Iron Age

Iron Age, period in the development of industry that begins with the general use of iron and continues into modern times. In Asia, Egypt, and Europe it was preceded by the Bronze Age. It did not begin in the Americas until the coming of the Europeans. Iron beads were worn in Egypt as early as 4000 BC, but these were of meteoric iron, evidently shaped by the rubbing process used in shaping implements of stone. The oldest known article of iron shaped by hammering is a dagger found in Egypt that was made before 1350 BC This dagger is believed not to have been made in Egypt but to be of Hittite workmanship. The use of smelted iron ornaments and ceremonial weapons became common during the period extending from 1900 to 1400 BC About this time, the invention of tempering (see forging) was made by the Chalybes of the Hittite empire. It is possible that the Hittite kings kept ironworking techniques secret and restricted export of iron weapons. After the downfall of the Hittite empire in 1200 BC, the great waves of migrants spreading through S Europe and the Middle East insured the rapid transmission of iron technology. In Europe knowledge of iron smelting was acquired in Greece and the Balkans, and somewhat later in N Italy (see Etruscan civilization; Villanovan culture) and central Europe. The Early Iron Age in central Europe, dating from c.800 BC to c.500 BC, is known as the Hallstatt period. Celtic migrations, beginning in the 5th cent. BC, spread the use of iron into W Europe and to the British Isles. The Late Iron Age in Europe, which is dated from this period, is called La Tène. The casting of iron did not become technically useful until the Industrial Revolution. The people of the Iron Age developed the basic economic innovations of the Bronze Age and laid the foundations for feudal organization. They utilized the crops and domesticated animals introduced earlier from the Middle East. Ox-drawn plows and wheeled vehicles acquired a new importance and changed the agricultural patterns. For the first time humans were able to exploit efficiently the temperate forests. Villages were fortified, warfare was conducted on horseback and in horse-drawn chariots, and alphabetic writing based on the Phoenician script became widespread. Distinctive art styles in metal, pottery, and stone characterized many Iron Age cultures.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The European Iron Age
John Collis.
Routledge, 1997
Coins and Power in Late Iron Age Britain
John Creighton.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
Beyond the Brochs: Changing Perspectives on the Later Iron Age in Atlantic Scotland
Ian Armit.
Edinburgh University Press, 1990
Prehistoric Britain
Jacquetta Hawkes; Christopher Hawkes.
Harvard University Press, 1953
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Five "The Early Iron Age"
The Prehistory of Denmark
JØrgen Jensen.
Routledge, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Part IV "The Chiefdoms of the Iron Age, 500 BC-800 AD"
Prehistoric Ireland
Joseph Raftery.
B. T. Batsford, 1951
Librarian’s tip: Chap. X "The Introduction of Iron (from 500 B.C.)"
The Law and the Prophets
Harold Peake; Herbert John Fleure.
Yale University Press, 1936
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Iron in Central Europe" and Chap. 11 "The Iron Age in the West"
From Sumer to Rome: The Military Capabilities of Ancient Armies
Richard A. Gabriel; Karen S. Metz.
Greenwood Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of the Iron Age begins on p. 19
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