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The Metal Ages
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The Metal Ages

The period of the 3rd, the 2nd, and the 1st millennia bc was a time of drastic change in Europe. This has traditionally been defined as the Metal Ages, which may be further divided into stages, of approximate dates as shown: the Bronze Age (2300–700 bc) and the Iron Age (700–1 bc), which followed a less distinctly defined Copper Age (c. 3200–2300 bc). At this time, societies in Europe began consciously to produce metals. Simultaneous with these technological innovations were changes in settlement organization, ritual life, and the interaction between the different societies in Europe. These developments and their remarkable reflections in the material culture make the period appear as a series of dramatic changes.

Local developments were long thought to have been caused by influences from the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and by migrations. Thus it was suggested that the segmented faience beads from the rich early Bronze Age graves in Wessex were Mycenaean products or that development of bronze working in central Europe was due to the Aegean civilization’s need for new bronze supplies. New methods of absolute dating, including radiocarbon dating, revolutionized the understanding of this phase in prehistoric Europe. They showed that many supposedly interdependent developments had in fact developed independently and been separated by centuries. The Metal Ages of Europe thus must be understood as indigenous local inventions and as an independent cultural evolution. There were influences from, and contact with, the Middle East, and there were some migrations of people, especially from the Russian steppes; but the Metal Ages in Europe were in general far more locally independent phenomena than had been recognized. They grew out of conditions created in the Neolithic Period and the Copper Age, followed their own trajectory in Europe, and resulted in a range of new expressions in material culture and in new social concerns.

The Metal Ages » The chronology of the Metal Ages
Changes in metal objects, in styles, and in burial rituals have been used to subdivide the period. The most basic division uses the same criteria as Christian Jürgensen Thomsen’s Three Age system, in which the material used for producing tools and weapons distinguishes an age. This has resulted in a distinction between the Copper, Bronze, and Iron ages, each of which has been further divided. In temperate Europe all these subdivisions consist of relative chronologies, and in such systems synchronizations and comparisons among regions are vital. For the Bronze Age, synchronization is possible, since this was a period of long-distance contacts and trade between different regions. The period had in many ways a remarkable coherence, and it has been likened to the Common Market. On this basis a general chronological framework has been developed that, using the changes in burial rites and metal assemblages, divides the Bronze Age into either Early, Middle, and Late phases or into the Unetician, Tumulus, and Urnfield cultures. Synchronizations of the more detailed local subdivisions, which were based on typology of metal objects and cross-associations, have employed schemes of Paul Reinecke and Oscar Montelius. Oscar Montelius’ chronology was developed on the basis of Scandinavian bronze objects and resulted in a division of the Bronze Age into Montelius I–VI, while Paul Reinecke used south German material to divide it into shorter time sequences known as Bronze Age A–D and Hallstatt (Ha) A–D, with Hallstatt C marking the transition to the Iron Age in central Europe.

The Iron Age chronology is detailed and regional. Although the Iron Age was a Pan-European phenomenon, its regional variability, together with its fragmented and tribalized cultural landscape, makes its chronology complex. In addition to typology and cross-association, the Iron Age chronology is also built upon historical events and Mediterranean imports of known date; the development of artistic styles also plays a major role in its subdivision. It is again central Europe that provided the most commonly used general chronology. The Hallstatt Period, named after an artifact-rich cemetery next to late Bronze and Iron Age salt mines in the Austrian Salzkammergut, is divided into Early (Ha A–B) and Late (Ha C–D) phases, with the former marking the end of the Urnfield Culture in Europe and the latter being the first phase of the Iron Age in areas such as central and southern Europe but the transition to the Iron Age in other regions. The second phase of the Iron Age, when it extended throughout Europe, is named after La Tène, a site at Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The exact function of this site is not known, but it contained thousands of swords, spears, shields, fibulae, and tools. These were distinctive in shape and beautifully ornamented in a style different from that of the objects from the Hallstatt period. This, the La Tène style, was found from the 5th to the 1st century bc throughout most of Europe, and its development and change over time are the basis of the chronological division into La Tène A–D. Other evidence, such as southern imports, has increasingly become incorporated into the La Tène chronology, and the time from the end of the Hallstatt Period until the spread of the Roman Empire is divided into a number of short phases, each with distinct material expressions. The stylistic basis of this chronology stresses the common heritage, the Celtic art style, which developed over large areas of Europe during this time.

The transitions between the three phases of the Metal Ages are primarily defined by a change in the metal used, but they also reflect economic changes and transformations of social organization. It is within these larger concerns that the character of this part of European prehistory can be found.

The Metal Ages » General characteristics » The Copper Age
Also known as the Chalcolithic or Eneolithic Period, the Copper Age was a time of diffuse and sporadic use of copper for a limited number of small tools and personal ornaments. If the age is defined simply as the time when copper first began to be used, then localized Copper Age cultures existed in southeastern Europe from the 5th millennium bc. On the other hand, if it is defined as the time when copper was an established element in the material culture, then it must be dated from about 3200 bc in the Carpathian Basin and southeastern Europe, slightly later in the Aegean, and later still in Iberia.

In these early copper-using societies, copper had no importance in subsistence production, and the tools made could hardly compete with those of flint and stone. The new material had prestige, however, and was used to adorn the deceased. It was at this early stage of metal use that one of its important roles was established: to mark and articulate social prestige and status. The Copper Age as a distinct stage developed only in a few regions; these included groups in areas as far apart as Bulgaria, Bohemia, the Aegean, and southeastern Spain.

One of these remarkable centres of early copper use was in southeastern Spain. Situated in the Almerian lowland, in an area confined by the coast and the mountains, it was a densely settled region with large nucleated and often fortified hilltop settlements of surprising architectural sophistication and with a rich and inventive material culture known as the Millaran Culture, after the site of Los Millares. Like contemporary sites in the region, Los Millares was located so as to overlook a river from a promontory in the foothills of higher mountains. The sides and plateau of the hill were fortified with massive stone walls, regularly placed semicircular bastions, and outlying towers. These created a well-defined and protected space of approximately 12 acres (5 hectares), with several occupation phases and of some complexity. The settlement was townlike, with rows of stone houses, alleys, and a central communal place within the walls. An artificial watercourse may have led to the settlement. There was specialization of production between households. Outside the settlement was a cemetery containing more than 100 megalithic tombs with corbeled chambers used as collective burial places.

The Metal Ages » General characteristics » The Bronze Age
Simultaneous with such Copper Age cultures were a number of late Neolithic cultures in other regions. The Early Bronze Age had, therefore, various roots. In some areas it developed from the Copper Age, while in others it grew out of late Neolithic cultures. In western and part of central Europe, the Bell Beaker Culture continued into the Early Bronze Age. It had introduced the use of copper for prestigious personal objects, individual burial rites, and possibly also new ideological structures to the Neolithic societies over vast areas of Europe. These new elements were the basis of the transformation that took place during the Early Bronze Age and became prominent within the emerging societies.

