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Bronze Symposium – History of Bronze

History of Bronze

Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal. However, since “bronze” is a somewhat imprecise term, and historical pieces have variable compositions, in particular with an unclear boundary with brass (an alloy of copper and zinc), modern museum and scholarly descriptions of older objects increasingly use the more cautious and inclusive term “copper alloy” instead.

The discovery of bronze enabled people to create metal objects which were better than previously possible. Tools, weapons, armor, and various building materials, like decorative tiles, made of bronze were harder and more durable than their stone and copper (“Chalcolithic”) predecessors. Initially bronze was made out of copper and arsenic to form arsenic bronze. It was only later that tin was used, becoming the sole type of bronze in the late 3rd millennium BC. Tin bronze was superior to arsenic bronze in that the alloying process itself could more easily be controlled (as tin was available as a metal) and the alloy was stronger and easier to cast. Also, unlike arsenic, tin is not toxic.

The earliest tin-alloy bronzes date to the late 4th millennium BC in Susa (Iran) and some ancient sites in China, Luristan (Iran) and Mesopotamia (Iraq). Copper and tin ores are rarely found together (exceptions include one ancient site in Thailand and one in Iran), so serious bronze work has always involved trade. In Europe, the major source for tin was Great Britain’s deposits of ore in Cornwall, which were traded as far as Phoenicia in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Though bronze is generally harder than wrought iron, with Vickers hardness of 60–258 vs. 30–80, the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age; this happened because iron was easier to find and easier to process. Bronze was still used during the Iron Age, for example officers in the Roman army had bronze swords[citation needed] while foot soldiers had iron, but, for many purposes, the weaker wrought iron was found to be sufficiently strong. Archaeologists suspect that a serious disruption of the tin trade precipitated the transition. The population migrations around 1200–1100 BC reduced the shipping of tin around the Mediterranean (and from Great Britain), limiting supplies and raising prices. As ironworking improved, iron became cheaper; and as cultures advanced from wrought iron to forged iron, they learned how to make steel, which is stronger than bronze and holds a sharper edge longer.

Source: Wikipedia

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