Bronze Age Metallurgy in Southeast Spain
Ruiz, Ignacio Montero, Antiquity
Technology has had pride of place in European prehistory since the beginnings of scientific research in the early 19th century, as Thomsen's Three Age System of cultural periods makes manifest. Reinforced by evolutionist notions of progress, technological development has presented itself as one of the constant factors underlying the unfolding of human history, a factor which would permit one to establish a chronological sequence and to define the level of development which each human group had attained. Within this way of thinking, the appearance of metallurgy would reflect one of the greatest of advances ever achieved in human knowledge, since it is a technology that, instead of merely modifying nature, transforms it. After all, metallurgy, unlike the lithic or ceramic industries, attains a final product completely different, both physically and chemically, from its initial raw materials.
In spite of the technology's importance for cultural evolution, it is not sufficient in itself to account for the changes and differences in prehistoric cultural development. The simpler versions of technological determinism assumed that knowledge of a particular technique would involve its immediate application and the rapid unfolding of its full potential. The adoption of a particular technology and the development of its capabilities depend, however, not just on its own technological preconditions, but on its social acceptance (Renfrew 1978; McGlade & McGlade 1989). In other words, the potential advantages which may be derived from knowledge of a particular technology can only be developed within a favourable economic and social context. Knowledge of a technique does not necessarily imply its immediate development, but may remain dormant until a society encounters the incentives required to take advantage of it and to assume the risks it involves. This dependence on the way a technology is accepted and integrated socially means that the same invention will not always lead to the same innovative development and cultural transformations.
The appearance and development of metallurgy in western Europe is associated with a process of increasing social complexity, both aspects being essential in the definition of what a 'Bronze Age' constitutes. That these two events occur at the same time has allowed the formulation of a causal relation between them. One depends on the other, and metal is usually given the determinant role in the explanation (Champion et al. 1984: 215). The economic and social changes produced by metallurgy would be profound, in that its development would imply the accumulation of surpluses, full-time craft specialization, trade and a hierarchical social system with elite groups who control the system (Sherratt 1976). This explanatory model for the development of hierarchy in European societies makes the metal industry a key explanatory factor, since it would involve the full-time specialization of metal workers, the establishment of commercial relations based on metal exchange and control over the limited resources on which the industry depends.
These ideas have been developed to interpret the Bronze Age of temperate Europe, but they have also been taken up in research on the Bronze Age of the Iberia, particularly with respect to the 'El Argar Culture'. The Argaric encompasses those prehistoric remains found in the provinces of Almeria, Granada, Murcia and parts of Jaen and Alicante during the first part of the 2nd millennium BC, and is the most important and best known Bronze Age culture of the Iberian Peninsula.
The El Argar Culture
The Argaric complex was identified and defined early in the history of prehistoric research in Iberia. The extensive, magnificently published work of Henri and Louis Siret (1887) still constitutes the most complete documentary source available even today. From the very first, metal working was considered to be one of the Argaric's most important features and the central axis on which explanations of its cultural development would revolve. …