BRONZE, AGE (Dan. Broncealderen), a term used by many modern archeologists to distinguish the second of the three successive periods into which, as they hold, the primitive or pre-historic antiquities of a country may be divided. They take for granted that among a rude or savage people, stone, being more easily fashioned, would come into use before any kind of metal; and that of metals, copper, being oftener found ready for the hammer, would come into use before iron, which has generally to be smelted before it can be wrought. These assumptions—which, in so far, are only in accordance with what has actually been observed among uncivilized races—have obtained from a very early date. Lucretius, writing in the century before the Christian era, has recorded them with his usual vigorous precision: More than one antiquary of the last century appears to have sUggested the distribution of arche=ological objects into eras of stone, of copper or bronze, and of iron. But the proposed classification received scarcely any attention until about forty years ago, when it was adopted and developed by Mr. C. J. Thomsen, superintendent of the ethnograph ical and archaeological museum of Copenhagen, in his Ledetraad tit .,:l'ordi$1c Oldkyndighed (Kjobenhavn, 1836), and by Mr. Nilsson, professor of zoology in the university of Lund, in Sweden, in his Skandinartska ffordens Grthvonare (Lund, 1838-43). According to the theory of these writers—which is held by almost all archaeologists in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, by many in northern Germany and in Switzerland, and by a few in other parts of Europe—the first three stages in the progress of a nation from barbarism to civ ilization are as clearly identified and defined by their relics of stone, of bronze, and of iron, as the comparative antiquity of geological strata, or periods of the world's creation, is determined by the fossils which they are found to contain.
The name of the "age of stone" is given to the period when weapons and implements were made of stone, amber, wood, bone, horn, or some such easily wrought material, and during which very little or nothing was known of metals. During this era, the people, few in number, and savage in their habits, clothed themselves chiefly with skins of animals. They buried their dead in large sepulchral chambers, covered by what have been called cromlechs, or girdled round by the unhewn stone pillars called "Druidical circles." The bodies have most frequently been found unburned, and often with rude urns beside them.
During the "'age of bronze," weapons and implements were made of copper or of bronze, and iron and silver were little or not at all known. The dead were burned, and their ashes kept in urns, or deposited in stone-chests, which were covered by conical mounds of earth or heaps of loose stones. In the urns, articles of gold and amber are found, but never of silver. Most articles of metal appear to have been cast; where marks of the hammer appear, it is contended that the forging or beating must have been done by a stone hammer upon a stone anvil.
The " age of iron" is the name applied to the third and last of the three supposed periods. During this era, it is conceived that iron displaced bronze in the manufacture of weapons and implements, and that silver and glass came into use. The dead were still occasionally burned; but they were frequently buried without burning, often seated on chairs, and, at times, with a horse in full war-harness laid beside the body of lus master.
The Scandinavian and German antiquaries admit that their three periods run, more or less, one into another; that stone weapons continued to be used throughout the age of B. ; that B. and gold were not unknown in the age of stone; and that weapons of stone and B. continued to be used in the age of iron. This admission obviously detracts very much from the practical value of the classification for chronological or other scien tific purposes. But the late Mr. J. M. Kemble, and other British antiquaries, have taken objections to the classification altogether, as irreconcilable with generally admitted facts, when carried out to its strict and necessary consequences. They point to the every-day discovery of objects of stone, B., and iron, in the same ancient urns, graves, and dwellings. They instance the ease of the Iluns, who had swords of iron, while they pointed their arrows with bones; the case of the Auglo-Saxons, who fought with stone mauls at Hastings; and the case of the Germans, whb used stone hammers in the thirty years' war. They show stone weapons, in some of which the traces of metal are still fresh, while others attest for themselves that they could not have been cut but by a thin sharp metal point.* They prove from Greek and Roman writers that the nations of the n. and w. of Europe used iron weapons during what must have been their B. age. And they repudiate the proposed appropriation of different modes of burial to the different ages—a point on which the supporters of the theory appear to be hopelessly divided among themselves—on the ground that graves assigned to the B. period have been found to con tain more iron than B., and that other supposed characteristics of sepulchers of the B. age are quite as common in sepulchers of the iron age. But although the threefold classification of the Scandinavian and German archaeologists cannot be relied upon for historical uses, it may be accepted as a very convenient mode of arranging archaeological objects. It has been adopted, with some modifications, in the gallery of British antiqui ties in the British museum at London, in the national museum of the antiquaries of Scotland at Edinburgh, in the museum of the royal Irish academy at Dublin, and in other collections, where the articles are classed, for the most part, according to the materials of which they are made.