style with the kings of Babylonia, Assyria and the Cappadocian Hittites, In alliance with the latter the Rameses repel the assaults of the Philistines and the Sea-Peoples from the North, some of whom at least were Europeans. But eventually these barbarians wrecked the Empire and incidentally ended the Bronze Age in the Near East.

No such clear record is yet available of the rise of civilisation in Mesopotamia. The ancient records name kings reigning for fabulous years before what the Sumerians termed the Flood. Remains of the prediluvian civilisation have in fact recently come to light at Ur and al’Ubaid in Sumer and at Kish farther north, covered thickly by the clay left by a huge inundation[9]. They disclose already highly civilised communities living in towns or at least large villages. The splendid painted pottery from these levels connects the oldest culture of the Mesopotamian plain with a great province covering the whole Iranian plateau and extending eastward perhaps to the Indus. Its best known representative is the “first city” at Susa in Elam[10]. The prediluvian culture[11], of unknown antiquity and antecedents, boasted all the arts of Early Predynastic Egypt with the addition of mature metallurgy. Copper was not only known at Susa I, it was freely used for axe-heads and even mirrors fashioned by casting.

In Mesopotamia, upon the eight feet of sterile clay left by the flood above the prediluvian houses, stand the foundations of the oldest historical cities, built by a literate people known to us as Sumerians. These folk, distinguished by language and dress, lived in city states, normally autonomous but each striving for, and sometimes securing, the mastery over all the rest. Palaces and graves recently uncovered at Kish reveal the advanced civilisation ruling under the first dynasty to attain to hegemony after the flood, Even more startling are the royal tombs recently explored at Ur and perhaps in some cases even older than the historical First Dynasty of Ur, dated round about 3100BC. By that date, in any case, the Sumerians enjoyed a settled polity and had attained a level of industrial skill far ahead of First Dynasty Egypt. In particular they used metals to an extent and with a skill never dreamed of on the Nile till New Kingdom times. Egypt possessed abundant supplies of good flint, and that material was used there exclusively in agriculture and very generally by the poorer classes as a whole till quite late. The alluvial plain of Mesopotamia had nothing similar to offer its occupants and so, the raw material for cutting tools having to be imported in any case, the durable copper really came cheaper than flint. That implied a dependence on foreign trade even greater than Egypt's. The variety of exotic substances found in Sumerian graves and above all the discovery of seals, actually manufactured in distant India, illustrate the success with which that need was met. Conversely, while most distinctive Egyptian metal types are peculiar to the Nile valley, Sumerian forms lie at the base of South Russian and Central European metallurgy.

The early Sumerian period, thus inaugurated, is often termed pre-Sargonic; for a well-defined era ends when a Semitic prince, whose name has been simplified to Sargon, made his city, Akkad or Agad, supreme throughout Mesopotamia. He is said even to have reached the Mediterranean. After the collapse of his empire, civilisation largely stagnated in Iraq; in particular no fresh metal types were created. Historically a new era is marked by the rise of Babylon to the hegemony under Hammurabi's dynasty (First Dynasty of Babylon, (circa 2100BC). Thereafter Babylon remained the political capital of a united Babylonia for close on fifteen hundred years.

West of the “prediluvian” cultural domain began a province, centred in Anatolia and once perhaps embracing Crete, characterised by dark-faced carboniferous pots imitating gourd vessels. Round about 3000BC the secrets of metallurgy began to reach this area rich in ores, probably from Mesopotamia. About the same time the local potter commenced producing a red ware by baking his pots over a clear fire in an oxidising atmosphere. One branch of this culture then occupied Cyprus[12], attracted no doubt by the metal wealth of the island that has given its name to copper. Another branch pushed into Thrace and Macedonia. The most interesting, however, developed a higher civilisation on the hill of Hissarlik[13], a point on the Dardanelles that commanded at once the seaways from the Aegean to the Black Sea, the Danube and the Caucasus and the terminus of the land route from Mesopotamia across Asia Minor with its transmarine extensions into Thrace, Macedonia and Central Europe. Out of a large village 1 (known as Troy I) at this strategic point there arose during the third millennium an important town termed Troy II on whose ruins the Homeric Troy (Troy VI) was later to rise.

The citadel of Troy II was girt with a strong wall of stone surmounted by brick battlements. Within stood palatial buildings of the so-called megaron[14] type. The citadel and its encircling walls were rebuilt twice so that three structural phases are recognisable. The last of these probably belongs already to Middle Aegean times. Shortly after 2000BC the city was razed to the ground, but its defenders had found time to bury many of their treasures. The latter escaped the eyes of the invaders and were first rediscovered by H. Schliemann between AD.1873 and 1879. Our knowledge of Trojan metallurgy is almost entirely derived from these hoards[15] which should belong to what is called the Middle Aegean Period. After the sack the site was occupied only by minor villages till, towards the middle of the sixteenth century BC, a new and larger city arose, the Homeric Troy that the Achaeans sacked about 1200BC.

