The Iron Age
The Iron Age began around 1200 BC and marked the time when the use of iron became widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It all started when people learned to remove iron from rock using a very hot fire. Iron was better than bronze for tools and weapons because it was harder and stronger.
The Iron Age started and ended at different times in different places. In Europe and Asia, the Iron Age followed the Bronze Age. In Africa it followed the Stone Age.
The Iron Age is divided into three parts: the Early Iron Age, the Middle Iron Age and the Late Iron Age.
The Iron Age in Britain lasted for about 800 years.
Where did it begin?
Ironwork began in Turkey before spreading to other European countries. A lot of countries did not adopt iron as their main material until around 500 BC but there is some evidence that some areas of the world used iron as early as 1500 BC.
Where the manufacture, casting and trading of bronze required special skills, iron was more readily available than bronze and was easier to work with.
During the Iron Age, tools were commonly made of steel and alloys. These were much cheaper, stronger and lighter than the bronze materials used previously, which is why their use became more predominant. Iron proved to be a good material to make tools, implements and utensils because it could be hammered into shape and didn’t need to be carved. Hammering the iron was known as ‘smithing’.
The Spread of the Iron Age
The knowledge of how to make iron tools spread quickly from the Middle East to Egypt and Greece. After a time, the Iron Age spread to West Africa, India, East Asia and Northern Europe.
There was not an Iron Age in Australia or America. Settlers brought ironworking to those places much later.
Very important changes happened because of the Iron Age. Farming was made easier through the use of iron tools but weapons were also made with iron. Very large armies soon carried iron weapons. This made them hard to defeat. If these armies travelled to other parts of the world that were not using iron, they could easily take over the land. Kings and other rulers gained great power.
Farming and land ownership and grain production became the way to gain wealth and power.
Because of the use of new tools like iron ploughs (called ards) heavier soils cound be tilled. this meant that more land could be used for farming. As farming became more productive, more people could be fed and the population began to rise.
The rotatory quern was one of the most important inventions of the Iron Age. It was used for grinding grain to make flour.
At lot of Iron Age people lived and worked on small farms. The grain that was produced was stored in granaries or underground vaults. Other food stuff could be preserved like meat or fish by salting or smoking. the more food that was produced meant that any surplus food could be traded.
The people living in Europe during the Iron Age were known as Celts. The Celts believed in over four hundred gods and goddesses. Druids were the religious leaders, the priests of the time.
Roundhouses were typical Iron Age homes. Some of these were very large and could house many people. The frame would have been constructed out of large timbers and the wall were made from interwoven sticks and daub. (daub is a mixture of animal dung, straw and clay. They would have had thatched roofs with no chimneys. The smoke from the fire, which was in the middle of the roundhouse, would have gone through the thatch. Some of the large roundhouses would have contained an oven for baking bread.
The first hillforts were constructed from around 800 BC. Between 500 and 100 BC there were many hillforts in Britain and the settlements provided homes to hundreds of people. One of the biggest hillforts in Europe was discovered in Maiden Castle in Dorset.
Prehistory is a time in the past before humans used writing. The Iron Age is a part of prehistory. Once writing became widespread it marked the end of the Iron Age.
Iron still remain the most important metal until the 1800's. Iron was often mixed with other materials to make in stronger and in the 1800's the found easier way to do this.
Steel - which is a mixture of iron and carbon became the most widely used metal.
In Britain the end of the Iron Age is linked to the spread of Roman culture following the Roman invasion of 43 AD.