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Iron Age

Iron Age, period in the development of industry that begins with the general use of iron and continues into modern times. In Asia, Egypt, and Europe it was preceded by the Bronze Age. It did not begin in the Americas until the coming of the Europeans. Iron beads were worn in Egypt as early as 4000 B.C., but these were of meteoric iron, evidently shaped by the rubbing process used in shaping implements of stone. The oldest known article of iron shaped by hammering is a dagger found in Egypt that was made before 1350 B.C. This dagger is believed not to have been made in Egypt but to be of Hittite workmanship. The use of smelted iron ornaments and ceremonial weapons became common during the period extending from 1900 to 1400 B.C. About this time, the invention of tempering (see forging) was made by the Chalybes of the Hittite empire. It is possible that the Hittite kings kept ironworking techniques secret and restricted export of iron weapons. After the downfall of the Hittite empire in 1200 B.C., the great waves of migrants spreading through S Europe and the Middle East insured the rapid transmission of iron technology. In Europe knowledge of iron smelting was acquired in Greece and the Balkans, and somewhat later in N Italy (see Etruscan civilization; Villanovan culture) and central Europe. The Early Iron Age in central Europe, dating from c.800 B.C. to c.500 B.C., is known as the Hallstatt period. Celtic migrations, beginning in the 5th cent. B.C., spread the use of iron into W Europe and to the British Isles. The Late Iron Age in Europe, which is dated from this period, is called La Tène. The casting of iron did not become technically useful until the Industrial Revolution. The people of the Iron Age developed the basic economic innovations of the Bronze Age and laid the foundations for feudal organization. They utilized the crops and domesticated animals introduced earlier from the Middle East. Ox-drawn plows and wheeled vehicles acquired a new importance and changed the agricultural patterns. For the first time humans were able to exploit efficiently the temperate forests. Villages were fortified, warfare was conducted on horseback and in horse-drawn chariots, and alphabetic writing based on the Phoenician script became widespread. Distinctive art styles in metal, pottery, and stone characterized many Iron Age cultures.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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