In the rest of central and in northern Europe, the Corded Ware Culture was an important component of the late Neolithic, and some local Early Bronze Age characteristics can be traced to these roots. For example, this is seen in terms of burial rituals. Burials of the Corded Ware Culture were usually single graves in pits, with or without a barrow. The deceased was placed in a contracted position, men on their left side, women on their right, both facing south. This differentiation of body position according to sex was maintained in the earliest Bronze Age in many areas, but at times the orientation was reversed, such as at Branč, in Slovakia, where 81 percent of females were on their left side and 61 percent of males on their right. As the period progressed, grave forms began to diversify, and, though inhumation in pits remained the commonest form, it was elaborated in different ways. The position of the body became stretched rather than contracted, and sex and age were not expressed by body position but were reflected through elements such as grave goods or location within the cemetery.

The characteristics of, and the dates for, the Early Bronze Age vary regionally in central Europe. Some areas, such as the Saarland, even appear either to have had continuous Neolithic occupation until as late as 1400 bc or to have been uninhabited during the Early Bronze Age. Most of these areas were enclaves, however, and it was only in Scandinavia, where the Bronze Age began about 1800 bc, that the transition to the Bronze Age was substantially delayed for a whole region.

Such local delay of the earliest Bronze Age cannot simply be seen in terms of retarded cultural development; rather, it reflects that different cultural trajectories were followed by various societies. Scandinavia illustrates this well, since the period preceding the Bronze Age was a time not of devolution but of new flint technologies and new material forms, with a wealth of beautifully manufactured flint daggers and a conspicuous display of local craft. This constituted a distinct local Late Neolithic phase, interspersed between the Corded Ware Culture and the Bronze Age proper. The flint daggers show clear influences from bronze daggers, and examples of flint swords reflect the emulation of new ideas. This indicates the degree of contact with bronze-using societies. When bronze was introduced and incorporated into the local culture, its role in terms of the cultural manners of manufacture and behaviour was rapidly established, and it quickly reflected a distinct local tradition: the Nordic Bronze Age. At this point, the absence of local raw material did not prevent the society from integrating bronze as a basic material in its culture nor did the dependency on trade partners for bronze mean that the local material culture developed without its own distinct character. The Nordic Bronze Age illustrates the ability of local cultures to maintain their independent character in spite of dependency on other, larger systems. This characteristic can be observed in different forms throughout the Metal Ages, and, in an essential manner, this qualifies the impression of an overall common cultural heritage developing during these millennia.

Although the dates and the cultural roots of the Early Bronze Age vary, it is similarly defined by the use of copper alloys for tools throughout Europe. During the Bronze Age, the techniques of metalworking increased in sophistication. A range of new working methods, such as valve molds, cire perdue, and sheet-metal working, were developed. The development of molds made it possible both to mass-produce objects and to produce more elaborate items, including hollow objects. One of the most spectacular objects produced in this fashion was the lur, a musical instrument of great precision and beauty. The later Bronze Age and Iron Age method of sheet working facilitated the production of large objects, such as caldrons and shields, and a similar working method was used for the boss motif of bands of raised circles, which became a favoured element on many Urnfield Period objects such as horse harnesses and situlae (bucket-shaped vessels).

The manner of decorating the objects expressed regional as well as chronological styles. Among these, the most noticeable stylistic developments were the widespread use of the combined sun-bird-ship motif of the Urnfield Culture and the later break in stylistic tradition indicated by La Tène, or so-called Celtic, art. Most important, however, may be the invention of new types of objects. While objects made of ceramics, gold, stone, and organic materials during this period differed from those of previous periods, they did not represent drastic changes in the employment of a particular medium, but this was not true of bronze. Bronze is an artificial material made by alloying copper with different metals, in particular tin, through which a new material with its own distinct properties is produced. The production of bronze was an invention in its true sense, and the potentials of this material were increasingly revealed and exploited during the Bronze Age. The effect of this was a range of new objects, of which some were new shapes for old concepts but others introduced new functions and concepts into the societies.

Among the latter, one of the most important new elements was the invention of the sword. With the sword there was for the first time in European history an object entirely dedicated to fighting and not doubling as a tool. Fighting is evident from earlier periods as well, but during the Bronze Age it was formalized. Toward the Late Bronze Age the warrior emerged, sheathed in an assemblage of defensive items: the armour. To have been a warrior during the Iron Age must have been an established role, and the importance of warfare led to monumental defensive structures and further evolution of swords and shields. The latter development shows changes in the fighting technique, and in the Early Iron Age the stabbing sword of the Bronze Age was replaced by a heavy slashing sword, indicating fighting from horseback. The actual importance of warfare is difficult to establish, and a distinction between the symbolic representation of aggression and real aggression must be kept in mind. The presence of swords and armour does, however, represent a concrete expression of aggression and of the concept of warfare.

The increased importance of fortified settlements and villages further shows that aggression was a major component of life. Professional soldiers, as they were known at the time of the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, are unlikely to have existed at this time, but group warfare existed from the Iron Age onward, and other related professions developed. For example, the location of fortified sites in strategic places, such as near mountain passes and river crossings, suggests that these sites were not primarily defensive but were based on the ability to control certain resources, including access and passage. This is illustrated by the rich Early Bronze Age fortified site at Spišský Štvrtok, Slovakia, strategically located to control the trade routes running through a mountain pass across the Carpathians along the Hornád River, and by the Late Bronze Age Lusatian hilltop site in the Moravian Pforte passes. The development of aggression and its formalization played a role in providing middlemen and entrepreneurs with opportunities and helped to establish them in the position of power they gained in the Iron Age.

The Metal Ages » General characteristics » The Iron Age
During most of the Middle and Late Bronze Age, iron was present, albeit scarce. It was used for personal ornaments and small knives, for repairs on bronzes, and for bimetallic items. The Iron Age thus did not start with the first appearance of iron but rather at the stage when its distinct functional properties were being exploited and it began to supplant bronze in the production of tools and weapons. This occurred at different times in various parts of Europe, and the transition to the Iron Age is embedded in local cultural developments. The reasons why iron was adopted differed among regions, but generally a similar pattern was followed. After an introductory period, iron quickly supplanted bronze for the making of tools and weapons. It was at this stage that metal, in spite of the earlier presence of bronze tools, replaced stone, flint, and wood in agricultural production. New and more effective tools were developed during the last centuries bc, and subsistence production must have increased drastically. Along with these domestic changes, there were changes in the traditional routes of contact and trade. These routes had been established during the Bronze Age, and through them copper, tin, and other commodities had traveled throughout Europe. With the appearance of the rich Late Hallstatt communities of south-central Europe, the orientation of contact changed. The northern links were increasingly ignored, and trade became concentrated on, and dependent upon, commodities from the south. South and west-central Europe were now included in the periphery of the expanding Mediterranean civilization; and the previous network of contact was broken. In the rest of Europe, regional diversity increased, a tribalized landscape emerged, and new types of social organization developed. During the Iron Age, the roots of historic Europe were planted. Proto-urban settlements, hierarchical social orders, new ideological structures, and writing were parts of this picture. It was also a time during which the difference between the Mediterranean world and temperate Europe became even more pronounced and new degrees and forms of dependency developed in the sociopolitical systems.