Metal-using civilisation impinged upon Crete and the Aegean islands from two quarters, Anatolia-Syria and Egypt. Crete[16] had already been occupied in Neolithic times by people of Anatolian affinities. The metal-using civilisation termed Minoan begins rather before 3000BC with the advent of Nilotic immigrants, possibly refugees flying from Menes when he conquered the Delta. At the same time powerful influences and very possibly immigrants from the East reached the island, and Cretan metallurgy is largely based upon Asiatic traditions. The life of the Minoan civilisation is divided into three main periods, Early, Middle and Late Minoan (abbreviated EM, MM and LM.respectively) each in turn subdivided into three phases distinguished by the Roman numerals I, II, or III.

Already in Early Minoan times Crete enjoyed a genuine urban civilisation. The people lived largely by maritime trade, even building their towns on barren islets or headlands, quite unsuited to farmers but affording excellent harbours.

During the same period the stoney little islands of the Aegean (Cyclades), that had offered no sustenance to Neolithic peasants[17] but were rich in copper, emery, marble, or obsidian, and afforded convenient halting-places on voyages across the Aegean, were occupied by prospectors from Anatolia. On them grew up a flourishing maritime culture termed Early Cycladic[18]. Its monuments, strongholds girt with walls of stone and graves of varied form, suggest a less refined and less pacific civilisation than the Minoan, but one in which metallurgy flourished and where distinctive metal types were created. The islanders were in regular commercial contact with Crete, Troy and mainland Greece.

In the latter area an older layer of Neolithic peasants was overlaid by groups of more industrial and mercantile immigrants, allied to the islanders and to the Macedonian wing of the Anatolians. These newcomers occupied principally seaports and sites on land trade routes[19] extending as far west as Levkas[20]. Their culture is known as Early Helladic and in respect of metallurgy was mainly dependent upon Troy and the Cyclades, though the use of a glazed paint was probably derived from Crete.

The Minoan, Cycladic and Helladic cultures, sharing in a common trade, were all in constant intercommunication. Hence it is possible to correlate the several stages of culture in each area and to extend the Minoan system to the whole Aegean world. Crete in particular, being in regular touch with Egypt, the phases of Aegean culture may be approximately dated in terms of solar years. The period just surveyed, termed Early Aegean, extends from about 3100 to 2100BC. On the islands and in mainland Greece the beginning of the Middle Aegean period is not very well defined, since no radical changes took place before Middle Aegean II times.[21]

The Middle Minoan period in Crete, on the contrary, witnessed the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of princes ruling in the centre of the island commanding the great road that linked the sea routes from Egypt with those to Greece and the Black Sea. By MM II, Knossos, near the northern terminal of the road, was the undisputed capital of the island. Here rose frescoed palaces, often destroyed by seismic or political cataclysms, but continually resuscitated down to LM.III. Sir Arthur Evans has rediscovered Homer's broad Knossos, the seat of Minos, and the “dancing-ground” laid out by Daedalus. And frescoes on the palace walls depict the ritual games of bull grappling that inspired the legend of the Minotaur.

Towards MM II times Crete had so far monopolised Aegean trade that the Cyclades’ prosperity declined and many islands were deserted. At the same time, Middle Helladic II[22], a new folk, conveniently, if incorrectly, termed Minyans, gained the upper hand on the Greek mainland and adjacent islands from Aegina to Levkas. They were more martial and less industrial than their Early Helladic predecessors, but far from barbarians.

Then towards 1600BC, a Minoan prince gained a footing at Mycenae on the Peloponnese. His remains and those of his family were found by H. Schliemann in the famous Shaft Graves, dug on the slope of the acropolis and included within the city walls. Sir Arthur Evans has, however, adduced convincing grounds for believing that the prince's body had originally reposed in the great beehive tomb, built into the hillside outside the walls and known since the days of Pausanias as the Treasury of Atreus, a tomb that Mr Wace dates some three centuries later (LH III) and attributes to the last monarch of a different dynasty.

In LM I and II Crete attained the zenith of her power, the most grandiose phase of the palace of Knossos belonging to LM II. During the same period the Minoan civilisation was extended to the mainland. A whole series of stately beehive tombs along the western coasts and at the head of gulfs facing south as far as Volo in Thessaly and palaces adorned with frescoes in Minoan style mark the seats of the Cretan dynasts.

