Characteristics of the Metal Age

The Age of Metals is the last phase of Prehistory from 5000 BC until the appearance of Sumerian writing in 4000 BC. It receives this name because metal was the raw material most used for the production of tools and objects. Some scholars consider the Age of Metals as the final phase of the Neolithic.

Unlike previous periods, the Paleolithic (Carved Stone Age) and the Neolithic (Polished Stone Age), the development of metallurgy and the expansion of smelting techniques in the Metal Age represented an enormous technological achievement. for the humanity.

Note that the use of metals did not completely replace instruments that were made of stone and wood. This transition process occurred slowly and in different ways in certain places.

The first societies that began to develop metallurgy were located in the East, and often extracted from distant places, which made the full spread of metal difficult in this period.

Main features

The main characteristic of this period was, without a doubt, the development of metallurgy, which began to considerably change life in society. After all, with metals the instruments had great rigidity and useful life, although the main characteristic was that metals could be molded, or shapes could be achieved that could not be achieved with stone before.

Copper was the first metal smelted by prehistoric societies of the time. Therefore, bronze, stronger than copper, was obtained by mixing copper and another metal, tin. Iron, on the other hand, was the last metal to be smelted, as it required more complicated handling than the others, however, they made the materials produced more resistant.

Objects produced with metal can include kitchen instruments, artistic objects, weapons, agricultural tools, among others.

The use of metals by prehistoric man was fundamental for the development of agriculture (food production), which emerged in the Neolithic, since the tools produced were more efficient and helped in work such as the plow.

In this sense, hunting and fishing tools have also evolved, thus making the life of prehistoric man easier.

This has allowed, therefore, to improve the quality of life of citizens and, consequently, the development of commerce and the increase in population. At the end of the Metal Age, the first cities appeared and new social relations were established.

During the Metal Age, prehistoric man also made many advances in the production of weapons to defend their communities from invaders and also for hunting.

Some communities that emerged during this period felt the need to expand, which caused conflicts over land and the formation of great civilizations.


Depending on the use of the metal used in this period, the age of metals can be classified in three ways:

  • Copper Age
  • Bronze Age
  • Iron Age

Copper Age

During the Copper Age or Chalcolithic, the planet was already inhabited by Homo Sapiens Sapiens, mainly characterized by great intelligence compared to their ancestors. He developed techniques to melt and mold copper.

In the Neolithic, before the Chalcolithic, animals began to be used for traction and transportation, as well as for food. With this, the creation of technologies such as the plow, the wheel and metallurgy was triggered.

Copper deposits could be easily found in the Metal Age era, mainly due to the green color of the metal. The casting method passed through several peoples, but it is believed that the Egyptians and Arabs were the first to use it.

In Anatolia (present-day Turkey), material extracted from metal deposits (which was not pure) was placed in stone-covered holes in the ground, which functioned as large containers, and then heated to high temperatures.

The copper molten at temperatures above 650º C, even under the heat of the bonfire, was placed in molds carved into the very rock from which it was extracted. The finishing could be done by rubbing the stones.

The Egyptians, on the other hand, blew on bellows to make the oven reach high temperatures. Copper was crushed and mixed, for example, with malachite. With heat, the impurities were extracted in the form of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, providing relatively pure copper.

When it reached 1000º C, the copper, already in liquid form, was deposited at the bottom of the furnace. There was a hole in the bottom that allowed the metal to drain out and then be collected in the molds.

Later, copper was mixed with other elements. For example, brass is an alloy generated by mixing copper and zinc and was widely used in ancient Rome for the manufacture of coins.

The three main characteristics of the Copper Age were:

  • Manufacture of household utensils and hunting and fishing weapons.
  • Advances in agricultural production.
  • Emergence of specialized jobs in the communities.

Bronze Age

At this stage, a stronger metal than copper at that time was used. The alloy of copper with arsenic or copper with tin generated bronze, which began to be used as raw material in the production of helmets, axes, spears, hammers, knives, among other objects.

The bronze casting process was the same as that of copper, but the techniques used were more advanced. Men realized that casting two materials generated a new one, of superior quality, and the mold already had the desired final shape.

The metallurgical industry developed over the centuries, which marked the Age of Metals. The metallurgists of the Mesopotamian civilization and the Hittite Empire acted as explorers and traders, who offered their products in exchange for raw materials.

The arrival of bronze gradually developed in the world. China skipped the Copper Age and went directly to the Bronze Age, with the development of original techniques, which allowed the production of strange and beautiful pieces such as tripod cauldrons.

The three main characteristics of the Bronze Age were:

  • Replacement of some stone and copper instruments with bronze, increasing quality and durability.
  • Closer commercial relationships for the sale of artifacts in exchange for raw materials.
  • Use of bronze for the creation of artistic and decorative objects.

Iron Age

Iron was already known by ancient people and considered valuable, but they only knew of “meteoric iron”, from meteorites. Only in the year 1200 BC did iron begin to be mastered by man in the regions of Europe and the Middle East.

At the beginning of this period of the Age of Metals, there were no technologies for working ferrous minerals. However, artificial iron objects (a pin and a leaf) dating to the third millennium BC were found as Anatolian ruins.

According to ancient texts, with cuneiform writing, the Hittites were the first to control and even monopolize iron. These people sent iron artifacts to the Egyptians, Syrians, Assyrians, and Phoenicians for diplomatic purposes.

The iron manufacturing process was different from that of previous metals. The crushed material, together with the coal, was placed in a forge, but it did not reach the melting point of iron (1530ºC) and the material obtained was full of impurities.

Then the blacksmith worked again on this plate, but in a second oven. After a long and repetitive heating and hammering process, a quality material was obtained.

With the dominance of iron, the metal plow, the hoe and other rustic tools were created that helped in agriculture. Household utensils such as pots, knives and pans were also produced.

Iron expansion

Like bronze, iron has gradually spread throughout the rest of the world. In Europe, the Iron Age developed around 800 BC and was mainly used for the production of agricultural and craft tools. Europeans also used iron to decorate jewelry and weapons.

During the Metal Age, China presented several specificities in the metallurgical and steel industries. For example, they discovered that the chromium oxide patina was capable of protecting the metal from corrosion and built a furnace that exceeded 1350°C.

The Age of Metals meant, mainly, advances in the agricultural area. And that was no different in sub-Saharan Africa, which first had access to iron during the Nok civilization (500 BC and 200 AD). There, bronze lost some of its popularity and was used for artistic purposes.

In addition to the three materials observed in the Age of Metals, America knew others such as gold, silver and platinum, which were mixed in various proportions. The most successful alloy was tumbaga, a mixture of copper and gold, which gives resistance to the jewelry, without losing its golden appearance.

Among the characteristics of the Iron Age we can highlight:

  • Improvements in the construction of houses, bridges and fortresses.
  • Emergence of professions related to the steel industry, such as blacksmithing.
  • Appreciation and dispute over areas with iron reserves.


Prehistory determines the beginning of human history, being classified into three major periods:

  • Paleolithic Period or Carved Stone Age: period beginning approximately 4.4 million years ago and extending to 8000 BC
  • Neolithic Period or Polished Stone Age: period that extends from approximately 8000 BC to 5000 BC.
  • Age of Metals: period that extends from 5000 BC, until the appearance of writing.