The Metal Ages » Social and economic developments » Control over resources
The Metal Ages were periods of discovery, invention, and exploitation of various metals and metallurgical procedures. New elements were introduced into the societies, which played a role in their further development. In the later 5th and earlier 4th millennia bc, copper from easily worked surface deposits was used for relatively simple items in southeastern Europe and the Carpathian Basin. The Transylvanian copper ores were particularly important. For example, copper was extracted from the quarry at Varna, Bulg., about 4400 bc in an area near a rich Copper Age cemetery. After this initial exploitation, metal objects again became rare until they reappeared in the late 4th millennium bc. The reasons for this change are unknown but may in part relate to the depletion of surface ore deposits. At this early state, the technique of copper manufacture consisted of smelting in an open one-faced mold and hammering. Later, when copper of different compositions from deeper deposits was used, the properties of copper in combination with other metals were explored. The copper sulfide ores from these deep mines were more difficult to procure, since they relied on more sophisticated mining techniques and needed initial roasting before smelting. At the same time, they were more widely available than surface deposits, and there were sources in both central and western Europe—ores in Germany, Austria, and the Czech and Slovak Republics were exploited from the early 3rd millennium bc. This long initial phase of sporadic use of copper was finally replaced by a period of copper alloys, which began about 2500 bc in southeastern Europe, slightly later in the Aegean, and later still in Iberia. Bronze industries were widespread in Europe by 2300 bc, but copper-tin alloys were first used toward the end of the 3rd millennium, with renewal of the centres of metallurgical production in Austria, Germany, and neighbouring areas. The raw material needed was available only in a few regions, and tin, particularly restricted in its distribution, was found only in eastern Portugal, Sardinia, Tuscany, Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly, and the Bohemian Ore Mountains. The latter site, on the border between the Czech Republic and eastern Germany, was one of the rare instances of close proximity between copper and tin. This region, together with the copper areas of the Harz Mountains, the Alps, and central Slovakia, became one of the most important regions of the Early Bronze Age. With the progression of the Bronze Age, local metallurgical traditions developed throughout Europe, including areas lacking both tin and copper sources; but the chief metalworking centres continued to influence the material culture of larger areas. This was an important factor behind the trade and exchange network that came into existence.

The discovery of iron was most likely a by-product of bronze working, and much of the earliest iron use is not culturally distinct from the use of bronze. At its early stage, iron may have been monopolized and produced by those individuals or groups who controlled bronze. Iron, however, is different from bronze in many respects. It is found widely in Europe either as iron ore or as bog iron. To be usable, iron does not need alloying with other metals, and the demands are mainly the fuel and labour needed to smelt or roast the ore. This process involves high temperatures and skilled control of pyrotechnology. To produce a usable iron, the bloom must be hammered while red-hot to reduce the impurities and to change its internal structures. Only then can the shaping of the final object begin. Thus, the production of an iron object consists of several distinct stages, each different from those involved in bronze production.

Iron appeared in Romania about 1700 bc and in Greece shortly after. During the Middle and Late Bronze Age, it occurred infrequently except in Iberia, Britain, and some other parts of western Europe. The earliest iron was used for small knives, pins, and other personal objects and for repairs on bronze items. Only in Romania was iron used for heavy tools during the Bronze Age; toward the end of the Bronze Age, tools and some weapons made of iron appeared generally in Europe. With Ha C, iron swords were being made, and, in the following La Tène Period, iron had clearly become a material important in its own right, being used for a range of new functional items, including plowshares, carpentry tools, and nails. At this point it is likely that the previous monopolies on metal production and trade were severely challenged, and iron became a common material, produced and procured anywhere in Europe.

The intensity of metal use varied regionally, and the centres of innovation and wealth moved over time. During the Metal Ages the communities of Europe can be studied through their reaction to, and adoption of, their inventions. It is a phase in prehistory that raises cultural questions about the nature of innovation and of its consequences for society. Metal brought several important new items to the communities, but, more importantly, it changed the nature of society itself. The production of bronze was an important step in human history, indicating a point at which the limits imposed by natural materials were broken by human invention. The behavioral impact of this cannot be measured, but it was likely substantial. It may have altered attitudes to nature and created the activities that resulted in deep mining of metals and salt and caused experimentation with new materials, such as glass.

Metal also had social impact, and one of its important roles came from its involvement in the articulation of prestige and status and thus its ability to assign power. Scarcity usually implies preciousness, and control over scarce or precious resources often leads to power. The production of both bronze and iron objects involved scarcity of either resources or knowledge or both. Control of metal production was a relevant factor in prehistory, as shown by the location of important Copper Age and Early Bronze Age communities in close proximity to copper or tin ores or by the breakdown of trade alliances that occurred in the Early Iron Age. The wealth and outstanding material culture of the Copper and Early Bronze Age communities were probably related to the trade in, and prestigious value of, copper and bronze. It is also a characteristic of these communities that this wealth was not consolidated by other activities, and some of the centres were short-lived and declined quickly. The lack of ability to invest and rechannel wealth in absolute terms is one of the most basic differences between these communities and those of both the Mediterranean civilizations and the Iron Age. Only some of the Copper Age centres developed into flourishing communities in the earliest Bronze Age. Those that did remain became the Early Bronze Age centres of wealth, contact, and trade, with dense populations. These centres were widely spaced and were internally extremely different, ranging from places such as El Argar in Iberia to Wessex in southern England. Of these, the Argaric Culture in southeastern Iberia comprised nucleated village settlements similar to those from Los Millares but with even greater sophistication and with a changed funerary rite. The deceased, richly adorned with diadems, arm rings, and pins and accompanied by metal tools, were individually entombed in large funerary urns placed under the house floors. At the other extreme was the group of rich Early Bronze Age graves in Wessex. The objects found in them are comparable in wealth to the Argaric ones, and, although the exotic items were unique to each area, they shared a range of tools and some ornaments. There was essential divergence in other respects, however, and at Wessex there was no association with elaborate domestic structures. The rich graves served as the ritual centre for a dispersed community living in relatively simple constructions of wattle and daub and without demarcations of the limits of their settlements. These Early Bronze Age centres developed in different environmental zones, ranging from semiarid to lush temperate, and they are at different distances from copper ore. They all have possible links with areas containing tin ores, however, and they developed in regions that were local centres in the previous period. These two criteria may have been necessary conditions for this development; but such conditions in themselves did not result in rich centres in the Early Bronze Age, nor could they guarantee continuous survival of the centres. As in the case of the earlier Copper Age centres, these were without an additional stable foundation, and they disappeared at different rates and under varying local circumstances. Such situations were plentiful during the Metal Ages. They show not only that the scarce and prestigious resources could be controlled and could give access to power and wealth but also that a multitude of factors influenced whether that power was secured and how it was maintained.