This imperialist expansion overtaxed the island's strength. At the beginning of LM III Knossos and the other palaces were sacked and not rebuilt, though the towns continued to flourish. The mainland, however, progressed. Mycenae was now the capital of the Aegean world as in Homer's lays. She was girt with a megalithic wall of “Cyclopean” masonry as were Tiryns, Athens and other citadels within which rose palaces of the megaron plan, very different architecturally from the Cretan, though decked with frescoes of Minoan technique. A provincial variant of the Minoan culture, termed Late Mycenaean, ruled all over the mainland and extended to many of the islands and even Cyprus. Trade was more extensive than ever, and even Mycanaean vases were exported to Anatolia, Syria, Palestine; Egypt and Sicily. But about 1250BC, when the Egyptian records are already preoccupied with “unrest among the Isles of the Sea”, these peaceful relations were broken off. The Mycenaean culture in a decadent form, LM IIIb, however, persisted for a couple of centuries and even spread to Macedonia. During this period we find northern types of sword and other indications of influences from beyond the Balkans. In Macedonia even a barbaric pottery, apparently of Hungarian antecedents, intrudes in and above the last ruins of the plundered Mycenaean settlements.

The Iron Age in the Aegean begins about this point without any complete break with late Mycenaean traditions, at least in Southern Greece and Crete. The metal that now replaced bronze in the manufacture of cutting implements had been used occasionally for that purpose even in the fourteenth century. The Hittite records show that it was then being manufactured in Kizwadana, an unidentified locality under the control of the Cappadocian Hittites. By LM IIIb times there are traces of iron-working in Macedonia, and soon after 1200BC it was generally practised in Asia Minor and then in Crete and Greece.

Having now surveyed the civilized world of the Ancient East, we can conclude this chapter with a glance at the question, “Where did the revolutionary discovery of metallurgy originate?” It is, of course, theoretically possible that the properties of copper were independently realised in Egypt and Hither Asia, or even in illiterate Spain and Hungary, and that the barbarians of Cornwall and Bohemia spontaneously hit upon the alloy, known before 3000BC in Sumer and India. Practically, in the case of the Old World where the first metal-using civilizations had such wide foreign relations and were bound together by so many common traits, no one, unprejudiced by the passions evoked by a perverse diffusionism, will suggest that all the complex processes involved were elaborated separately at two or more comparatively adjacent points in Eurasia. Really the question resolves itself into one of the comparative claims of Egypt and the Asiatic cultural province designated “prediluvian”.

It must be admitted and indeed insisted that by 3000BC Egyptian and Sumerian metallurgy constituted two distinct schools. Any competent archaeologist could distinguish, as our Chapter III will show, between a proto-dynastic Egyptian celt, dagger or spearhead and an equally early Sumerian specimen, to say nothing of more specialised types such as pins or earrings. But as we go back, the differences tend to vanish.

In the Nile valley the conditions for the rise of metallurgy were admittedly fulfilled, even though no supplies of ore were available locally[23]. The copper objects from Badarian and Early Predynastic graves, the oldest samples of metal to which any sort of date can be assigned, strongly suggest that the copper ore used as eye-paint was in fact there reduced to the metallic state and the product utilised. Yet nothing from these periods proves that the process was applied deliberately or systematically, still less that the properties of metal were realised or employed). Only in Middle Pre- dynastic times do we meet implements of any size or of a distinctively metallic character the results of casting in a mould. And even these are rare and sporadic. Moreover, in the Middle Predynastic culture we encounter types, foreign to the earlier periods but common at all times in Hither Asia. I may instance the pear-shaped stone mace-head that replaces the Early Pre-dynastic disk-shaped type, spouted vases and dark-on-light vase painting. Even under the early dynasties, when metallurgy was fully understood and quite individual types were created, flint remained in common use for reasons already explained.

Now Egypt is exceptionally favoured from the excavator's point of view. It has long enjoyed a civilised government; a delightful winter climate makes it the resort of the wealthy of all Europe. The mighty stone monuments that geographical circumstances enabled the ancient Egyptians to erect and that climatic conditions have conspired to preserve, have inspired the less stupid of such visitors to serious excavations as a diversion and encouraged the rest to subsidise professional diggers. Mesopotamia, on the other hand, remote, inhospitable winter and summer, and long misruled by a corrupt Old Turkey, has only been seriously explored during the last ten years. Persia, even more inaccessible and climatically forbidding, is closed to excavation by a monopoly granted to an incompetent and bankrupt nation. And in India the British government was content to allow the ruins of ancient cities to be used as ballast for railway lines. Under these circumstances it is difficult to compare the prediluvian culture with the predynastic or to gauge its origin, extent and antiquity. Still its highland home is rich in metals including even tin. And as far back as we can trace the culture, it was associated with genuinely metallic and often highly developed copper implements. Descending to the alluvial plain, its authors would find copper cheaper to import than flint.

