Bronze Age once began consciously and consistently to use hardened metals in addition to traditional stone in order to plough their fields, to fight their battles, and even for their own personal hygiene and beautification.
A Term of Significant Change
Firstly, it must be considered that “Bronze Age” is merely an archaeological term of convenience used to describe a period influenced by a significant change in the living patterns of a given civilization. The distinction between this period and the previous one is not always easily made. Nor does the Bronze Age appear in every location at precisely the same time. Even the distinction of metal over against stone is not entirely an accurate beginning of the age either, as cultures were manufacturing metal tools in the Late Stone Age period.
Analysis of archaeological artefacts from the Late Stone Age strata in many excavation sites throughout the Middle East has shown that the metal used there contained up to seven percent tin. This is perhaps indicative that in the 4th millennium BC there was already fruitful attempts to harden soft copper into bronze.
The Bronze Age
The work of archaeologists over the last century has established that Canaanite culture in the western Arabian Peninsula was predominant from approximately 3200 BC (the date usually ascribed to the beginning of the Bronze Age) until 1100 BC. This period of 2100 years is known as the Bronze Age. It was during this period that tool makers developed techniques of hardening metals so that their tools of stone would eventually become redundant. The metal that was used was copper and bronze.
Archaeologists know much less about the Early Bronze Age (3200 BC – 2300 BC) compared to the immense archaeological finds of the two later periods: Middle Bronze and Late Bronze. The archaeological record thus far has yielded insufficient material remains to gain confident knowledge of what daily life was like in the hills, valleys, and coastal plains where the Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent borders the Mediterranean Sea.
Inhabited by the Canaanites, in pre-Abrahamic times, the distinguishing characteristic of the Early Bronze Age (EB) was the appearance of a new culture marked by several new crafts. Like other groups that were to come after them they were Semites. That is, their language was basically triconsonantal in form. The Canaanites brought a developed culture to the land, a high order of craftsmanship, and a good understanding of agriculturally based urban society. The Early Bronze Age saw the move away from stone buildings to those made of kiln-fired bricks. Fortifications such a walls replaced the scattered Late Stone Age tribal dwellings.
At every excavated Early Bronze site archaeologists have found unmistakable evidence of nomadic shepherds who infiltrated from the northeast and succeeded in completely overthrowing the cities and townships. Around 2300 BC the land was draped in a dark curtain of technological recession. Archaeologists, at town sites such as Ai and Tel el-Farah, have observed rapid abandonment and at larger city sites such as at Jericho, remains of the nomadic camps have been discovered on top of old dwellings. It is during this intermediate period of cultural decline that Abraham leaves Ur and enters the land via Haran in the north. Further Semitic incursions caused the land and its culture to revive although an extended drought and subsequent famine drove many southward into the Nile Delta.
Late Bronze Age
The recovery of urban life in Canaan brought with it a high degree of artisanship as observed in a 1700 BC water pitcher found at Megiddo and many sickles and knives of the period demonstrate that metals had returned. Pottery is the archaeologist’s chronometer and a general guide to cultural advancement. The monotony of the earlier forms, especially those found during the Early Bronze period, are now replaced by a considerable variety recognizable by their design and the manufacturing techniques used in their production. Middle to Late Bronze Age pottery boasts vessels thrown entirely on a fast wheel and burnished to such a high degree that the red finish glistens like a copper glaze.
The superiority of weapons and other artefacts attests to technological advancements and the use of alloys. Throughout this period the archaeological record surrenders axes with socketed blades; short, greatly strengthened blades on metal daggers; and the harder bronze facilitated the making of finer jewellery and clothing pins without compromising strength.
The Bronze Age remains a tentative state of archaeological knowledge but what is known, coupled with that which is slowly being uncovered, is offering deeper insights into the cultural, political, and social behaviours of the people who inhabited western Arabia.