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The Bronze Age: 2,200 – ca. 700 years BC

Bronzeguss in
Bronzeguss in “ver­lorener” Form (Rekon­struk­tion), Bild: Artus Atelier

Bronze – A New Raw Material Changes Human History

Mag­ni­fi­cent spark­ling jew­ellery, bronze weapons, treas­ure troves – the ALT presents the newly-acquired riches of an entire epoch!

Tools of stone, bone, and wood were still com­monly used by farm­ers and gra­zi­ers for a long time after the end of the Neo­lithic. Since around 2,200 BC, how­ever, a new raw mater­ial, appear­ing first in the east­ern Medi­ter­ranean area, had been spread­ing – bronze. An alloy formed from cop­per and other metals, most com­monly tin, bronze pos­sessed the optimal com­bin­a­tion of hard­ness and ductil­ity. Ini­tially used prin­cip­ally for prestige jew­ellery, it was soon also used to improve har­vest­ing imple­ments and it revolu­tion­ised weapons tech­no­logy. Expert­ise in the min­ing, cast­ing, and smith­ing of bronze was par­tic­u­larly not­able in the fore­lands of the Harz Moun­tains. This rep­res­en­ted far more than just a tech­no­lo­gical advance­ment. Bronze was also traded, in the form of ingots or as fin­ished products, and it had a per­man­ent effect on almost every aspect of life: crafts, agri­cul­ture, reli­gious beliefs, and, not least, social relationships.

With the know­ledge of bronze metal­lurgy cul­tural sim­il­ar­it­ies developed across the settled areas of cent­ral Ger­many in the early Bronze Age (2,200 – 1,600 BC). In archae­olo­gical research the res­ult­ing cul­ture was named the Únětice Cul­ture, after a site near Prague. These sim­il­ar­it­ies include burial prac­tices – “crouched” inhuma­tions – and pot­tery styles. The Únětice Cul­ture’s set­tle­ments on the loess soils of the Thuringian Basin were ini­tially agrarian in nature. Increas­ing trade in bronze and metal crafts, how­ever, cre­ated an impress­ive amount of wealth. As a res­ult an élite class formed within their soci­ety, the dead of which were interred in burial mounds. An example of this is the “Bronze Prince” from Leu­bin­gen (Muni­cip­al­ity of Soemmerda).

In the course of the mid-Bronze Age (1,600 – 1,200 BC) bronze metal­lurgy spread through­out Europe. On the basis of the spread of bronze items we can infer wide-scale trade net­works and cul­tural con­form­ity. A multi-regional change in burial prac­tices can be recog­nised. The dead were now – most notice­ably south of the Thuringian Forest – interred laid out full-length, fully attired, in burial mounds (or tumuli) of earth and stone. This period is also known as the Tumu­lus Culture.

In the late Bronze Age (1,200 – 700 BC) new cul­tural and intel­lec­tual trends spread through Thuringia from south­east­ern Europe. Pre­dom­in­ant among these was the con­ven­tion of cremat­ing the dead and inter­ring the remains in urns within a cemetery. In archae­ology this is known as the Urn­field Cul­ture. New styles for ceramic and bronze objects also became pre­val­ent. The stim­u­lus for these changes ori­gin­ated in the Medi­ter­ranean region. There, con­flict between clas­sical civil­isa­tions had also led to new mil­it­ary tech­no­lo­gies. Swords and lances, hel­mets, armour, and shields – a wide vari­ety of both offens­ive and defens­ive equip­ment – spread. Many such items have been found in hoards excav­ated in Thuringia.

It was an event­ful and tur­bu­lent time, archae­olo­gic­ally evid­enced in Thuringia by for­ti­fied hill-forts, like the set­tle­ment on Jen­zig Moun­tain near Jena, and a mul­ti­tude of bronze hoards from the period.


Special Finds