Iron Age

The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age system, preceded by the Stone Age (Neolithic) and the Bronze Age. It is an archaeological era in the prehistory and protohistory of Europe and the Ancient Near East, and by analogy also used of other parts of the Old World. The three-age system was introduced in the first half of the 19th century for the archaeology of Europe in particular, and by the later 19th century expanded to the archaeology of the Ancient Near East. Its name harks back to the mythological "Ages of Man" of Hesiod. As an archaeological era it was first introduced for Scandinavia by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen in the 1830s. By the 1860s, it was embraced as a useful division of the "earliest history of mankind" in general[1] and began to be applied in Assyriology. The development of the now-conventional periodization in the archaeology of the Ancient Near East was developed in the 1920s to 1930s.[2] As its name suggests, Iron Age technology is characterized by the production of tools and weaponry by ferrous metallurgy (ironworking), more specifically from carbon steel.

The duration of the Iron Age varies depending on the region under consideration. It is defined by archaeological convention, and the mere presence of some cast or wrought iron is not sufficient to represent an Iron Age culture; rather, the "Iron Age" begins locally when the production of iron or steel has been brought to the point where iron tools and weapons superior to their bronze equivalents become widespread.[3] For example, Tutankhamun's meteoric iron dagger comes from the Bronze Age. In the Ancient Near East, this transition takes place in the wake of the so-called Bronze Age collapse, in the 12th century BC. The technology soon spreads throughout the Mediterranean region and to South Asia. Its further spread to Central Asia, Eastern and Central Europe is somewhat delayed, and Northern Europe is reached still later, by about 500 BC.

The Iron Age is taken to end, also by convention, with the beginning of the historiographical record. This usually does not represent a clear break in the archaeological record; for the Ancient Near East the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire c. 550 BC (considered historical by virtue of the record by Herodotus) is usually taken as a cut-off date, and in Central and Western Europe the Roman conquests of the 1st century BC serve as marking for the end of the Iron Age. The Germanic Iron Age of Scandinavia is taken to end c. AD 800, with the beginning of the Viking Age.

In South Asia, the Iron Age is taken to begin with the ironworking Painted Gray Ware culture and to end with the reign of Ashoka (3rd century BC). The use of the term "Iron Age" in the archaeology of South, East and Southeast Asia is more recent, and less common, than for western Eurasia; at least in China prehistory had ended before iron-working arrived, so the term is infrequently used. The Sahel (Sudan region) and Sub-Saharan Africa are outside of the three-age system, there being no Bronze Age, but the term "Iron Age" is sometimes used in reference to early cultures practicing ironworking such as the Nok culture of Nigeria.

Iron Age
Bronze Age

Ancient Near East (1200–550 BC)

Bronze Age collapse (1200–1150 BC)
Anatolia, Caucasus, Levant


Aegean (1190–700 BC)
Italy (1100–700 BC)
Balkans (1100 BC – AD 150)
Eastern Europe (900–650 BC)
Central Europe (800–50 BC)
Great Britain (800 BC – AD 100)
Northern Europe (500 BC – AD 800)

South Asia (1200–200 BC)

East Asia (500 BC – AD 300)

Iron metallurgy in Africa

Iron Age metallurgy
Ancient iron production

Ancient history
Mediterranean, Greater Persia, South Asia, China
Greek, Roman, Chinese, Medieval


Industrial RevolutionMiddle agesBronze AgeNeolithicStone Age
Rough Three-age system timeline for the Ancient Near East; consult particular article for details. St = Stone Age (Gray). Br= Bronze Age (Bronze). Ir= Iron Age (Red). D = Dark ages (Medieval Period) (Black). Ind =Industrial Age (Blue) Green is the Atomic Age and Yellow is the prevailing Information Age.

Increasingly the Iron Age in Europe is being seen as a part of the Bronze Age collapse in the ancient Near East, in ancient India (with the post-Rigvedic Vedic civilization), ancient Iran, and ancient Greece (with the Greek Dark Ages). In other regions of Europe the Iron Age began in the 8th century BC in Central Europe and the 6th century BC in Northern Europe. The Near Eastern Iron Age is divided into two subsections, Iron I and Iron II. Iron I (1200–1000 BC) illustrates both continuity and discontinuity with the previous Late Bronze Age. There is no definitive cultural break between the 13th and 12th centuries BC throughout the entire region, although certain new features in the hill country, Transjordan and coastal region may suggest the appearance of the Aramaean and Sea People groups. There is evidence, however, of strong continuity with Bronze Age culture, although as one moves later into Iron I the culture begins to diverge more significantly from that of the late 2nd millennium.

The Iron Age as an archaeological period is roughly defined as that part of the prehistory of a culture or region during which ferrous metallurgy was the dominant technology of metalworking. The periodization is not strictly tied to the presence of ferrous metallurgy and is to some extent a matter of convention.

The characteristic of an Iron Age culture is mass production of tools and weapons made from steel, typically alloys with a carbon content between approximately 0.30% and 1.2% by weight. Only with the capability of the production of carbon steel does ferrous metallurgy result in tools or weapons that are equal or superior to bronze. To this day bronze and brass have not been replaced in many applications, with the spread of steel being based as much on economics as on metallurgical advancements. A range of techniques have been used to produce steel from smelted iron, including techniques such as case-hardening and forge welding that were used to make cutting edges stronger.

By convention, the Iron Age in the Ancient Near East is taken to last from c. 1200 BC (the Bronze Age collapse) to c. 550 BC (or 539 BC), taken as the beginning of historiography (Herodotus) or the end of the proto-historical period. In Central and Western Europe, the Iron Age is taken to last from c. 800 BC to c. 1 BC, in Northern Europe from c. 500 BC to 800 AD. In China, there is no recognizable prehistoric period characterized by ironworking, as Bronze Age China transitions almost directly into the Qin dynasty of imperial China; "Iron Age" in the context of China is sometimes used for the transitional period of c. 500 BC to 100 BC during which ferrous metallurgy was present even if not dominant.

