A historic setting in Southern Europe during the Bronze age: What does it take to make bronze? Where did they get their raw materials? Cyprus? I heard that tin was relatively difficult to come by, is that true? Why did bronze come earlier than iron? I heard there was iron in Mesopotamia very early, did the technology get lost or is it not true? Who had bronze first anyway?
Hello there! The bronze age is actually prehistory. It’s something an archaeologist, not an historian would study.
I don’t think I’ve specified that, as an historian, I have no extended education on prehistory. Because it’s “before history”, as “pre” suggests. Historians study written texts (or, if your an art historian you study art, a film historian study film and so on).
Fortunately, however, I can answer this particular ask as I happen to have some sources!
To make bronze you need copper and tin (other metals and non metals were also used). Copper was already in use, as early as 6000 years ago in the Middle East. Findings come from all over the world, for example South America, suggesting that the use of copper developed independently in various places. To make bronze, however, the best materials to use would be tin and copper. These are not easy to find in one location. Cyprus did indeed have a lot of copper, while Cornwall in Britain had a lot of tin, and trading metals was necessary for the Bronze Age.
So, what does it take to make bronze? Apart from the metal, copper and tin, your character/s will also need a whole lot of other tools as well as a way to heat the metal to 1000 degrees Celsius. Since I’m don’t have an education on how to forge bronze, I can’t describe to you how it’s done. However, I have enough knowledge on the subject that I managed to find this video:
The reason you had bronze before iron, despite iron being easier to find, has to do with technology. The way to heat the material had to be developed because iron requires much more heat than copper and tin. We do have to consider two things, though.
- One is that iron corrodes much more easily than copper or tin. Copper is a noble metal, iron is not. (This means iron has high reactivity and oxygen corrodes it). A conclusion then is that objects made of bronze have not been destroyed at the same rate as objects made of iron, thus making findings of bronze objects more common. More recent research have found older iron objects.
- Secondly, science is not cumulative nor is it linear. This means that inventions and knowledge doesn’t stack up but change and that one invention doesn’t inevitably lead to a subsequent invention. Some societies, such as Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt made jewellery and daggers out of iron, using another method than during the Iron Age.
- It takes the metals copper and tin to make bronze. Other metals and non metals can also be used. You also need the proper tools and a forge.
- A large amount of copper came from Cyprus, a large amount of tin came from Cornwall, Britain.
- Copper and tin aren’t very common and they rarely exist in the same place.
- Some societies, such as Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, made objects of so called wrought iron, a different technique to the smelting used in the Iron Age.
- It’s difficult to say who made the first bronze object, as a lot of things get lost through time and it is also common that techniques develop independently at roughly the same time.
Hope that answers your questions! Good luck with your writing!
1 Sjöberg, Maria. En Samtidig Världshistoria. Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2014.
2 S. D. Singh. “Iron in Ancient India” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Jul., 1962), pp. 212-216 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3596367?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents