Essay: Bronze Age Comparisons

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Bronze Age Comparisons

The Bronze Age is an historical period that is characterized by the predominant tool metal of the era -- copper and its alloy bronze. It is chronologically between the Stone and Iron Ages, with the Stone Age implying no ability to smelt metals, and the Iron Age the ability to manufacture artifacts using the three types of hard metal (Iron, Bronze, Copper). The distinction for societies revolves around the technological ability to perform certain tasks (Cunliffe (ed.) 2001). Newer archaeological studies have shown, however, that the Bronze Age was really only applicable for a larger, more generic cultural identifier in which copper and bronze were the most common and stable metals within that culture (Bachhuber & Roberts (eds.) 2009). As the use of bronze increased, however, there was a period of technological osmosis that helped develop pictograms or ideograms (symbols to reflect thought), early forms of writing, building, architecture, societal and cultural organization, and other features of the way hunter-gatherers merged together to form urban civilization. From a global perspective a region could be Bronze Age by smelting its own copper and alloying it with tin, or by trading and thus using bronze from other cultures. In some areas, sub-Saharan Africa, for instance) there was really no Bronze "age," but merely a transition from Neolithic to the Iron Age. In much of the Mediterranean World, differences in the Bronze Age was the manner in which technology drove writing, or vice versa, engendering a very complex series of events that propelled advancement of culture (Champion & Megaw (eds.) 1985). While it is somewhat the "chicken and egg" argument, we can certainly see that the development of the technology of smelting also increased the development of science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and the more complex roles within a hierarchical society that was moving from generalization (the hunter gatherer model) to a more agricultural-based urban environment. This was certainly true for Egypt (hieroglyphics), the Near East (cuneiform) and the Mediterranean Mycenaean (Linear B) (Kristiansen & Larsson 2005).

There were a number of early civilizations centered in and around the Mediterranean that were part of the Iron and early Bronze Ages. The Minoans, for instance, based on the Island of Crete, were primarily traders whereas the Mycenaean Greeks (1600-1100 BC) advanced through warfare and conquest. It was this combination that solidified and became the early Greek culture. In contrast, another Bronze Age Civilization that still remains shrouded in mystery was a confederacy of seafaring raiders active into the second millennium BC who sailed all over the Mediterranean, caused political unrest, and attempted even to control other Bronze Age Civilizations like Egypt.

Crete and the Minoans- Minoan Civilization was one of the predominant Mediterranean Bonze Age Cultures. It was centered on the Island of Crete, but dominated most of the islands of the Aegean Sea, flourishing as a maritime power from about the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. Some have referred to this civilization as the very first link in the European chain of civilization that moved from a paleolithic culture around 800,000 BC to more advanced agriculture around 5000 BC. However, the actual relationship between the Minoans and the more ancient peoples of Crete remains unknown based on lack of adequate archaeological evidence (Bower 2010).

There are a number of natural harbors on Crete, and the Minoans were primarily a mercantile civilization. From 1700 BC onward, their culture showed a high degree of organization. Through artifacts, we know that there was a strong network of trade that occurred between the Minoans and Greece, Cyprus, Syria, Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia and as far west as the coast of Spain. Saffron was one of the primary products, along with ceramics, cooper, tin, and even jewelry and artifacts made of gold and silver. Surviving clay tablets are sparse, but we know they had some sort of a hieroglyphic system that may have morphed into what is known as Linear a, which then was replaced in the Mycenaean period with Linear B, an archaic version of Greek. Minoan cities were connected with paved roads, cut from bronze saws (Fitton 2002). The streets were drained and water and sewer systems were available to the upper classes through a series of clay pipes. The Minoans were able to build and service multiple storied dwellings, at least 2-3 stories high, although the architecture seems to have been strongly influenced by the preponderance of earthquakes on the Island. From an agricultural standpoint, the Minoans were technologically sophisticated enough to raise cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, wheat, barley, chickpeas, figs, grapes, olives, poppies, lettuce, and more (Castleden 1990). They domesticated bees, adopted pomegranates and quinces from the Near East, and developed a polyculture in which they were able to grow more than one crop at a time, significantly contributing to the health and therefore population increase of the culture (Sherratt 1981).