The following gives an overview over the different conventions delimiting the "Iron Age" for various regions of the Old World, with indication of the subsequent historical epoch.

Early ferrous metallurgy

The earliest-known iron artifacts are nine small beads dated to 3200 BC, which were found in burials at Gerzeh, Lower Egypt. They have been identified as meteoric iron shaped by careful hammering.[4] Meteoric iron, a characteristic iron–nickel alloy, was used by various ancient peoples thousands of years before the Iron Age. Such iron, being in its native metallic state, required no smelting of ores.[5][6]

Smelted iron appears sporadically in the archeological record from the middle Bronze Age. Whilst terrestrial iron is naturally abundant, its high melting point of 1,538 °C (2,800 °F) placed it out of reach of common use until the end of the second millennium BC. Tin's low melting point of 231.9 °C (449.4 °F) and copper's relatively moderate melting point of 1,085 °C (1,985 °F) placed them within the capabilities of the Neolithic pottery kilns, which date back to 6000 BC and were able to produce temperatures greater than 900 °C (1,650 °F).[7] In addition to specially designed furnaces, ancient iron production needed to develop complex procedures for the removal of impurities, for regulating the admixture of carbon in combination with hot-working to achieve a useful balance of hardness and strength (steel) and for adding alloys to prevent rust; see Ferrous metallurgy.

The earliest tentative evidence for iron-making is a small number of iron fragments with the appropriate amounts of carbon admixture found in the Proto-Hittite layers at Kaman-Kalehöyük and dated to 2200–2000 BC. Akanuma (2008) concludes that "The combination of carbon dating, archaeological context, and archaeometallurgical examination indicates that it is likely that the use of ironware made of steel had already begun in the third millennium BC in Central Anatolia".[8] Souckova-Siegolová (2001) shows that iron implements were made in Central Anatolia in very limited quantities around 1800 BC and were in general use by elites, though not by commoners, during the New Hittite Empire (∼1400–1200 BC).[9]

Similarly, recent archaeological remains of iron working in the Ganges Valley in India have been tentatively dated to 1800 BC. Tewari (2003) concludes that "knowledge of iron smelting and manufacturing of iron artifacts was well known in the Eastern Vindhyas and iron had been in use in the Central Ganga Plain, at least from the early second millennium BC".[10] By the Middle Bronze Age increasing numbers of smelted iron objects (distinguishable from meteoric iron by the lack of nickel in the product) appeared in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and South Asia. African sites are turning up dates as early as 1200 BC.[11][12][13]

Modern archaeological evidence identifies the start of large-scale iron production in around 1200 BC, marking the end of the Bronze Age. Between 1200 BC and 1000 BC diffusion in the understanding of iron metallurgy and use of iron objects was fast and far-flung. Anthony Snodgrass[14][15] suggests that a shortage of tin, as a part of the Bronze Age Collapse and trade disruptions in the Mediterranean around 1300 BC, forced metalworkers to seek an alternative to bronze. As evidence, many bronze implements were recycled into weapons during that time. More widespread use of iron led to improved steel-making technology at lower cost. Thus, even when tin became available again, iron was cheaper, stronger and lighter, and forged iron implements superseded cast bronze tools permanently.[16]

Aerial photograph of Maiden Castle, 1935
Maiden Castle, Dorset, England. More than 2,000 Iron Age hillforts are known in Britain.

Ancient Near East

The Iron Age in the Ancient Near East is believed to have begun with the discovery of iron smelting and smithing techniques in Anatolia or the Caucasus and Balkans in the late 2nd millennium BC (c. 1300 BC).[17] The earliest bloomery smelting of iron is found at Tell Hammeh, Jordan around 930 BC (14C dating).

The Early Iron Age artefacts found in Kultepe site, Azerbaijan show that iron smelting was known and used in this region before the 2nd millennium BC (as early as the 3rd millennium BC).[18][19]

Western Asia

In the Mesopotamian states of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria, the initial use of iron reaches far back, to perhaps 3000 BC.[20] One of the earliest smelted iron artifacts known was a dagger with an iron blade found in a Hattic tomb in Anatolia, dating from 2500 BC.[21] The widespread use of iron weapons which replaced bronze weapons rapidly disseminated throughout the Near East (North Africa, southwest Asia) by the beginning of the 1st millennium BC.

The development of iron smelting was once attributed to the Hittites of Anatolia during the Late Bronze Age. As part of the Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age, the Bronze Age collapse saw the slow, comparatively continuous spread of iron-working technology in the region. It was long held that the success of the Hittite Empire during the Late Bronze Age had been based on the advantages entailed by the "monopoly" on ironworking at the time.[22] Accordingly, the invading Sea Peoples would have been responsible for spreading the knowledge through that region. The view of such a "Hittite monopoly" has come under scrutiny and no longer represents a scholarly consensus.[22] While there are some iron objects from Bronze Age Anatolia, the number is comparable to iron objects found in Egypt and other places of the same time period; and only a small number of these objects are weapons.[23]

Finds of Iron
Early examples and distribution of non-precious metal finds.[24]
Date Crete Aegean Greece Cyprus Total Anatolia Grand total
1300–1200 BC 5 2 9 0 16 33 49
1200–1100 BC 1 2 8 26 37 N.A. 37
1100–1000 BC 13 3 31 33 80 N.A. 80
1000–900 BC 37+ 30 115 29 211 N.A. 211
Total Bronze Age 5 2 9 0 16 33 49
Total Iron Age 51 35 163 88 328 N.A. 328
Dates are approximate, consult particular article for details
         Prehistoric (or Proto-historic) Iron Age      Historic Iron Age


The Iron Age in Egyptian archaeology essentially corresponds to the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt.

