Decoding the Metal Ages: Copper, Bronze, Iron

The 3rd, 2nd, and the 1st, millennia BC, a period between the Stone Age and the Iron Age, has traditionally been defined as the Metal Age. This was a period when societies in Europe began to produce metals consciously for making weapons and other implements.

The metal age can be further divided into the Copper Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.


The Metal Age is a period in human history characterized by the development and widespread use of various metals for tools, weapons, and other practical and decorative purposes. It is usually divided into several sub-periods, as follows:

  • The Copper Age or Chalcolithic period (4000-3000 BCE): was marked by the first use of copper for tools and weapons.
  • The Bronze Age (3000-1200 BCE): characterized by the use of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, for making stronger and more durable tools and weapons.
  • The Iron Age (1200 BCE – 500 CE): marked by the discovery of iron smelting and the use of iron for various tools, weapons, and other items.

Significant changes in human society, technology, and culture usually accompany the transition from one metal to another. The use of metals enabled humans to create more advanced tools and weapons, which in turn led to more efficient agriculture, hunting, and warfare, and the rise of complex societies and civilizations.

Video: Smile and Learn – English

When did the Copper Age begin?

The Copper Age followed the Stone Age at least 7,000 years ago when early man discovered copper. Gradually, copper weapons and tools replaced stone implements. The Copper Age marks the first part of the Bronze Age.

After 6,000 BC, smelting ore to produce pure copper was discovered in Turkey. From 5000 BC, copper metallurgy, with cast tools and weapons, was a factor leading to urbanization in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Copper was well known to the people of the ancient Indus Valley civilization. They exported copper to other lands and peacocks, ivory, and cotton textiles in return for silver and other commodities!

The Copper Age began in India around 3,100 BC, in Africa around 600 BC, in South America around 12,00 BC, and in China by 3,000 BC.

What was the Bronze Age?

It is the third phase in the history of the development of mankind, followed by the earlier Paleolithic, and Neolithic periods. In the metal age, the Bronze Age followed the Copper Age.

The Bronze Age was a period when metals were first used regularly in the manufacture of tools and weapons. Pure copper and bronze were the first metals used. The new weapons were harder, sharper, and more durable than stone weapons.

With the discovery of iron, weapons were more often made of iron, while bronze was used more for decorative purposes.

People learned how to smelt copper and tin from naturally occurring outcroppings of ore, and then alloy these metals and cast bronze. We must remember, however, that bronze came into use at different times in different parts of the world and was eventually replaced by iron. The earliest known tin bronzes are from present-day Iran and Iraq and go as far back as the late 4th millennium BC.

Archaeological finds near Ban Chiang in Thailand reveal that bronze technology was known there as early as 4,500 BC. Bronzes were made in Anatolia by the early 3rd millennium BC. The civilizations of the Americas of the Americas before Christopher Columbus did not know bronze technology until about 100 AD.

When and how did the Bronze Age end?

The civilizations that flourished during the Bronze Age ended in the 12th century BC. With the coming of the Dorians from the North of Greece.

The Dorians were Greek-speaking people who scattered the Mycenaeans, and divided agriculture, trade, and industry amongst the hundreds of villages.

The result was that the economy collapsed, culture declined, the trade networks became weak, and a glorious chapter in history, the Bronze Age, came to an end.

Interesting Facts about the Metal Age

#1. The Bronze Age is named after the alloy bronze, but the term “Bronze Age” also encompasses the use of other metals like copper, gold, and silver.

#2. The Iron Age is often associated with the rise of the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, as well as the development of the first alphabet and written languages.

#3. The Bronze Age Collapse was a period of turmoil in the Mediterranean region around 1200 BCE, during which many major civilizations, such as the Mycenaean Greeks, Hittites, and Minoans, collapsed. This period is still shrouded in mystery, with possible causes including natural disasters, climate change, and invasions from external groups.

#5. The Iron Age saw the rise of new empires and civilizations, such as the Persian Empire, the Chinese Han Dynasty, and the Roman Empire, which made extensive use of iron in their technologies and trade.

#6. The Iron Age was also a period of significant advances in metallurgy, with the development of steel, a stronger and more durable form of iron, which revolutionized the production of tools, weapons, and other items.

#7. The first known use of iron was in Mesopotamia, around 3500 BCE, where it was used for tools and decorations. However, it wasn’t until the 12th century BCE that the Hittites developed the first true iron smelting technique, which enabled the widespread use of iron.

#8. In the Bronze Age, copper was often alloyed with other metals such as arsenic or tin to produce stronger or more workable bronze. This process required specialized knowledge and skill, making bronze a highly valued material in ancient societies.

#9. During the Iron Age, the use of iron enabled the development of new tools and weapons, such as the iron plow, which revolutionized agriculture and led to increased food production.

#10. The Iron Age also saw the rise of large-scale iron mining and smelting, which required significant labor and organization, leading to the development of specialized iron-working communities and the growth of trade networks.

#11. The transition from one metal to another in the Metal Age often coincided with changes in art and culture, with each age producing its distinctive forms of metalwork and decorative arts.

Recommended Reads:

Featured Image Credit: MetInvestHolsing