Tool wise, the Minoan culture used bronze to increase production with stronger tools and wooden handles. This includes Double Axes, Single Axes, Axe-Adze combinations and sickles and chisels. The importance of these tools cannot be overemphasized since their advancement contributed to the Minoan culture being able to excel in agriculture, shipbuilding, trade and mercantilism, architecture, and science. The Minoans also invented oval shaped holes in their tools with oval shaped handles, stopping the tools from spinning uncontrollably and providing more stability (Hood 1971).

The Sea Peoples -- Largely due to a lack of archaeological data from the Sea Peoples themselves, much of the scholarship on the culture has focused on materials gleaned from other cultures of the Mediterranean with whom the Sea Peoples had contact. Modern scholars are fortunate that the Egyptians kept such detailed records on their obelisks, temples, and scrolls that we have at least somewhat of a documentary history of the Sea Peoples (Chadwick 1976). We do know that the late Bronze Age in the Aegean was characterized by a number of migratory raiders and subsequent resettlement. It appears that the Sea Peoples were a looser confederation of peoples from the Non-Minoan island or shore worlds of the Mediterranean. These people had enough advanced technology to navigate the Mediterranean effectively, and to raid and plunder less well defended coastal cities off Africa, the Middle East, and up into the Greek/Turkish peninsula. In fact, the Sea Peoples had sufficiently advanced weapons of war that they actually caused a great deal of havoc and damage in Ancient Egypt, all inscribed in certain temples of the time (Egyptian Accounts of the Battle of Kadesh 2003).

There are, in fact, eight major hypotheses regarding the origin of the Sea Peoples:

Philistine hypothesis -- This view says that the Sea Peoples were really those from the ancient area of Palestine who moved from land-based warfare to sea attacks. This is primarily based on pottery and artifacts of the Philistine culture found at numerous sites around the Mediterranean.

Minoan hypothesis -- This holds that the Sea Peoples were simply those left of Crete after the devastating eruption of the Santorin volcano.

Greek Migration hypothesis -- Could early Greeks simply have left the isles, formed familial units out of necessity and attempt to migrate to other lands?

Trojan hypothesis -- Potentially after the fall of Troy, much of the culture may have evolved into a warlike band of travelers, seeking other lands.

Mycenaean Warfare hypothesis -- This suggests that the Sea Peoples were populations from the Greek city states of Mycenaean times, who destroyed each other in multi-generational conflicts and who then sought other areas to plunder in the Aegean and Mediterranean areas.

Sardinian, Sicilian, and Tyrrhenian peoples hypothesis -- This hypothesis is based on similarities between proper names and language development; showing similarities moving from some of the Italian peninsula east as raiders.

Anatolian famine hypothesis -- Herodotus documents widespread famine in Anatolia, this hypothesis suggests that it was a natural occurrence that drove Anatolians into the sea to attack others.

Invader hypothesis -- Invader, during the Bronze Age, meant documented attacks of unexpected origin. This hypothesis holds that the Sea Peoples were simply migratory bands from various Mediterranean locations who attacked and looted a number of areas, sometimes taking over the cities and merging cultures (Sandars 1985; Van De Mieroop 2006).

Conclusion -- Decline of the Bronze Age and Rise of the New - the collapse of the Bronze Age in the Aegean and surrounding areas was one of a gradual change in the development of certain cultures, the decline of others, and the technological development of still others. Most scholars believe that there were a number of actual causes for the collapse -- which alone would not have caused such calamity. However, when there are a series of volcanoes and earthquakes that displace populations, there typically are then migrations and raids, disputing the economic and political structure of others. However, taken in a more long-term template, iron, while inferior to bronze in many ways, was more prevalent, therefore allowed from larger armies to be equipped and a shift to a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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