Iron metal is singularly scarce in collections of Egyptian antiquities. Bronze remained the primary material there until the conquest by Neo-Assyrian Empire in 671 BC. The explanation of this would seem to lie in the fact that the relics are in most cases the paraphernalia of tombs, the funeral vessels and vases, and iron being considered an impure metal by the ancient Egyptians it was never used in their manufacture of these or for any religious purposes. It was attributed to Seth, the spirit of evil who according to Egyptian tradition governed the central deserts of Africa.[20] In the Black Pyramid of Abusir, dating before 2000 BC, Gaston Maspero found some pieces of iron. In the funeral text of Pepi I, the metal is mentioned.[20] A sword bearing the name of pharaoh Merneptah as well as a battle axe with an iron blade and gold-decorated bronze shaft were both found in the excavation of Ugarit.[21] A dagger with an iron blade found in Tutankhamun's tomb, 13th century BC, was recently examined and found to be of meteoric origin.[25][26][27]


In Europe, the Iron Age is the last stage of prehistoric Europe and the first of the protohistoric periods, which initially means descriptions of a particular area by Greek and Roman writers. For much of Europe, the period came to an abrupt local end after conquest by the Romans, though ironworking remained the dominant technology until recent times. Elsewhere it may last until the early centuries AD, and either Christianization or a new conquest in the Migration Period.

Europe in the year 700 BC, during the Iron Age

Iron working was introduced to Europe in the late 11th century BC,[28] probably from the Caucasus, and slowly spread northwards and westwards over the succeeding 500 years. The Iron Age did not start when iron first appeared in Europe but it began to replace bronze in the preparation of tools and weapons.[29] It did not happen at the same time all around Europe; local cultural developments played a role in the transition to the Iron Age. For example the Iron Age of Prehistoric Ireland begins around 500 BC, when the Greek Iron Age had already ended, and finishes around 400 AD. The widespread use of the technology of iron was implemented in Europe simultaneously with Asia.[30] The prehistoric Iron Age in Central Europe divided into two periods based on historical events – Hallstatt culture (early Iron Age) and La Tene (late Iron Age) cultures.[31] Material cultures of Hallstatt and La Tene consist of 4 phases (A, B, C, D phases).[32][33][34]

Phase A Phase B Phase C Phase D
Hallstatt (1200–700 BC)

Flat graves

(1200–700 BC)

Pottery made of polychrome

(700–600 BC)

heavy iron and bronze swords

(600–475 BC)

dagger swords, brooches and ring ornaments, girdle mounts

La Tène (450–390 BC)

s-shaped, spiral and

round designs

(390–300 BC)

Iron swords, heavy knives, lanceheads

(300–100 BC)

iron chains, iron swords, belts, heavy spearheads

(100–15 BC)

iron reaping-hooks, saws, scythes and hammers

The Iron Age in Europe is characterized by an elaboration of designs in weapons, implements, and utensils.[20] These are no longer cast but hammered into shape, and decoration is elaborate and curvilinear rather than simple rectilinear; the forms and character of the ornamentation of the northern European weapons resembles in some respects Roman arms, while in other respects they are peculiar and evidently representative of northern art.

Citania de Briterios located in Guimaraes, Portugal is one of the examples of archaeological sites of the Iron Age. This settlement (fortified villages) covered an area of 3.8 hectares and served for Celtiberians as a stronghold against Roman invasions. İt dates more than 2500 years back. The site was researched by Francisco Martins Sarmento starting from 1874. A number of amphoras, coins, fragments of pottery, weapons, pieces of jewelry, as well as ruins of a bath and its Pedra Formosa (literally Beauty stones) revealed here.[35][36]


Central Asia

The Iron Age in Central Asia began when iron objects appear among the Indo-European Saka in present-day Xinjiang between the 10th century BC and the 7th century BC, such as those found at the cemetery site of Chawuhukou.[37]

The Pazyryk culture is an Iron Age archaeological culture (c. 6th to 3rd centuries BC) identified by excavated artifacts and mummified humans found in the Siberian permafrost in the Altay Mountains.

East Asia

Dates are approximate, consult particular article for details
         Prehistoric (or Proto-historic) Iron Age      Historic Iron Age

In China, Chinese bronze inscriptions are found around 1200 BC, preceding the development of iron metallurgy, which was known by the 9th century BC,[38][39] Therefore in China prehistory had given way to history periodized by ruling dynasties by the start of iron use, so "Iron Age" is not typically used as to describe a period in Chinese history. Iron metallurgy reached the Yangzi Valley toward the end of the 6th century BC.[40] The few objects were found at Changsha and Nanjing. The mortuary evidence suggests that the initial use of iron in Lingnan belongs to the mid-to-late Warring States period (from about 350 BC). Important non-precious husi style metal finds include Iron tools found at the tomb at Guwei-cun of the 4th century BC.[41]

The techniques used in Lingnan are a combination of bivalve moulds of distinct southern tradition and the incorporation of piece mould technology from the Zhongyuan. The products of the combination of these two periods are bells, vessels, weapons and ornaments and the sophisticated cast.

An Iron Age culture of the Tibetan Plateau has tentatively been associated with the Zhang Zhung culture described in early Tibetan writings.

In Japan, iron items, such as tools, weapons, and decorative objects, are postulated to have entered Japan during the late Yayoi period (c. 300 BC–AD 300)[42] or the succeeding Kofun period (c. AD 250–538), most likely through contacts with the Korean Peninsula and China.

Distinguishing characteristics of the Yayoi period include the appearance of new pottery styles and the start of intensive rice agriculture in paddy fields. Yayoi culture flourished in a geographic area from southern Kyūshū to northern Honshū. The Kofun and the subsequent Asuka periods are sometimes referred to collectively as the Yamato period; The word kofun is Japanese for the type of burial mounds dating from that era.

