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Iron Age

In archaeology, the Iron Age was the stage in the development of any people in which tools and weapons whose main ingredient was iron were prominent. The adoption of this material coincided with other changes in some past societies often including differing agricultural practices, religious beliefs and artistic styles, although this was not always the case.

The Iron Age is the last principal period in the three-age system for classifying pre-historic societies, preceded by the Bronze Age. Its date and context vary depending on the country or geographical region.

Classically, the Iron Age is taken to begin in the 12th century BC in the ancient Near East, ancient India, and ancient Greece. In other regions of Europe, it started much later. The Iron Age began in the 8th century BC in Central Europe and the 6th century BC in Northern Europe. Iron use, in smelting and forging for tools, appears in West Africa by 1200 BC, making it one of the first places for the birth of the Iron Age.

The Iron Age is usually said to end in the Mediterranean with the onset of historical tradition during Hellenism and the Roman Empire, in India with the onset of Buddhism and Jainism, in China with the onset of Confucianism, and in Northern Europe with the early Middle Ages.

By the Middle Bronze Age, increasing numbers of smelted iron objects appeared throughout Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Indian subcontinent, the Levant, the Mediterranean, and Egypt. In some places, their use appears to have been ceremonial, and during the Bronze Age iron was an expensive metal, more expensive than gold. Some sources suggest that iron was being created in some places then as a by-product of copper refining, as sponge iron, and was not reproducible by the metallurgy of the time.

The earliest systematic production and use of iron implements originates in Anatolia. West African production of iron began at around the same time, and seems to have been clearly an independent invention. Recent archaeological research at Ganges Valley, India showed early iron working by 1800 BC. By 1200 BC, iron was widely used in the Middle East but did not supplant the dominant use of bronze for some time.

People made tools from bronze before they figured out how to make them from iron because iron's melting point is higher than that of bronze or its components, which makes it more difficult to make tools from iron.

During the Iron Age, the best tools and weapons were made from steel, which is an alloy consisting mostly of iron. Steel weapons and tools were superior to bronze weapons and tools. But steel was difficult to produce with the methods available at the time, and most of the metal produced in the Iron Age was wrought iron. Wrought iron is weaker than bronze, but people switched anyway. Iron is much cheaper than bronze, since it is much more common than copper and tin, which are the ingredients of bronze.

At around 1800 BC, for reasons as yet unascertained by archaeologists, tin became scarce in the Levant, leading to a crisis of bronze production. Copper itself seemed to be in short supply. Various "pirate" groups around the Mediterranean, from around 1800-1700 BC onward, began to attack fortified cities in search of bronze, to remelt into weaponry.

Bronze was much more abundant in the period before the 12th to 10th century and Snodgrass and other authors suggest a shortage of tin, as a result of trade disruptions in the Mediterranean at this time, forced peoples to seek an alternative to bronze. This is confirmed by the fact that for a period, bronze items were recycled from implements to weapons, just before the introduction of iron.

Iron working was introduced to Europe around 1000 BC, probably from Asia Minor and slowly spread northwards and westwards over the succeeding 500 years.

The early 1st millennium BC marks the Iron Age in Eastern Europe. In the Pontic steppe and the Caucasus region, the Iron Age begins with the Koban and the Chernogorovka and Novocherkassk cultures from 900 BC.

Along with Chernogorovka and Novocherkassk cultures, on the territory of ancient Russia and Ukraine the Iron Age is to a significant extent associated with Scythians, who developed iron culture since the 7th century BC. The majority of remains of their iron producing and blacksmith's industries from 5th to 3rd century BC was found near Nikopol in Kamenskoe Gorodishche, which is believed to be the specialized metallurgic region of the ancient Scythia.

The Iron Age spreads west with the Celtic expansion from the 6th century BC. The ethnic ascriptions of many Iron Age cultures have been bitterly contested, as the roots of Germanic, Baltic and Slavic peoples were sought in this area.


Parpola, Asko (2005), "Study of the ancient script", Transactions of the 50th International Conference of Eastern Studies


Drew, David (2004)

“Three Periods of Maya History”


New edition, London: Phoenix Press

The Maya civilization is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as its spectacular art, monumental architecture, and sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Preclassic period, many of these reached their apogee of development during the Classic period (c. 250 to 900), and continued throughout the Postclassic period until the arrival of the Spanish. At its peak, it was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world.

The Maya civilization shares many features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the high degree of interaction and cultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya; however, their civilization fully developed them. Maya influence can be detected as far as central Mexico, more than 1000 km (625 miles) from the Maya area. Many outside influences are found in Maya art and architecture, which are thought to result from trade and cultural exchange rather than direct external conquest. The Maya peoples never disappeared, neither at the time of the Classic period decline nor with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the subsequent Spanish colonization of the Americas. Today, the Maya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area and maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideologies (and structured by the almost total adoption of Roman Catholicism). Many different Mayan languages continue to be spoken as primary languages today.