The Metal Ages » Social and economic developments » Changing centres of wealth
Societies are dynamic structures that interact with each other. In this interaction, asymmetrical relationships frequently develop between areas or groups, with one partner assuming a central, and the other a peripheral, role. Such relations are not stable, however, and over time their internal asymmetry will change. These changes can be illustrated by two examples from the Metal Ages in western central Europe.

The first is from the Early Bronze Age, where a remarkable shift in cultural initiative took place. The earliest Bronze Age centre, Unetician A, consisted of a complex of flat inhumation graves with modest grave goods in copper and bronze that was found in Slovakia. During Unetician B this complex continued, spreading into Bohemia and much of Germany and Poland. In this process, the original centre was complemented by a number of extremely rich graves on its periphery, such as at Leubingen, Helmsdorf, and Straubing in central Germany and Łęki Małe in southern Poland. These graves were inhumations under large barrows, with elaborate chambers and rich grave goods. Leubingen, for example, was a 28-foot- (8.5-metre-) high barrow with an elaborately constructed 66-foot-wide central stone cairn delineated by a ring ditch. The cairn covered and protected a thatched tentlike wooden structure made of large oak planks with gypsum mortar in the cracks. The skeleton of an old man lay extended on the oak floor, and at a right angle across his hips lay another body, which appeared to be that of an adolescent or child. In the space around the deceased were a number of objects, including, a pot in a setting of stones, bronze halberds and tools, and a group of gold ornaments. These graves show that a new and radically different funerary ceremony had taken place in this area, although the material culture still remained related to that of the previous centre. Thus, this group of barrows constituted a complementary Unetician area on the periphery of the original complex, and it was from this area that much of the impetus for the development of the Tumulus Period came.

The second illustration of change in the relationship between areas is from the earliest Iron Age in southern Germany, as exemplified by the hill fort at Heuneburg and its satellite barrows and secondary sites. These sites show how the central position of southern Germany and Switzerland during the Urnfield Period was transformed in the course of the Late Hallstatt Period into a peripheral role on the edge of the Mediterranean world. Heuneburg had several occupation phases, ranging from the middle of the 2nd millennium bc to the late 1st millennium ad, but the climax of its occupation was in the 6th and early 5th centuries bc, the so-called IV phase. The site, on a promontory overlooking the valley of the upper Danube, consisted of seven acres enclosed within a defensive earthwork. During its IV phase, this defense included bastions and mud-brick walls, both of which were Mediterranean inventions. The site was densely populated, and it shows a range of activities taking place at the interior in workshops for bronze, iron, antler, and coral. Among the imports were Black-Figure shards from Greece, an Etruscan clay mold, and wine amphorae from a Greek colony in southern France. Some of the local pottery, which was among the earliest wheel-thrown pottery in central Europe, shows imitation of Greek ornamentation from southern France, while other examples copy Etruscan bronze vessels.

On the plateau behind Heuneburg are several large barrows with multiple burials, which are among the largest and richest in Europe. There were a number of farmsteads between these and the hill fort itself. This association between an important hill fort and rich graves for male and female leaders was present at other places during the 6th and early 5th centuries bc, particularly in eastern France, Switzerland, and southwestern Germany. Examples include the Hohenasperg oppidum and the rich burials at Kleinaspergle, in southern Germany, and the Mont Lassois oppidum in eastern France and the Vix grave. The latter contained a five-foot-high bronze wine krater of Greco-Etruscan workmanship, a gold diadem, and an exquisite bronze statuette, together with wine-drinking equipment, Greek pottery, a vehicle, and other ornaments. The complexity of the structural buildup in the landscape surrounding these hill forts is amazing. Many of the sites had several phases of occupation but, as with Heuneburg, the Late Hallstatt Period is a distinct phase, and the brief time it took for these centres to come into existence demonstrates the potential for power available at the time. Heuneburg was one of the wealthiest of all these sites, and it is important for many reasons. It provides evidence of emulation of another culture, and it clearly demonstrates the changes in its position vis-à-vis a number of cultural systems. This is shown most clearly in the construction techniques used in phase IV, which copied both plans and building techniques from Greece. The mud bricks were totally unsuited to this part of Europe, but they show the importance of the Mediterranean culture during this period, as does the adoption of wine-drinking ceremonies. Through these evidences of emulation, Heuneburg stands as a key site for appreciating the changes in the Early Iron Age in the relationship between the classical world and the rest of Europe.

The exceptional concentration of Late Hallstatt chieftain burials on the upper Danube and upper Rhine lasted only to the beginning of the 5th century bc, when decentralization set in, but it had played a role in a period when relations within Europe were transformed. During the Bronze Age, Europe was roughly divided into two worlds: the eastern Mediterranean and temperate Europe, each with a common cultural heritage. With the Iron Age, the fragmentation and diversification of temperate Europe began, while the eastern Mediterranean expanded through a burst of colonial activities that resulted in cultural dominance over an extended but internally diverse area.

The Metal Ages » Social and economic developments » Prestige and status
The Neolithic was a period of remarkable communal enterprises. Against this background, the emphasis that the Bell Beaker and Corded Ware cultures placed on the individual constituted a radical change. The British archaeologist Colin Renfrew characterized the change as one from “group orientation” to “individualized chiefdom,” and this change was essential for the emerging Early Bronze Age communities. In the Late Neolithic, collective burials disappear from European prehistory in favour of individual graves. The form of the grave and the character of the funerary ceremonies changed substantially during the Bronze and Iron ages. The common and widespread use of cremation introduced by the Urnfield Culture is an important indication of the potential for radical changes within this realm. Throughout the period, the individual remained the focus of the funerary ceremony, and the evidence suggests that prestige and status often were communicated through the wealth and types of objects found in graves. It is debated whether the differences between individuals that this suggests were classlike and absolute, were expressions of sex, age, and lineage differentiation, or were assigned through deeds rather than ascribed at birth. The changes through time suggest increased social differentiation, but there also are periods, such as the Urnfield Culture, in which social differentiations are less obviously expressed in graves. The grave can, therefore, be used mainly to establish relative differentiation within one community rather than pronouncing absolute historical trends. One such study comes from the cemetery at Branč, where 308 inhumation graves spanning 200 to 400 years of the early Unetician Culture were analyzed. Within the graves there was clear evidence of internal differentiation, with some individuals having more elaborate grave goods than others. This suggests that in this type of community there would be leading families, marked by their grave goods, and that wealth and status would tend to be inherited through the male line (since male children had richer grave goods than female children). Females obtained rich costumes during adolescence and young adulthood, possibly at the time of their marriage. The status expressed at this period was to a large extent relational, placing each member of the community according to lineage, sex, and age. This differentiation was not directly based on access to power, possessions, or absolute wealth, and, in most areas of temperate Europe, social differentiation until the 1st millennium bc was likely moderate. The exception to this was short-lived local expressions of individual wealth or, more likely, prestige, such as the Wessex graves and the Leubingen-Helmsdorf group, since they suggest single leaders occupying sociopolitical roles, which were symbolized through emblems of power.