Silla chest and neck armour from National Museum of Korea

Iron objects were introduced to the Korean peninsula through trade with chiefdoms and state-level societies in the Yellow Sea area in the 4th century BC, just at the end of the Warring States Period but before the Western Han Dynasty began.[43][44] Yoon proposes that iron was first introduced to chiefdoms located along North Korean river valleys that flow into the Yellow Sea such as the Cheongcheon and Taedong Rivers.[45] Iron production quickly followed in the 2nd century BC, and iron implements came to be used by farmers by the 1st century in southern Korea.[43] The earliest known cast-iron axes in southern Korea are found in the Geum River basin. The time that iron production begins is the same time that complex chiefdoms of Proto-historic Korea emerged. The complex chiefdoms were the precursors of early states such as Silla, Baekje, Goguryeo, and Gaya[44][46] Iron ingots were an important mortuary item and indicated the wealth or prestige of the deceased in this period.[47]

South Asia

Dates are approximate, consult particular article for details
         Prehistoric (or Proto-historic) Iron Age      Historic Iron Age

Iron was being used in Mundigak to manufacture some items in the 3rd millennium BC such as a small copper/bronze bell with an iron clapper, a copper/bronze rod with two iron decorative buttons,. and a copper/bronze mirror handle with a decorative iron button.[48] Artefacts including small knives and blades have been discovered in the Indian state of Telengana which have been dated between 2,400 BC and 1800 BC[49][50] The history of metallurgy in the Indian subcontinent began during the 2nd millennium BC. Archaeological sites in India, such as Malhar, Dadupur, Raja Nala Ka Tila, Lahuradewa, Kosambi and Jhusi, Allahabad in present-day Uttar Pradesh show iron implements in the period 1800–1200 BC.[10] Archaeological excavations in Hyderabad show an Iron Age burial site.[51] Rakesh Tewari[52] believes that around the beginning of the Indian Iron Age (13th century BC), iron smelting was widely practiced in India. Such use suggests that the date of the technology's inception may be around the 16th century BC.[10]

The beginning of the 1st millennium BC saw extensive developments in iron metallurgy in India. Technological advancement and mastery of iron metallurgy was achieved during this period of peaceful settlements. One iron working centre in east India has been dated to the first millennium BC.[53] In Southern India (present day Mysore) iron appeared as early as 12th to 11th centuries BC; these developments were too early for any significant close contact with the northwest of the country.[53] The Indian Upanishads mention metallurgy.[54] and the Indian Mauryan period saw advances in metallurgy.[55] As early as 300 BC, certainly by AD 200, high quality steel was produced in southern India, by what would later be called the crucible technique. In this system, high-purity wrought iron, charcoal, and glass were mixed in a crucible and heated until the iron melted and absorbed the carbon.[56]

The protohistoric Early Iron Age in Sri Lanka lasted from 1000 BC to 600 BC. however evidence of Iron usage was found in Excavation of a Protohistoric Canoe burial Site in Haldummulla[57] and has been dated to 2400 BC. Radiocarbon evidence has been collected from Anuradhapura and Aligala shelter in Sigiriya.[58][59][60][61] The Anuradhapura settlement is recorded to extend 10 ha (25 acres) by 800 BC and grew to 50 ha (120 acres) by 700–600 BC to become a town.[62] The skeletal remains of an Early Iron Age chief were excavated in Anaikoddai, Jaffna. The name 'Ko Veta' is engraved in Brahmi script on a seal buried with the skeleton and is assigned by the excavators to the 3rd century BC. Ko, meaning "King" in Tamil, is comparable to such names as Ko Atan and Ko Putivira occurring in contemporary Brahmi inscriptions in south India.[63] It is also speculated that Early Iron Age sites may exist in Kandarodai, Matota, Pilapitiya and Tissamaharama.[64]

Southeast Asia

Lingling-o earrings from Luzon, Philippines
Dates are approximate, consult particular article for details
     Prehistoric (or Proto-historic) Iron Age      Historic Iron Age

Archaeology in Thailand at sites Ban Don Ta Phet and Khao Sam Kaeo yielding metallic, stone, and glass artifacts stylistically associated with the Indian subcontinent suggest Indianization of Southeast Asia beginning in the 4th to 2nd centuries BC during the late Iron Age.[65]

In Philippines and Vietnam, the Sa Huynh culture showed evidence of an extensive trade network. Sa Huynh beads were made from glass, carnelian, agate, olivine, zircon, gold and garnet; most of these materials were not local to the region, and were most likely imported. Han-Dynasty-style bronze mirrors were also found in Sa Huynh sites. Conversely, Sa Huynh produced ear ornaments have been found in archaeological sites in Central Thailand, Taiwan (Orchid Island).[66]:211–217

Sub-Saharan Africa

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where there was no continent-wide universal Bronze Age, the use of iron succeeded immediately the use of stone.[20] Metallurgy was characterized by the absence of a Bronze Age, and the transition from "stone to steel" in tool substances. Early evidence for iron technology in Sub-Saharan Africa can be found at sites such as KM2 and KM3 in northwest Tanzania. Nubia was one of the relatively few places in Africa to have a sustained Bronze Age along with Egypt and much of the rest of North Africa.

East&southern africa early iron age
Iron Age finds in East and Southern Africa, corresponding to the early 1st millennium Bantu expansion

Very early copper and bronze working sites in Niger may date to as early as 1500 BC. There is also evidence of iron metallurgy in Termit, Niger from around this period.[11][67] Nubia was a major manufacturer and exporter of iron after the expulsion of the Nubian dynasty from Egypt by the Assyrians in the 7th century BC.[68]

Iron and copper working in Sub-Saharan Africa spread in conjunction with the Bantu expansion, from the Cameroon region to the African Great Lakes in the 3rd century BC, reaching the Cape around AD 400.[11] However, iron working may have been practiced in Central Africa as early as the 3rd millennium BC.[69] Instances of carbon steel based on complex preheating principles were found to be in production around the 1st century AD in northwest Tanzania.[70]

Dates are approximate, consult particular article for details
         Prehistoric (or Proto-historic) Iron Age      Historic Iron Age

Image gallery

Dun Carloway

Dun Carloway broch, Lewis, Scotland


A replica Iron Age thatched roof, Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire, England