Early Sumerian metallurgy, which seems descended directly from the prediluvian, was certainly superior to the contemporary Egyptian both in extent and in the quality of its products. For example, in Sumer bronze was known and core-casting regularly employed. The marked superiority of Sumerian metallurgy over the Egyptian, at the first moment when contemporary objects from the two countries can be compared, affords some presumption in favour of the higher antiquity of the Asiatic industry. The metal work of Middle Predynastic Egypt would in that case be inspired from Asia. The force of this argument is, however, somewhat diminished by persistent uncertainties as to the precise dates of the First Dynasties in Egypt and Ur respectively and by the fact that after the Second Dynasty Egyptian civilisation was on the whole, though not in metallurgy, ahead of Sumerian. The latter objection is to some extent discounted when we recall that the political unification of Egypt placed the labour power of the whole population at the disposal of Pharaoh for the execution of monumental works, that facilities for obtaining stone were great and the conditions of the soil more favourable to the preservation of delicate articles. It must be recalled that Egypt was still without wheeled vehicles though she could replace by magic images the living victims immolated in the oldest Sumerian tombs.

Approaching the question in another way, we shall find in the sequel that the majority of European metal types, referable specifically to one or other of the Oriental groups, go back quite unambiguously to prediluvian or Sumerian models. Still most daggers in Western and Central Europe are inspired by peculiarly Egyptian forms, traceable back to Middle Predynastic times. As all specialised early dynastic forms are confined to Egypt, the diffusion of the dagger type from the Nile must go back to Middle Predynastic times. If Egypt was diffusing metallurgical knowledge so early, the value of the numerical preponderance of diffused Sumerian types as evidence for the original centre of metallurgy is weakened. And so the question must be left open.

1. Miles Crawford Burkitt, 1890-1971, British prehistorian who specialised in the Paleolithic era. Wrote Our Early Ancestors, 1926 and The Early Stone Age, 1933.

2. ANDRES. Bergbau in der Vorzeit. Leipzig, 1922. (Also article "Bergbau" in Real)

3. WOOLLEY. "Excavations at Ur." Ant. J. Oct. 1929

4. Chemically pure copper could not have been prepared by the ancients and would have had no special value for them. In this book pure means without intentional alloy. The accidental impurities found in all ancient copper are valuable as indicating the source of the ore used in the several regions. For instance, the high nickel content of early Sumerian and Indus copper suggests that both civilisations were drawing on the ores from Oman, which show a high nickel content.

5. SMITH, SIDNEY. The Early History of Assyria, London, 1927

6. PETRIE. Prehistoric Egypt, London, 1917

7. The earliest forms of writing for purposes of trade and accounting, perhaps impressions made in soft clay.

8. CHILDE. The Most Ancient East, London, 1928

9. WOOLLEY. "Excavations at Ur." Ant. J. Oct. 1929

10. FRANKFORT. Studies on the Ancient Pottery of the Near East. Royal Anthropological Institute, Occasional Papers, 6 and 8. London, 1924-6

11. CHILDE. The Most Ancient East, London, 1928

12. GJERSTAD. Studies on Prehistoric Cyprus, Uppsala, 1926

13. CHILDE. The Dawn of European Civilization, London, 1924

14. A megaron is essentially a long hall with a central hearth, preceded by a pillared porch on the short side.

15. DORPFELD. Alt-Ithaka, Munich, 1927

16. TSOUNTAS. The Mycenean Age: a study of the monuments and culture of pre-Homeric Greece, 1898-99

17. SCHMIDT, H. Schliemanns Sammlung Trojanischer Altertumer, K. Museen zu Berlin, 1902

18. GJERSTAD. Studies on Prehistoric Cyprus, Uppsala, 1926

19. BLEGEN. Korakou, New York, 1921

20. DORPFELD. Alt-Ithaka, Munich, 1927

21. HALL, H.R. The Civilization of Greece in the Bronze Age, London, 1928.

22. Numbering the phase according to the contemporary Cretan periods, Messrs Wace and Blegen, owing to the absence of any sharp break at a point contemporary with the Cretan MM I, prefer to term this phase MH I, while admitting its contemporeneity with MMII.

23. LUCAS. “Copper in Ancient Egypt”, Journal of Egyptian Architecture, xm