Throughout the Bronze Age, sex and age were the main components organizing the structures of daily life. Outside the Mediterranean area, there were few differences between the size and plan of most of the structures within individual sites, although the sites within a region often were internally ranked in terms of size and complexity, which suggests that they had different functions. Such “tiered” settlement systems came into being in the Early Bronze Age in areas such as southeastern Europe, and they were quite prominent during the Late Bronze Age in the Lusatian Culture of Poland and northeastern Germany as well as in the Urnfield Culture of central Europe. This settlement organization probably continued into the Early Iron Age in some regions, such as England, where the hill forts became central places for an agricultural, and possibly also political, upland.

A clear social and political hierarchy was, however, lacking from the Bronze Age settlement pattern. This was particularly true of northern, western, and central Europe, which saw a variety of settlement organizations during the period. There were extended farmsteads in northern and western Europe with a development of enclosed compounds and elaborate field systems in Britain. In central Europe the extended farmsteads were in time supplemented by both unenclosed villages and defended hilltop sites, as was also the case in the area of the Late Bronze Age Lusatian complex in Poland and neighbouring areas. The fortified settlements were usually large planned enterprises, rather than organic village sprawl, and they were often erected over a few years; an example is the Lusatian defended settlement at Biskupin, Pol., where a settlement of 102–106 houses estimated to shelter some 1,000 to 1,200 people was built in just one year. The fortified sites and enclosed villages of the European Bronze Age show centralized decision-making and capacities for planning and constructing grand enterprises. Their concern was the whole community rather than the individual household, and communal features such as paths, gates, and wells were well maintained and planned. The superbly preserved Late Bronze Age sites from the Swiss lakes show these communities vividly. The settlement at Cortallois-Est, on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, illustrates the main features of such sites: straight rows of equal-sized houses aligning paths and alleyways, with the whole complex contained within a perimeter fence. Each house had a fireplace with a decorated house-alter, or firedog. The rubbish accumulated in front of the entrance, and various activities took place within the house. The sites were densely inhabited, and minor internal differences of objects and structure existed between the houses; but they were not divided into different classes in terms of their wealth, size, or accessibility, although different crafts and trades may have made up quarters within the village. These Late Bronze Age villages did not contain any structures that could be interpreted as administrative centres or as religious offices.

A different form of organization is found throughout the Early Bronze Age in southeastern Europe and in southeastern Spain. Both areas had nucleated defended settlements during this period, and there appears to have been some differentiation of the houses in terms of function and size. A tendency toward centralization is demonstrated by the Early Bronze Age site at Spišsky Štvrtok. This was a fortified site of economic, administrative, and strategic importance. An oval area, enclosed by a ditch and rampart, was differentiated into an acropolis and a settlement area, with the houses of the acropolis built using a different technique. The amount of gold and bronze objects hidden in chests under the floors of the houses in the settlement area further suggests that there were economic and social distinctions among the inhabitants.

The important exception to this picture is the eastern Mediterranean, which underwent a rapid and dramatic social development during this period, permanently severing its cultural affinity with temperate Europe. At a time of modest stratification in the rest of Europe, the first European civilization—as defined by administration, bookkeeping, writing, urbanism, and the separation of different kinds of power—arose in the Aegean. Its background was the Neolithic cultures of the 3rd millennium bc, which were closely aligned with those of temperate and southeastern Europe. The Neolithic roots alone cannot explain the development in the Aegean, and there is no convincing evidence for external influences behind these changes in Greece nor is there basis for arguing for a migration. Local factors must have caused development to follow a different route in this area.

One of many possible factors was the marked population increase in the south Aegean during the Early Bronze Age. This led to the development of some extensive settlements, although the overall settlement pattern continued to be dispersed, with a majority of small hamlets and farmsteads. This could have caused a degree of settlement hierarchy at this stage, with some sites acting as regional centres. Central places provide opportunity for craft specialization and redistribution of commodities and thus lead to social hierarchy and a type of society known as the complex chiefdom. Another important factor was the change in agricultural production that followed the adoption of vine and olive cultivation during the 3rd millennium bc and the possible increase in the exploitation of sheep. These were commodity-oriented activities, which furthered exchange and redistribution. These products were more suitable for a redistributive economy than for a household economy. Olives, in particular, demand capital investment, since it takes several years before the crop produces. Within this setting, the palace economy, a complex bureaucratic organization based on a redistributive economy, developed. The first state had appeared in Europe.

This process can be followed from 1800 bc onward in Mycenae, in mainland Greece, and on Crete. The character of the society was distinct at each of these centres, but the palace economy distinguished them from the villages and farmsteads of temperate Europe. For reasons not clearly known but possibly related to subsistence crises and over-exploitation of dwindling metal supplies, these centres collapsed suddenly about 1200 bc, and thereafter Greece entered its Dark Ages. After a few centuries of restructuring, about 800 bc this was followed by a remarkable Greek expansion into the western Mediterranean, during which colonies were founded in southern Italy, Mediterranean France (Massalia), and along the southeastern coast of Spain. The Etruscan state, which developed in Italy from about 700 bc, competed for domination of the western Mediterranean, and during the Early Iron Age Etruscan as well as Greek influences reached beyond their Mediterranean neighbours.

During the Iron Age, stratification became common and marked throughout Europe. Differences in wealth and status in terms of both individuals and households were reflected in graves as well as settlements. Settlements reveal internal division of houses according to size and function, and the population of any village was divided by wealth in addition to sex, age, kinship, and personal characteristics. Socially differentiated settlements existed from Scandinavia to Italy and from Ireland to the Russian borders, although they were differently laid out and organized. This period saw the building of permanent fences and enclosures around fields and farms; the development of villages and, within these, increasing differentiation of the sizes of individual buildings; and increased stratification between settlements, with proto-urban centres coming into being. The rate of change varied in different parts of Europe, but toward the end of the 1st millennium bc all areas had undergone these changes. The end of this trend in northern Europe is vividly illustrated by the Hodde village in Denmark, where the community can be followed during the centuries near the end of the 1st millennium, revealing how a few farms within the enclosed village gradually grew bigger at the cost of the others. An unstratified village was replaced by a society divided into rich and poor in only a few centuries. In other parts of temperate Europe, social division was equally clearly present, and proto-urban characteristics such as commerce, administrative centres, and religious offices came into existence on some of these sites. In this process, the defended hilltop settlement of the Early Iron Age was increasingly replaced by more complex sites.

The proto-urban tendencies are particularly strongly suggested by the oppida of western, central, and eastern Europe. These were often densely populated enclosed sites, which housed full-time specialists, such as glassmakers, leather workers, and smiths. Manching, one of the largest oppida in Europe, contained many of these characteristics. The site, located at the junction of the Danube and the Paar rivers, was occupied from about 200 bc and developed rapidly from a small undefended village to a large walled settlement. The defense was an elaborate construction consisting of four-mile-long walls built of timber and stones and including four gateways. Some areas within the defense were never occupied but others (a total of about 500 acres) were densely settled. The organization of the settlement was preplanned, with streets up to 30 feet wide and regular rows of rectangular buildings in front of zones containing pits and working areas; other areas were enclosed for granaries or the stalling of horses. The site was divided into work areas for particular crafts, such as wood, leather, and iron working. Coins were minted and used on the site, and there is evidence of much trade.