Iron Age roundhouse


Iron Age roundhouse


Iron Age roundhouse

Broborg Knivsta kommun 8448

Broborg Knivsta, prehistoric castle

See also

Further reading

  • Chang, Claudia. Rethinking Prehistoric Central Asia: Shepherds, Farmers, and Nomads. New York: Routledge, 2018.
  • Collis, John. The European Iron Age. London: B.T. Batsford, 1984.
  • Cunliffe, Barry W. Iron Age Britain. Rev. ed. London: Batsford, 2004.
  • Davis-Kimball, Jeannine., V. A Bashilov, and L. Tiablonskiĭ. Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes In the Early Iron Age. Berkeley, CA: Zinat Press, 1995.
  • Finkelstein, Israel, and Eli Piasetzky. “The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing?” Near Eastern Archaeology 74.1 (2011): 50–55.
  • Jacobson, Esther. Burial Ritual, Gender, and Status In South Siberia In the Late Bronze-Early Iron Age. Bloomington: Indiana University, Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1987.
  • Mazar, Amihai. “Iron Age Chronology: A Reply to I. Finkelstein.” Levant 29 (1997): 157–167.
  • ––. “The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing? Another Viewpoint.” Near Eastern Archaeology 74.2 (2011): 105–110.
  • Medvedskaia, I.N. Iran: Iron Age I. Oxford: B.A.R., 1982.
  • Shinnie, P.L. The African Iron Age. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.
  • Tripathi, Vibha. The Age of Iron In South Asia: Legacy and Tradition. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2001.
  • Waldbaum, Jane C. From Bronze to Iron: The Transition From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age In the Eastern Mediterranean. Göteborg: P. Aström, 1978.


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External links

Ancient Near East

The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, southeast Turkey, southwest Iran, northeastern Syria and Kuwait), ancient Egypt, ancient Iran (Elam, Media, Parthia and Persia), Anatolia/Asia Minor and Armenian Highlands (Turkey's Eastern Anatolia Region, Armenia, northwestern Iran, southern Georgia, and western Azerbaijan), the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan), Cyprus and the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient Near East is studied in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology and ancient history.

The history of the ancient Near East begins with the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BC, though the date it ends varies. The term covers the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the region, until either the conquest by the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC, that by Macedonian Empire in the 4th century BC, or the Muslim conquests in the 7th century AD.

The ancient Near East is considered one of the cradles of civilization. It was here that intensive year-round agriculture was first practiced, leading to the rise of the first dense urban settlements and the development of many familiar institutions of civilization, such as social stratification, centralized government and empires, organized religion and organized warfare. It also saw the creation of the first writing system, the first alphabet (Abjad), the first currency in history, and law codes, early advances that laid the foundations of astronomy and mathematics, and the invention of the wheel.

During the period, states became increasingly large, until the region became controlled by militaristic empires that had conquered a number of different cultures.

Archaeology of Northern Europe

The archaeology of Northern Europe studies the prehistory of Scandinavia and the adjacent North European Plain,

roughly corresponding to the territories of modern Sweden, Norway, Denmark, northern Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

The region entered the Mesolithic around the 7th millennium BCE. The transition to the Neolithic is characterized by the Funnelbeaker culture in the 4th millennium BCE. The Chalcolithic is marked by the arrival of the Corded Ware culture, possibly the first influence in the region of Indo-European expansion. The Nordic Bronze Age proper begins roughly one millennium later, around 1500 BCE. The end of the Bronze Age is characterized by cultural contact with the Central European La Tène culture (Celts), contributing to the development of the Iron Age by the 4th century BCE, presumably the locus of Common Germanic culture.

Northern Europe enters the protohistorical period in the early centuries CE, with the adoption of writing and ethnographic accounts by Roman authors.

British Iron Age

The British Iron Age is a conventional name used in the archaeology of Great Britain, referring to the prehistoric and protohistoric phases of the Iron Age culture of the main island and the smaller islands, typically excluding prehistoric Ireland, which had an independent Iron Age culture of its own. The parallel phase of Irish archaeology is termed the Irish Iron Age.

The Iron Age is not an archaeological horizon of common artefacts, but is rather a locally diverse cultural phase.

The British Iron Age lasted in theory from the first significant use of iron for tools and weapons in Britain to the Romanisation of the southern half of the island. The Romanised culture is termed Roman Britain and is considered to supplant the British Iron Age. The Irish Iron Age was ended by the rise of Christianity.

The tribes living in Britain during this time are often popularly considered to be part of a broadly Celtic culture, but in recent years this has been disputed. At a minimum, "Celtic" is a linguistic term without an implication of a lasting cultural unity connecting Gaul with the British Isles throughout the Iron Age. The Brythonic languages spoken in Britain at this time, as well as others including the Goidelic and Gaulish languages of neighbouring Ireland and Gaul respectively, certainly belong to the group known as Celtic languages. However it cannot be assumed that particular cultural features found in one Celtic-speaking culture can be extrapolated to the others.

Celtic Britons

The Britons, also known as Celtic Britons or Ancient Britons, were Celtic people who inhabited Great Britain from the British Iron Age into the Middle Ages, at which point their culture and language diverged into the modern Welsh, Cornish and Bretons (among others). They spoke the Common Brittonic language, the ancestor to the modern Brittonic languages.The traditional view that the Celtic Britons originally migrated from the continent, mostly across the English Channel, with their languages, culture and genes in the Iron Age has been considerably undermined in recent decades by the contention of many scholars that Celtic languages had instead spread north along the Atlantic seaboard during the Bronze Age, and the results of genetic studies, which show a large continuity between Iron Age and older British populations, suggesting trans-cultural diffusion was also very important in the introduction of the Celtic languages.

