The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age. The term Stone Age implies the inability to smelt any ore, the term Bronze Age implies the inability to smelt iron ore and the term Iron Age implies the ability to manufacture artifacts in any of the three types of hard material. Their arrangement in the archaeological chronology reflects the difficulty of manufacture in the history of technology.
During the past few centuries of detailed, scientific study of the Bronze Age, it has become clear that on the whole, the use of copper or bronze was only the most stable and therefore the most diagnostic part of a cluster of features marking the period. In addition to the creation of bronze from raw materials and the widespread use of bronze tools and weapons, the period continued development of pictogramic or ideogramic symbols and proto-writing, and other features of urban civilization.
The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the three-age system, as proposed in modern times by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, for classifying and studying ancient societies. An ancient civilization can be in the Bronze Age either by smelting its own copper and alloying with tin, or by trading for bronze from production areas elsewhere. Copper-tin ores are rare, as reflected in the fact that there were no tin bronzes in western Asia before the third millennium BC. Worldwide, the Bronze Age generally followed the Neolithic period, but in some parts of the world, a Copper Age served as a transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Although the Iron Age generally followed the Bronze Age, in some areas, the Iron Age intruded directly on the Neolithic from outside the region except for Sub-Saharan Africa where it was developed independently.
Bronze Age cultures differed in their development of the first writing. According to archaeological evidence, cultures in Egypt (hieroglyphs), the Near East (cuneiform)—and the Mediterranean, with the Mycenaean culture (Linear B)—had viable writing systems.
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—Martin Luther (14831546)