A market economy, rather than a redistributive economy, is the hallmark of these sites, and they were important supplements to the regionally dispersed smaller villages and farmsteads. Commodities became direct wealth, and the exchange of different values was monitored through coins. A drastically altered society was the result, but the Roman expansion at the end of the 2nd century bc caused major changes and brought local development to an end. The Romans established their own towns and a new system of government, and the oppida were not given the opportunity of developing on their own into towns, for which they had laid the ground.

The beginning of the Iron Age was in many areas marked by change in burial rites. The extensive use of cremation during the Urnfield Period was replaced by inhumation graves with magnificent displays of wealth. During the Late Hallstatt Period these changes were most dramatically reflected by the group of so-called princely graves in west-central Europe. These were immensely rich burials in large barrows, in which the construction of grave chamber and barrow became monumental enterprises, reminiscent of the late Unetician barrows at Leubingen and Straubing. In each case the grave was a display of power and status, giving emphasis and prestige to an individual or a lineage at a time of overt disruption of the social order. One of these rich Hallstatt graves was Hohmichele, located within the complex around Heuneburg on the Danube. This barrow was one of the satellite graves surrounding the large hill fort. It covered a central grave and 12 secondary burials. The barrow was constructed in several stages, resulting in a large imposing monument on the level land behind the hill fort. The central grave was robbed in antiquity, but it had been an inhumation grave within a wood-lined chamber, which acted as the display area for the wealth of the deceased. The walls seem to have been draped in textiles with thin gold bands, and the deceased, dressed in finery including silk, was placed on a bed next to a four-wheeled wagon. These graves, while commemorating members of the society in a traditional way, also show new elements that had become part of the life of the nobility north of the Alps. The drinking set suggests the adoption and importance of the Greek drinking ceremonies, using the Greek jugs and Schnabelkannen (“beaked pots”) for pouring and serving wine, the kraters for mixing, and the amphorae for storage and transport. The implied wine-drinking ceremony, which was likely restricted to certain sectors of the society, and furniture directly imported from the south show the emulation of southern city life by the central European chiefs.

The rich princely graves were constructed in southwestern Germany during Ha C–D. Thereafter inhumation graves became more widespread in central Europe and neighbouring areas, and they were the main burial form until the 2nd century bc, when formal burial rites disappeared in many regions and cremation was reintroduced in others. The graves of the early La Tène Period remained very rich, but barrows and elaborate grave chambers ceased after their resurrection by the Hallstatt princes and princesses. Regional variations in rites and assemblages became prolific. In France, La Tène cemeteries contained rich flat graves that had two-wheeled wagons rather than the earlier four-wheeled ones. These graves held large amounts of beautifully manufactured Celtic objects such as swords and torques, as well as Roman and Greek imports, and there were clear distinctions drawn between the sexes. In central and eastern Europe a new regional complex had developed northwest of the Black Sea, in which there were both inhumation and cremation graves clustered in large cemeteries. This complex is often attributed to Scythian invaders, and the rich assemblages and warrior graves show their influence. In the area of the lower reaches of the Dnepr, Dnestr, and Don rivers, rich Scythian graves have been excavated in the form of shaft and pit graves; in these, the deceased was accompanied by a number of other humans and by horse burials. In northern Europe and Scandinavia, cremation in large urnfields continued during most of the Iron Age. In this area the social differentiation present in the settlements and the wealth displayed by a few large hoards were not expressed in the graves, and, while large numbers of the population were given formal burials, their social statuses were not explicitly expressed in this ritual. Roman and Greek imports and wine-drinking ceremonies also reached northern Europe, but it was not until the end of the Iron Age, when formal inhumation burials reappeared, that they were being used in ways similar to those in more southerly regions.

In Britain the sequence is even more complicated and shows both a strong indigenous tradition and clear local influences from western Europe. The greatest complication is the disappearance of formal burials in this area in the Late Bronze Age; they did not reappear before the last century bc and then only in a few regions, such as Yorkshire. The Late Iron Age inhumation graves in Yorkshire are almost identical to wagon graves in northern France, and there must have been very specific and personal contacts between the two areas to account for this.

Social differentiation existed throughout the Metal Ages but changed with time and in degree. This was not, however, a smooth process that can easily be followed through the centuries. There were odd kinks in the progression from the minimal ranking of the earliest Bronze Age to the proto-urban state of the Late Iron Age. There were also spatial variabilities and a number of different factors involved in the progression toward greater social complexity. Throughout the Metal Ages in Europe, new social institutions came into being and the relationships between people changed.

The Metal Ages » Social and economic developments » The relationship between nature and culture
During the Middle Bronze Age, the landscapes of most parts of Europe were filled in. Nature became cultivated, and this had costs. It seriously affected social organization as the population spread over larger areas and adapted to local conditions. It also affected the environment, which during the later part of the Bronze Age began to change. This was in part due to climatic changes, but it was furthered by human activity. There was overexploitation of marginal lands; people had moved onto the dunes in areas such as Poland and The Netherlands and into the uplands of Britain, France, and Scandinavia. But, even on less marginal land, centuries of agricultural exploitation began to exact a price. Many areas in southeastern Europe were extensively overpopulated in comparison with their agricultural capacities in the Copper and Early Bronze ages. In Hungary, for example, the area around the large Early Bronze Age tell at Tószeg was so densely occupied that the villages were within sight of each other. Overpopulation and overexploitation caused peat formation to begin, heathland to expand, blanket bog to grow over established fields and grazing grounds, and fields to turn into meadows. How the people reacted to this is not known in detail, nor is it easy to establish the rate of change, but it is possible to detect a number of changes during the end of the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age that were associated with the strained economic and ecological conditions. These changes in the environment were not, as previously believed, an environmental catastrophe, but humans had influenced their surroundings to such an extent that they had to change their way of life in order to live with the consequences.

The Metal Ages » Social and economic developments » Rituals, religion, and art
Throughout this period there were vivid and striking manifestations of religious beliefs, ritual behaviour, and artistic activities. One of the most remarkable phenomena was hoarding. Objects, usually in large numbers, were deliberately hidden in the ground or deposited in water in the form of a hoard. Hoards were known in a modest form during the Neolithic Period, and in some areas, such as Scandinavia and France, there continued to be a few large hoards in the Iron Age; but it was in the Bronze Age that hoarding became a common phenomenon of great social and economic importance. The contents of the hoards varied; they ranged from two to several hundred items or consisted of only one deliberately deposited object, such as the single swords found in the River Thames. They might contain several objects of the same type or of many different types. They were commonly placed in association with wet areas—such as rivers, bogs, and meadows—or located under or near large stones, including in old megalithic tombs. They were seldom parts of settlements, but they have been found in wells, such as at Berlin-Lichterfelde, in Germany. They also may have come to function as a foundation deposit for a later settlement, as was the case at Danebury, in southern England, where an Iron Age hill fort was placed at the location of a Late Bronze Age hoard. Hoards were relatively infrequent during the earliest part of the Bronze Age, when they were found mainly in southeastern Europe, Bavaria, and Austria and contained flat axes and neck rings. Hoarding reached its peak during the later part of the Early Bronze Age and the Middle Bronze Age, when the activity spread throughout Europe and became an established phenomenon in most of its communities. In the Middle and Late Bronze Age, large numbers of hoards were deposited, and a substantial number of bronze objects were in this way consumed and withdrawn from circulation. Late Bronze Age hoards from Romania, among the largest ever, contained up to four tons of bronze objects. At the same time, large collections of unused tools, newly taken from their molds, were deposited together in France.