The earliest evidence for the Britons and their language in historical sources dates to the Iron Age. After the Roman conquest of Britain in the 1st century, a Romano-British culture emerged, and Latin and British Vulgar Latin coexisted with Brittonic. During and after the Roman era, the Britons lived throughout Britain. Their relationship with the Picts, who lived north of the Firth of Forth, has been the subject of much discussion, though most scholars now accept that the Pictish language was related to Common Brittonic, rather than a separate Celtic language.With the beginning of Anglo-Saxon settlement and Gaelic Scots in the 5th and 6th centuries, the culture and language of the Britons fragmented and much of their territory was gradually taken over by the Anglo-Saxons and Scots Gaels. The extent to which this cultural and linguistic change was accompanied by wholesale changes in the population is still a matter of discussion. During this period some Britons migrated to mainland Europe and established significant colonies in Brittany (now part of France), the Channel Islands as well as Britonia in modern Galicia, Spain. By the beginning of the 11th century, remaining Brittonic Celtic-speaking populations had split into distinct groups: the Welsh in Wales, the Cornish in Cornwall, the Bretons in Brittany, the Cumbric speaking people of the Hen Ogledd ("Old North") in southern Scotland and northern England, and the remnants of the Pictish people in the north of Scotland. Common Brittonic developed into the distinct Brittonic languages: Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish and Breton.


The Celts (, see pronunciation of Celt for different usages) are an Indo-European ethnolinguistic group of Europe identified by their use of Celtic languages and cultural similarities. The history of pre-Celtic Europe and the exact relationship between ethnic, linguistic and cultural factors in the Celtic world remains uncertain and controversial. The exact geographic spread of the ancient Celts is disputed; in particular, the ways in which the Iron Age inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland should be regarded as Celts have become a subject of controversy. According to one theory, the common root of the Celtic languages, the Proto-Celtic language, arose in the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of Central Europe, which flourished from around 1200 BC.According to a theory proposed in the 19th century, the first people to adopt cultural characteristics regarded as Celtic were the people of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture in central Europe (c. 800–450 BC), named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria. Thus this area is sometimes called the "Celtic homeland". By or during the later La Tène period (c. 450 BC to the Roman conquest), this Celtic culture was supposed to have expanded by trans-cultural diffusion or migration to the British Isles (Insular Celts), France and the Low Countries (Gauls), Bohemia, Poland and much of Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula (Celtiberians, Celtici, Lusitanians and Gallaeci) and northern Italy (Golasecca culture and Cisalpine Gauls) and, following the Celtic settlement of Eastern Europe beginning in 279 BC, as far east as central Anatolia (Galatians) in modern-day Turkey.The earliest undisputed direct examples of a Celtic language are the Lepontic inscriptions beginning in the 6th century BC. Continental Celtic languages are attested almost exclusively through inscriptions and place-names. Insular Celtic languages are attested beginning around the 4th century in Ogham inscriptions, although it was clearly being spoken much earlier. Celtic literary tradition begins with Old Irish texts around the 8th century CE. Coherent texts of Early Irish literature, such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge ("Cattle Raid of Cooley"), survive in 12th-century recensions.

By the mid-1st millennium, with the expansion of the Roman Empire and migrating Germanic tribes, Celtic culture and Insular Celtic languages had become restricted to Ireland, the western and northern parts of Great Britain (Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall), the Isle of Man, and Brittany. Between the 5th and 8th centuries, the Celtic-speaking communities in these Atlantic regions emerged as a reasonably cohesive cultural entity. They had a common linguistic, religious and artistic heritage that distinguished them from the culture of the surrounding polities. By the 6th century, however, the Continental Celtic languages were no longer in wide use.

Insular Celtic culture diversified into that of the Gaels (Irish, Scottish and Manx) and the Celtic Britons (Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons) of the medieval and modern periods. A modern Celtic identity was constructed as part of the Romanticist Celtic Revival in Great Britain, Ireland, and other European territories, such as Portugal and Spanish Galicia. Today, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton are still spoken in parts of their historical territories, and Cornish and Manx are undergoing a revival.


In ancient geography, especially in Roman sources, Dacia ([ˈdaːkja]; English ) was the land inhabited by the Dacians. The Greeks referred to them as the Getae (east of Dacia) and the Romans called them Daci.

Dacia was bounded in the south approximately by the Danubius river (Danube), in Greek sources the Istros, or at its greatest extent, by the Haemus Mons. Moesia (Dobruja), a region south-east of the Danube, was a core area where the Getae lived and interacted with the Ancient Greeks. In the east it was bounded by the Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea) and the river Danastris (Dniester), in Greek sources the Tyras. But several Dacian settlements are recorded between the rivers Dniester and Hypanis (Southern Bug), and the Tisia (Tisza) to the west.

At times Dacia included areas between the Tisa and the Middle Danube. The Carpathian Mountains are located in the middle of Dacia. It thus corresponds to the present-day countries of Romania and Moldova, as well as smaller parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.

A Dacian Kingdom of variable size existed between 82 BC until the Roman conquest in AD 106. The capital of Dacia, Sarmizegetusa, located in modern Romania, was destroyed by the Romans, but its name was added to that of the new city (Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa) built by the latter to serve as the capital of the Roman province of Dacia.

Ferrous metallurgy

Ferrous metallurgy is the metallurgy of iron and its alloys. It began far back in prehistory. The earliest surviving iron artifacts, from the 4th millennium BC in Egypt, were made from meteoritic iron-nickel. It is not known when or where the smelting of iron from ores began, but by the end of the 2nd millennium BC iron was being produced from iron ores from Sub-Saharan Africa to China. The use of wrought iron (worked iron) was known by the 1st millennium BC, and its spread marked the Iron Age. During the medieval period, means were found in Europe of producing wrought iron from cast iron (in this context known as pig iron) using finery forges. For all these processes, charcoal was required as fuel.

Steel (with a carbon content between pig iron and wrought iron) was first produced in antiquity as an alloy. Its process of production, Wootz steel, was exported before the 4th century BC from India to ancient China, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Archaeological evidence of cast iron appears in 5th-century BC China. New methods of producing it by carburizing bars of iron in the cementation process were devised in the 17th century. During the Industrial Revolution, new methods of producing bar iron by substituting coke for charcoal were devised and these were later applied to produce steel, creating a new era of greatly increased use of iron and steel that some contemporaries described as a new Iron Age. In the late 1850s, Henry Bessemer invented a new steelmaking process, that involved blowing air through molten pig iron to burn off carbon, and so to produce mild steel. This and other 19th-century and later steel making processes have displaced wrought iron. Today, wrought iron is no longer produced on a commercial scale, having been displaced by the functionally equivalent mild or low carbon steel.The largest and most modern underground iron ore mine in the world is located in Kiruna, Norrbotten County, Lapland. The mine which is owned by Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB, a large Swedish mining company, has an annual production capacity of over 26 million tonnes of iron ore.


