Overview of Prehistory – what is the Bronze Age?


The Bronze Age came after the Stone Age and was the first period when metal was used: bronze. After the Bronze Age came the Iron Age. Life for a Bronze Age farmer was not very different from the Late Stone Age, but the metal brought about changes in society.

Figuur 1. Bronstijdboerin bij het vuur.
Bronze Age woman by the fire

The beginning: the Copper Age

Between the Bronze Age and the Stone Age came a Copper Age. Copper jewellery and axes were first made in Eastern Europe about 6,000 years ago. Copper melts at a temperature above 1,000 degrees Celsius and can then be cast in clay moulds. Ötzi the Ice Man lived in the Copper Age in Italy and he possessed a splendid example of a copper axe. There was no Copper Age as such in the Netherlands but copper objects dating from after the New Stone Age have very occasionally been found. These include beads and fragments from the time of the hunebed builders.


Making Bronze

Adding tin to copper makes it melt better and strengthens the metal.The new bronze is stronger than flint and stone, but can also shine like gold. It can be cast and hammered into many different different shapes. Bronze had a number of advantages: it lasted longer, was easy to shape and objects could be re-melted into new tools, weapons and jewellery. New weapons began to appear for the first time, such as swords.

Nebra Schwerter.jpg

Bronze in the Netherlands  –  the beginning of the Bronze Age

The first bronze objects found in the Netherlands appeared here around 4,000 years ago. They came from Germany, England and France. Later, farmers here learned for themselves how to melt bronze and mould it into different shapes. Bronze remained a rare material as tin and copper do not occur naturally in the Netherlands. The farmers who could obtain bronze and fashion it acquired power and status. There were great differences in wealth and power during the Bronze Age.

Figuur 2. Bronzen brilfibula uit Noordwijkerhout (Midden Bronstijd). Bron: Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden.
Bronze object (spectacle fibula) from Noordwijkerhout (Middle Bronze Age). Source: Museum of Antiquities, Leiden..

Bronze Age divisions

The Bronze Age can be divided into three periods: the Early Bronze Age (2000-1800 BC), Middle Bronze Age (1800-1100 BC) and Late Bronze Age (1100-800 BC). These periods are differentiated by changes and developments in technology, by their ways of life and by their burial rituals. These can be clearly seen from archaeological remains.  The Middle Bronze Age is further subdivided in to two sub-periods: Middle A (1800-1500 BC) and Middle B (1500-1100 BC).

Cuivre Michigan.jpg

Only bronze?

Not all Bronze Age utensils, jewellery and weapons were made from bronze. Stone, flint, antler, bone, clay and plant-based materials were also used. The Bronze Age is naturally the period in which bronze objects were made and traded alongside stone tools. The arrival of metal was not the only transformation in people’s lives at this time, there were also other changes. The presence of sheep meant that people’s clothing could now be made from wool. We know from the Single Grave Culture in the Netherlands that the horse was known in the Bronze Age and that gold was also known as a raw material. Farmers grew emmer wheat, barley, millet, peas and linseed.

Minoischer Schmelzofen, Kreta

Door Ingrid Slomp & Nadine Lemmers

Translation      Alun Harvey


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