Hoarding is one of the more unusual elements of Bronze Age Europe, and it is difficult to explain. The activity consumed large parts of the wealth of these societies without apparent benefits. Traditional explanations have divided them into different types with varying function. The lack of settlement association means that they were not originally foundation deposits, such as are known from the Roman period. They must, therefore, be explained either in terms of metalworking procedures or as having a ritual or religious meaning. Hoards that could have been retrieved from their hiding place have been interpreted, depending on their contents, as hidden treasure, merchants’ stock, or items intended for recycling by the smiths. Hoards that could not possibly have been retrieved must have had ritual or religious significance, or, alternatively, they were acts of conspicuous consumption of wealth in a potlatch ceremony. This would enhance the position of the owner and, incidentally, would also ensure the flow of imports and the value of bronze. But a functional interpretation of hoards as a kind of stock cannot account for why these hoards were so often not retrieved. Thousands of hoards were made during the Bronze Age, and enormous riches were disposed of through these activities. In spite of their internal differences and variations in terms of location, composition, and amounts, it is likely that ritual behaviour and cultural meaning were always major components of this practice. There is, however, only little indication of what that meaning was. The association with water, which became more pronounced through time, could suggest water-related rituals and has been interpreted as relating to fertility rites and agricultural production. Because the location and composition of hoards vary locally as well as through time, however, they may embody more than one meaning.

Only a few areas saw instances of hoarding in the Iron Age, and their forms were distinctly different from those of the Bronze Age. The most obvious example is the votive deposit at Hjortspring, Den., where a large wooden boat equipped for war with wooden shields, spears, and swords was destroyed and deposited in a small bog. The events behind these hoards were known to classical writers such as Tacitus and Orosius, who gave accounts of war offerings by Germanic and Cimbrian tribes, respectively. They describe how the weaponry confiscated in war was destroyed and deposited in victory ceremonies. The Iron Age hoards of northern Europe had clear associations with war, the types and numbers of objects deposited together are incomparable with the Bronze Age hoards, and the ritual destruction of the entire assemblage was a new element.

The new hoarding ritual contained elements of conspicuous consumption, but its form and focus were different from previous activities. It developed shortly before the end of the 1st millennium, and it continued as a tradition among the Germanic tribes in northern Europe for several centuries. Another area with complex ritual ceremonies during the Iron Age is France. There are not many of these ritual places, but those that existed were large complex sanctuaries with continuous use over several centuries. One of these sites is Gournay-sur-Aronde, in northern France, a sanctuary used from 300 to 50 bc. The site consisted of a square enclosed by a ditch and palisade with a number of large pits for exposing and displaying offerings at its centre and a number of wood-lined ditches along the edges. In the ditches were found the remains of hundreds of iron weapons, all deliberately and systematically destroyed, as well as fibulae and tools. There were also the remains of 208 animals and 12 humans. These remains indicate some of the ceremonial behaviour that had taken place on the site. All cattle had the muzzle cut off during offering, and their skulls were displayed on top of pits and ditches. The humans had been beheaded, and the bones were at some points moved from the central pits to the ditches and rearranged there according to different prescriptions. The archaeology shows that both the Bronze and Iron ages were periods of specific and unique ritual behaviour but also that their beliefs and norms were not uniform throughout each period. As the socioeconomic structures of these societies changed, their ideological structures underwent transformation.

Societies reveal themselves through their art. These expressions are, however, difficult to interpret, and much of this evidence from the past has disappeared. It is at the same time an essential source, giving insight into the artistry and sophistication of the people of these periods. The development of styles can be followed through the decoration of metal objects and ceramics, while a more distinct pictorial art is found in the rock art from many parts of Europe, in the wall paintings from Minoan Crete, and in the odd figures and scenarios engraved on a range of materials. Stylistic developments show the existence of workshops and schools, and the degree of influence they exercised reached into far corners of the Bronze and Iron Age communities. In the stylistic development during the Metal Ages, two phenomena are of particular interest. The first is the development of the sun-bird-ship motif of the Urnfield Culture. The origin of this motif, which featured bird-headed ships embellished with solar disks, is not known, but over a short period about 1400 bc it became common both as incised decoration and as plastic art throughout a vast area of eastern and central Europe. The similarity in execution and composition is remarkable and suggests a shared understanding of its meaning and the intensity of contact between distant areas.

The second point of interest is the change in style between the Hallstatt and La Tène periods. Throughout the Bronze Age and the Late Hallstatt Period, there were two distinct types of decoration in temperate Europe: the dominant geometric design of various compositions, including curvilinear styles, and the less common naturalistic style portraying humans and animals and used, for example, in rock art. At the end of the Hallstatt Period, at the beginning of the second phase of the Iron Age, a new decorative style, the La Tène style developed, and it rapidly replaced the geometric decoration. This style, as abstract as the Bronze Age one, was nonetheless substantially different. It incorporated flowing curved lines of floral designs with zoomorphic motifs filling the surfaces of the objects and increasingly used settings of semiprecious stones and coral. During the Iron Age this style flourished and branched out into different schools of great beauty. The style reached its mature form in the 4th century bc with the Waldalgesheim style, and, after this point, its most interesting branch was found in Britain, which saw a very individual development and where La Tène art continued to flourish after this style had passed its zenith on the Continent. The La Tène style was used on a variety of artifacts, such as gold and silver jewelry, swords and scabbards, shields inlaid with enamel, bronze mirrors, and beautifully executed containers in wood and ceramics.

The origin and spread of the different art styles have been the subject of much debate. Early Bronze Age geometric and linear motifs, in particular the use of double-axe and spirals motifs, looked to be the result of Mycenaean influences. The art of the Urnfield Culture was thought to be the result of an invasion of people from the east, bringing cremation and a new art style into Europe. La Tène art was associated with the Celtic people, and their spread throughout large parts of Europe was assumed to have brought this art to different areas. The genesis of the various artistic developments cannot easily be established; but they were not as unified a phenomenon as has been assumed, and local variations are prolific. Different art styles influenced each other and were spread widely through copies, exchange, and communication; but this was interspersed with periods of greater local diversity and less desire for contact and emulation.