A hillfort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. They are typically European and of the Bronze and Iron Ages. Some were used in the post-Roman period. The fortification usually follows the contours of a hill, consisting of one or more lines of earthworks, with stockades or defensive walls, and external ditches. Hillforts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC, and were used in many Celtic areas of central and western Europe until the Roman conquest.

History of ancient Israel and Judah

The Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah were related kingdoms from the Iron Age period of the ancient Levant. The Kingdom of Israel emerged as an important local power by the 10th century BCE before falling to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE. Israel's southern neighbor, the Kingdom of Judah, emerged in the 8th or 9th century BCE and later became a client state of first the Neo-Assyrian Empire and then the Neo-Babylonian Empire before a revolt against the latter led to its destruction in 586 BCE. Following the fall of Babylon to the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, some Judean exiles returned to Jerusalem, inaugurating the formative period in the development of a distinctive Judahite identity in the province of Yehud Medinata.

During the Hellenistic classic period, Yehud was absorbed into the subsequent Hellenistic kingdoms that followed the conquests of Alexander the Great, but in the 2nd century BCE the Judaeans revolted against the Seleucid Empire and created the Hasmonean kingdom. This, the last nominally independent kingdom of Israel, gradually lost its independence from 63 BCE with its conquest by Pompey of Rome, becoming a Roman and later Parthian client kingdom. Following the installation of client kingdoms under the Herodian dynasty, the Province of Judea was wracked by civil disturbances, which culminated in the First Jewish–Roman War, the destruction of the Second Temple, the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity.

Iron Age Europe

In Europe, the Iron Age is the last stage of the prehistoric period and the first of the protohistoric periods, which initially means descriptions of a particular area by Greek and Roman writers. For much of Europe, the period came to an abrupt local end after conquest by the Romans, though ironworking remained the dominant technology until recent times. Elsewhere it may last until the early centuries AD, and either Christianization or a new conquest in the Migration Period.

Iron working was introduced to Europe in the late 11th century BC, probably from the Caucasus, and slowly spread northwards and westwards over the succeeding 500 years. For example the Iron Age of Prehistoric Ireland begins around 500 BC, when the Greek Iron Age had already ended, and finishes around 400 AD. The widespread use of the technology of iron was implemented in Europe simultaneously with Asia.The start of the Iron Age is marked by new cultural groupings, or at least terms for them, with the Late Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece collapsing in some confusion, while in Central Europe the Urnfield culture had already given way to the Hallstatt culture. In north Italy the Villanovan culture is regarded as the start of Etruscan civilization. Like its successor La Tène culture, Hallstatt is regarded as Celtic. Further to the east and north, and in Iberia and the Balkans, there are a number of local terms for the early Iron Age culture. Roman Iron Age is a term used in the archaeology of Northern Europe (but not Britain) for the period when the unconquered peoples of the area lived under the influence of the Roman Empire.

The Iron Age in Europe is characterized by an elaboration of designs in weapons, implements, and utensils. These are no longer cast but hammered into shape, and decoration is elaborate curvilinear rather than simple rectilinear; the forms and character of the ornamentation of the northern European weapons resembles in some respects Roman arms, while in other respects they are peculiar and evidently representative of northern art.

Iron Age in India

In the prehistory of the Indian subcontinent, an "Iron Age" is recognized as succeeding the Late Harappan (Cemetery H) culture.

The main Iron Age archaeological cultures of present-day northern India are the Painted Grey Ware culture (1200 to 600 BCE) and the Northern Black Polished Ware (700 to 200 BCE). This corresponds to the transition of the Janapadas or tribal kingdoms of the Vedic period to the sixteen Mahajanapadas or kingdoms of the proto-historic period, culminating in the emergence of the historical Buddhist Maurya Empire towards the end of the period.

As elsewhere, the earliest evidence of iron smelting predates the emergence of the Iron Age proper by several centuries.

Jastorf culture

The Jastorf culture was an Iron Age material culture in what are now southern Scandinavia and north Germany, spanning the 6th to 1st centuries BC, forming the southern part of the Pre-Roman Iron Age. The culture evolved out of the Nordic Bronze Age, through influence from the Halstatt culture farther south.

Kuru Kingdom

Kuru (Sanskrit: कुरु) was the name of a Vedic Indo-Aryan tribal union in northern Iron Age India, encompassing the modern-day states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and the western part of Uttar Pradesh (the region of Doab, till Prayag), which appeared in the Middle Vedic period (c. 1200 – c. 900 BCE) and developed into the first recorded state-level society in the Indian subcontinent.The Kuru kingdom decisively changed the Vedic heritage of the early Vedic period, arranging the Vedic hymns into collections, and developing new rituals which gained their position in Indian civilization as the srauta rituals, which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis" or "Hindu synthesis". It became the dominant political and cultural center of the middle Vedic Period during the reigns of Parikshit and Janamejaya, but it declined in importance during the late Vedic period (c. 900 – c. 500 BCE), and had become "something of a backwater" by the Mahajanapada period in the 5th century BCE. However, traditions and legends about the Kurus continued into the post-Vedic period, providing the basis for the Mahabharata epic.The main contemporary sources for understanding the Kuru kingdom are ancient religious texts, containing details of life during this period and allusions to historical persons and events. The time-frame and geographical extent of the Kuru kingdom (as determined by philological study of the Vedic literature) suggest its correspondence with the archaeological Painted Grey Ware culture.


