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How did the Bronze Age start?

Discussion in 'World History' started by Onionsoilder, Feb 21, 2010.

  1. Onionsoilder

    Onionsoilder Reaver

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    Sort of a shot in the dark here, but does anyone know how ancient civilizatiosn first discovered copper, and then bronze? How did they know that the ores were different from normal rocks? How did they know to make alloys and such?
     
  2. innonimatu

    innonimatu Chieftain

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    Well, the first metals to be worked were those with a low fusion point. One theory I read was that the discovery might have been accidental, after lighting camp fires on top of easily reduced metal oxides. That might apply to lead and other metals with low melting points, but not to copper or iron.

    Check this page.
     
  3. Onionsoilder

    Onionsoilder Reaver

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    Hmm... looks like native gold was the first metal discovered, just from small nuggets found in rivers and such. Probably found copper nuggets too, though they would have been less noticeable than gold...
     
  4. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Bronze is not found, it's an alloy, forged by the use of copper, which can be found. (The isle of Cyprus is named after it: kypros/kupros = copper in Greek.)
     
  5. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    Copper and tin, both of which can be found. I've heard a theory that the Iron Age actually started because tin supplies were running low, forcing smiths to experiment with different metals and alloys.
     
  6. North King

    North King blech

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    Yeah, copper (and even some other metals, IIRC) could be found in nugget form on or near the earth's surface. Typically these have already been picked up and made into things by the time you or I walk across the land. And anyone who leaves metal unattended in a fire will notice it starting to glow; add in natural human curiosity and you'll realize it's soft, too. It then probably pretty naturally proceeds to melting, smelting, and alloying.

    Most civilizations in the "Near East" underwent a dark age/collapse period within a very short span of time. This "Bronze Age collapse" has been attributed to tin shortages (by some, anyway).
     
  7. sydhe

    sydhe King of Kongs

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    Bronze was initially made with arsenic, probably because some copper ores naturally contain arsenic. This was abandoned when it was discovered bronze could also be made with tin because metal workers who used tin were a lot more likely to survive.
     
  8. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    What can bronze do that copper by itself can't? (yeah, this probably sounds like a stupid question to some of you, but I really have no idea)

    and how did people figure out to start mixing stuff to eventually end up with bronze, anyway?
     
  9. aelf

    aelf Noctis Lucis Caelum

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    Copper is too soft. It's pretty good as a conductor, but it's not suitable for heavy duty purposes.
     
  10. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Metallurgy - which allows for alloys, so the develpment of kilns that produce and sustain enough heat for forging would have been essential. Bronze is suitable for weaponmaking, copper is too brittle in comparison. I assume, as with most inventions, experimentation would have been vital to the discovery of bronze as an alloy. (Monkeys, notably chimpansees, use sticks and stones to frighten off and/or kill enemies - and as tools. It would seem humans have learned to adapt these tools in highly innovative ways; but the discovery of making fire seems a vital development, both here and in general.)
     
  11. Dragonlord

    Dragonlord Fantasy Warlord

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    Copper is brittle? Surely not - it is soft and malleable, the very opposite of brittle, as I understand the word. Copper is too soft and won't hold an edge, that is why bronze is more suitable for weaponmaking.

    BTW, the usual perception is that iron weapons were superior to bronze - I've read that, on the contrary, early iron weapons, at least, weren't as good as high-quality bronze. Iron came to be preferred only because it was cheaper and more plentiful, due to the scarcity of tin.
    Anyone know the truth of this?
     
  12. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    that may hold true for very low quality iron, but generally iron is harder than copper.
     
  13. Dragonlord

    Dragonlord Fantasy Warlord

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    Than copper? Of course - but I was talking about bronze, which is much harder than copper alone.

    Also, hardness is not the only quality for weapons - a hard but brittle iron weapon that shatters at the first stroke would also be worthless.
     
  14. BananaLee

    BananaLee Fruity Penguin

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    If I recall right, pure iron is pretty ductile and rubbish in terms of hardness compared to bronze. However, wrought iron (in the west) and cast iron (in the east - I'm using these terms VERY loosely here) are definitely harder than bronze. Not to mention cheaper.
     
  15. Dragonlord

    Dragonlord Fantasy Warlord

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    Cheaper, yes. That's my point.

    What I read is that early iron weapons weren't necessarily better than bronze (we're not talking about steel here), just infinitely cheaper once the basic problems of iron smelting were solved.
    I too had always thought iron weapons were intrinsically better - thinking when an iron sword met a bronze sword, the latter would be cut - but I'm no longer so sure.
     
  16. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Chieftain

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    I think it's relavent to discuss what the quality of ironworking we're talking about. Initial Iron Working was likely rubbish, but late ironworking?
     
  17. Onionsoilder

    Onionsoilder Reaver

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    I didn't mean finding bronze nuggets on the ground, I meant how did early civilization know to combine copper with tin to make bronze?
     
  18. Tabster

    Tabster Chieftain

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    They may have just been trying to make larger pieces of metal in general, by combining smaller lumps of metal, mostly copper but also some happened to be tin, and accidently made bronze, I doubt that they were actually trying to make an new alloy by combining two types of known metal.

    The fact that this combination produced a metal with very different qualities to either copper or tin, I would imagine, come as a great surprise as the only other alloy they knew of, electrum (gold and silver) has very similar qualities to both silver and gold.
     
  19. BananaLee

    BananaLee Fruity Penguin

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    Okay, my engineer hat is coming on here. The common term "iron" usually refers to wrought iron, which itself is a very low-carbon form of steel. I don't think any tools are made of pure iron.

    Having said that, I'm quite sure once they got their act together, when the smelting, etc. provided consistent properties to the iron (as opposed to pockets of air and that sort of thing all over the finished product) and they learned how to smash it with a hammer properly (allowing consistent work-hardening), wrought iron tools were definitely harder, and kept its edge better.

    Iron swords would not cut bronze swords under any reasonable circumstance.
     
  20. Tabster

    Tabster Chieftain

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    The very first iron/steel weapons would have likely have been made from meteorite iron, not iron smelted from ore, and would perhaps be somekind of iron/nickel alloy which are generally now referred to as 'nickelsteels'. Some of this meteorite iron could, depending on the actual composition, be tempered unlike wrought iron. Swords made from iron/nickle from these source, if correctly worked, would appear to vastly superior than either bronze or wrought iron swords.

    Bronze alloys can have different properties dependent on the proportion of tin to copper. 'Weapons grade bronze' would need a high ratio of tin to copper to supply the hardness to the alloy.
     

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