The Metal Ages » The people of the Metal Ages
The Iron Age is often seen as the time of the appearance in history of the European peoples, the “barbarians” as they were seen by Rome. These people included a number of different tribes and groups, the configuration of which changed over time; all had more or less obvious roots in the Bronze Age. Ethnicity is not easy to establish, however, and the fact that, for example, the Romans ascribed an area to a particular people does not necessarily mean that those inhabiting that area constituted an ethnic and linguistic group. Continuous changes in the composition of tribal formation occurred in the Iron Age as groups bound together through alliances created by gift giving, trade, and aggression. From Greek, and later Roman, writers and from Assyrian texts, historical information about some of these people has been preserved. The main groups presented by these texts are the Celts in western Europe, the Germanic people of northern Europe, the Slavs from eastern Europe, and Cimmerians, Scythians, and, later, Sarmatians coming into southeastern Europe from the Russian Steppe. The texts describe what to their authors appeared as barbarous customs in cultures they did not understand, but they also provide historic insights into the movements of different peoples and tribes during this unrestful period.

It was also during the Iron Age that individually named people appeared for the first time in European sources, and the names of kings, heroes, gods, and goddesses have become known through legendary writers such as Homer. In the main, however, the Metal Ages were before literature began to immortalize individuals, and in general little is known about individual people or even groups from these periods. It remains up to the archaeologist to explain how the people lived and who they were, since they are known only through their art, their actions, and their own physical remains. Their art shows the people through figures and drawings, but always in a stylistic or symbolic way rather than as portraits. This is even the case in the wall paintings from Mycenaean Crete, which show detailed full-figure drawings of women and men in different costumes and involved in various, presumably partly ceremonial, activities. The figurative representations, whether drawings or statues, do not give accurate insight into the appearance, health, and mentality of these people, but evidence of this is provided by their physical remains and the things they made and used.

Their appearance can to some extent be reconstructed on the basis of skeletal materials from graves. Owing to changes in burial rites, these are better preserved from some periods than others, but in general there is good evidence. The people were close to the same height as people living today and were of a similar build. In some areas, as demonstrated by the Early Bronze Age cemetery at Ripa Lui Bodai, in Romania, people of different racial characteristics were buried in a similar manner within one cemetery, suggesting that the population was racially mixed. It is quite likely that such mixture was common in many areas, suggesting that the cultures correspond to social structures rather than ethnic or racial ones.

The mortality rate was high, and the average life expectancy was about 30–40 years, with high infant mortality and few very old members of society. At the Unetician cemetery at Tornice, Pol., the average age at death for men was 31 and for women 20, while that from the Early Bronze Age cemetery at Lerna, Greece, was 31–37 for men and 29–31 for women. Women would have given birth at an early age, and their lower life expectancy was likely due to death in connection with pregnancy or childbirth. The difference in life expectancy may be indirect evidence of girl-child infanticide. Generational time would have been short, and the nature of society was therefore drastically different. As an example, the estimate of the living population at Branč suggests that it consisted of 30 to 40 people, half of them children. This would have influenced social life, kinship systems, and subsistence activities. The bodies often show signs of heavy physical labour, and the wear on the bones suggests that many activities took place in a squatting position.

Generally, social divisions of labour and resources did not in the Bronze Age reach such degrees that this affected the bodies, but this changed with time. Analysis of the human bones from the Early Iron Age cemetery at Mount Magdalenska, Slovenia, shows such divisions. The males of some clans or leading families had more access to animal products than any of the other members of the community, and the women generally had a more restricted and homogeneous diet. With the advent of the Iron Age, the society had become so differentiated that some people lived a life protected from hard labour and physical toils while others worked extensively and had a poor diet.

Throughout the Metal Ages, humans were victims of various diseases, such as rheumatism and arthritis, which complicated life and crippled the body. Tuberculosis also has been observed, as have periodontal disease, caries, and bone tumours. Some of these diseases caused joint changes or vertebral deformities—such as were seen on a Copper Age skeleton found in Hungary—which resulted in restricted working and even walking capacities for the individual concerned. Badly crippled and handicapped people often survived, and they must have been taken care of and fed by other members of their community.

There is also evidence to suggest that people took great care with their appearance. The hairstyles were often sophisticated, with braids, hairnets, and ornaments being used by women or with the hair cut straight at the shoulder in a bob as for the girl in the grave at Egtved, Den. Manicure equipment was common in Late Bronze and Early Iron Age graves, and the mirror was a favoured object among both the Celtic people and Scythian warriors. These objects and evidence from well-preserved graves show people as well-groomed individuals who shaved regularly, braided or cut their hair, and had well-cared-for, manicured hands.

In addition to how the people looked, there is also evidence of the clothing and ornaments they used. There are a few scattered wool textiles from the Neolithic, but the first well-documented evidence of wool textiles dates from the Bronze Age. At times the textiles themselves have been found, but more commonly it is the equipment used in textile production that shows their presence. Spindle whorls, loom weights, and combs became increasingly common components of settlement debris, showing weaving as a household task performed at any settlement. With the Iron Age, new weaving techniques developed, and embroideries, dyes, and more complicated designs were introduced, as were textiles of materials such as linen and silk. At this point, it also became common to have specialist weavers, and in some oppida the weavers lived in certain designated quarters within the settlement. The increase in textile production meant that the raising of sheep intensified in many regions during the Bronze Age. In the Aegean, this happened early in the Bronze Age, and Linear B tablets that give accounts of trade in textiles certify the economic importance of this commodity for this area. In other parts of Europe, it took a little longer, but, toward the end of the Bronze Age, changes in the fleece of sheep in England demonstrate how substantially the use of sheep had grown.

Remains of Bronze Age costumes are limited, but they show various relatively simple wool garments adorned with bronze ornaments and attachments. In many areas, hats of different kinds—possibly with a clear distinction in style between those worn by men and women—were used. Bronze statues show similarly prominent headpieces, and they often gave great attention to depicting hairstyles. In the course of the Early Bronze Age, pins became common elements of costumes, and with the Tumulus Culture they became prominent pieces, at times exceeding 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 centimetres) in length, with elaborate heads that often reflect regional patterns. At this time, the pins lost much of their original functional role and became primarily display items. Their regional diversity suggests how people used elements of their dress to express their group identity. During the Late Bronze Age, the pin remained in use and of importance. Thousands were found in the Swiss lake sites, but these are small elegant pieces that at times were composed into complex breast pieces by connecting chains and pendants. Iron Age textiles are found much more frequently, and clothing at that time became an elaborate and colourful medium of regional and social variability. Metal attachments became less common; but the fibula (a brooch resembling a safety pin) replaced the pin, and it became an object of fashion widely adopted and undergoing much regional development and elaboration.

These were the people who lived with and created the Metal Ages of prehistoric Europe. The conditions of their lives had undergone considerable changes during the centuries of the Copper, Bronze, and Iron ages; but these were gradual changes initiated and managed largely internally and at a rate dictated from within. Roman expansion into temperate Europe during the last centuries bc changed this, and new social and ideological structures were imposed from above upon local communities. Long-established links of contact and previous cultural affinities were broken, and a new Europe came into being.

Marie-Louise Stig Sørensen



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