Tel Maresha (Hebrew: תל מראשה‎) is the tell (archaeological mound) of the biblical Iron Age city of Maresha, and of the subsequent, post-586 BCE Idumean city known by its Hellenised name Marisa, Arabised as Marissa (ماريسا). The tell is situated in Israel's Shephelah region, i.e. in the foothills of the Judaean Mountains. It was first excavated in 1898-1900 by the British archaeologists Bliss and Macalister on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund and again after 1989 by Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The majority of the artifacts of the British excavation are to be found today in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

This site is now protected as part of Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park and recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


A menhir (from Brittonic languages: maen or men, "stone" and hir or hîr, "long"), standing stone, orthostat, or lith is a large man-made upright stone, typically dating from the European middle Bronze Age. They can be found solely as monoliths, or as part of a group of similar stones. Menhirs' size can vary considerably, but they are generally uneven and squared, often tapering towards the top.

They are widely distributed across Europe, Africa and Asia, but most numerous in Western Europe; particularly in Ireland, Great Britain, Brittany and France, where there are about 50,000 examples, while there are 1,200 menhirs in northwest France alone. Standing stones are usually difficult to date, but pottery, or pottery shards, found underneath some in Atlantic Europe connects them with the Beaker people. They were constructed during many different periods across pre-history as part of the larger megalithic cultures in Europe and near areas.

Some menhirs have been erected next to buildings that often have an early or current religious significance. One example is the South Zeal Menhir in Devon, which formed the basis for a 12th-century monastery built by lay monks. The monastery later became the Oxenham Arms hotel, at South Zeal, and the standing stone remains in place in the ancient snug bar at the hotel.

Where menhirs appear in groups, often in a circular, oval, henge or horseshoe formation, they are sometimes called megalithic monuments. These are sites of ancient religious ceremonies, sometimes containing burial chambers. The exact function of menhirs has provoked more debate than practically any other issue in European pre-history. Over the centuries, they have variously been thought to have been used by Druids for human sacrifice, used as territorial markers, or elements of a complex ideological system, or functioned as early calendars. Until the nineteenth century, antiquarians did not have substantial knowledge of prehistory, and their only reference points were provided by classical literature. The developments of radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology have significantly advanced scientific knowledge in this area.

The word menhir was adopted from French by 19th-century archaeologists. The introduction of the word into general archaeological usage has been attributed to the 18th-century French military officer Théophile Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne. It is a combination of two words of the Breton language: maen and hir. In modern Welsh, they are described as maen hir, or "long stone". In modern Breton, the word peulvan is used, with peul meaning "stake" or "post" and van which is a soft mutation of the word maen which means "stone".

Prehistoric religion

Prehistoric religions are the religious beliefs and practices of prehistoric peoples. The term may cover Paleolithic religion, Mesolithic religion, Neolithic religion and Bronze Age religions.


Human prehistory is the period between the use of the first stone tools c. 3.3 million years ago by hominins and the invention of writing systems. The earliest writing systems appeared c. 5,300 years ago, but it took thousands of years for writing to be widely adopted and it was not used in some human cultures until the 19th century or even until the present. The end of prehistory therefore came at very different dates in different places, and the term is less often used in discussing societies where prehistory ended relatively recently.

Sumer in Mesopotamia, the Indus valley civilization and ancient Egypt were the first civilizations to develop their own scripts, and to keep historical records; this took place already during the early Bronze Age. Neighboring civilizations were the first to follow. Most other civilizations reached the end of prehistory during the Iron Age. The three-age system of division of prehistory into the Stone Age, followed by the Bronze Age and Iron Age, remains in use for much of Eurasia and North Africa, but is not generally used in those parts of the world where the working of hard metals arrived abruptly with contact with Eurasian cultures, such as the Americas, Oceania, Australasia and much of Sub-Saharan Africa. These areas also, with some exceptions in Pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas, did not develop complex writing systems before the arrival of Eurasians, and their prehistory reaches into relatively recent periods; for example 1788 is usually taken as the end of the prehistory of Australia.

The period when a culture is written about by others, but has not developed its own writing is often known as the protohistory of the culture. By definition, there are no written records from human prehistory, so dating of prehistoric materials is crucial. Clear techniques for dating were not well-developed until the 19th century.This article is concerned with human prehistory, the time since behaviorally and anatomically modern humans first appeared until the beginning of recorded history. Earlier periods are also called "prehistoric"; there are separate articles for the overall history of the Earth and the history of life before humans.

Prehistory of Southeastern Europe

The prehistory of Southeastern Europe, defined roughly as the territory of the wider Balkan peninsula (including the territories of the modern countries of Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria, and European Turkey) covers the period from the Upper Paleolithic, beginning with the presence of Homo sapiens in the area some 44,000 years ago, until the appearance of the first written records in Classical Antiquity, in Greece as early as the 8th century BC.

Human prehistory in Southeastern Europe is conventionally divided into smaller periods, such as Upper Paleolithic, Holocene Mesolithic/Epipaleolithic, Neolithic Revolution, expansion of Proto-Indo-Europeans, and Protohistory. The changes between these are gradual. For example, depending on interpretation, protohistory might or might not include Bronze Age Greece (2800–1200 BC), Minoan, Mycenaean, Thracian and Venetic cultures. By one interpretation of the historiography criterion, Southeastern Europe enters protohistory only with Homer (See also Historicity of the Iliad, and Geography of the Odyssey). At any rate, the period ends before Herodotus in the 5th century BC.


Yahweh was the national god of the Iron Age kingdoms of Israel (Samaria) and Judah. His exact origins are disputed, although they reach back to the early Iron Age and even the Late Bronze: his name may have begun as an epithet of El, head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon, but the earliest plausible mentions of Yahweh are in Egyptian texts that refer to a similar-sounding place name associated with the Shasu nomads of the southern Transjordan.In the oldest biblical literature, Yahweh is a typical ancient Near Eastern "divine warrior", who leads the heavenly army against Israel's enemies; he later became the main god of the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and of Judah, and over time the royal court and temple promoted Yahweh as the god of the entire cosmos, possessing all the positive qualities previously attributed to the other gods and goddesses. By the end of the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), the very existence of foreign gods was denied, and Yahweh was proclaimed as the creator of the cosmos and the true god of all the world.

Stone Age
Bronze Age
Iron Age

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