The Maya area is generally divided into three loosely defined zones: the southern Maya highlands, the southern (or central) Maya lowlands, and the northern Maya lowlands.

While the Maya area was initially inhabited around the 10th millennium BC, the first clearly "Maya" settlements were established in approximately 1800 BC in the Pacific Coast. This point in time, known as the Early Preclassic, was characterized by sedentary communities and the introduction of pottery and fired clay figurines.

Archaeological evidence suggests the construction of ceremonial architecture in Maya area by approximately 1000 BC. The earliest configurations of such architecture consist of simple burial mounds, which would be the precursors to the stepped pyramids subsequently erected in the Late Preclassic. Prominent Middle and Late Preclassic settlement zones are located in the southern Maya lowlands. The important early sites of Izapa, Takalik Abaj and Chocolá at around 600 BC were the main producers of Cacao.

The Classic period (c. 250–900) witnessed the peak of large-scale construction and urbanism, the recording of monumental inscriptions, and a period of significant intellectual and artistic development, particularly in the southern lowland regions. They developed an agriculturally intensive, city-centered empire consisting of numerous independent city-states. This includes the well-known cities of Tikal, Palenque, Copán and Calakmul.

The most notable monuments are the pyramids they built in their religious centers and the accompanying palaces of their rulers. The palace at Cancuen is the largest in the Maya area, though the site, interestingly, lacks pyramids. Other important archaeological remains include the carved stone slabs (the Maya called them tetun, or "tree-stones"), which depict rulers along with hieroglyphic texts describing their genealogy, military victories, and other accomplishments.

The Maya participated in long distance trade with many of the other Mesoamerican cultures. Important trade goods included cacao, salt, sea shells, jade and obsidian.

For reasons that are still debated, the Maya centers of the southern lowlands went into decline during the 8th and 9th centuries and were abandoned shortly thereafter. This decline was coupled with a cessation of monumental inscriptions and large-scale architectural construction. Although there is no universally accepted theory to explain this “collapse,” current theories fall into two categories: non-ecological and ecological.

Non-ecological theories of Maya decline are divided into several subcategories, such as overpopulation, foreign invasion, peasant revolt, and the collapse of key trade routes. Ecological hypotheses include environmental disaster, epidemic disease, and climate change. There is evidence that the Mayan population exceeded carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and overhunting of megafauna. Some scholars have recently theorized that an intense 200 year drought led to the collapse of Mayan civilization. The drought theory originated from research performed by physical scientists studying lake beds, ancient pollen, and other data, not from the archaeological community.

During the succeeding Postclassic period (from the 10th to the early 16th century), development in the northern centers persisted, characterized by an increasing diversity of external influences. The Maya cities of the northern lowlands in Yucatán continued to flourish for centuries more. After the decline of the ruling dynasties of Chichen and Uxmal, Mayapan ruled all of Yucatán until a revolt in 1450. The area then degenerated into competing city-states until the Yucatán was conquered by the Spanish.

Shortly after their first expeditions to the region, the Spanish initiated a number of attempts to subjugate the Maya and establish a colonial presence in the Maya territories of the Yucatán Peninsula and the Guatemalan highlands. This campaign, sometimes termed "The Spanish Conquest of Yucatán," would prove to be a lengthy and dangerous exercise for the conquistadores from the outset, and it would take some 170 years before the Spanish established substantive control over all Maya lands.

Unlike the Spanish campaigns against the Aztec and Inca Empires, there was no single Maya political center which once overthrown would hasten the end of collective resistance from the indigenous peoples. Instead, the conquistador forces needed to subdue the numerous independent Maya polities almost one by one, many of which kept up a fierce resistance. Most of the conquistadores were motivated by the prospects of the great wealth to be had from the seizure of precious metal resources such as gold or silver; however, the Maya lands themselves were poor in these resources. This would become another factor in forestalling Spanish designs of conquest, as they instead were initially attracted to the reports of great riches in central Mexico or Peru.

The last Maya states, the Itza polity of Tayasal and the Ko'woj city of Zacpeten, were continuously occupied and remained independent of the Spanish until late in the 17th century. They were finally subdued by the Spanish in 1697.



James P. Mallory


“Chernyakhov Culture”


Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, 1997


The Chernyakhiv culture (also known as Cherniakhov culture) (the second century to the fifth century) was found in Ukraine and parts of Belarus. The eponymous site is the village of Cherniakhiv in Ukraine's Kyiv Oblast. It existed in the 2nd-5th centuries AD. Around the year 300, the culture extended into Romania where it is called the Sîntana de Mureş culture. It is attested to in thousands of sites.

The archaeological record shows that the population of the Wielbark culture had settled in the area and mixed with the previous populations of the Zarubintsy culture. This cultural movement is interpreted as the migration of the Goths under the leadership of Filimer, of which the Goth scholar Jordanes wrote in the sixth century.

In the last decades of the second century, the Goths appear to have settled in Masovia, Podlachia and Volynia regions, but some of them moved to the area just north-west of the Black Sea.

The second wave of Germanic migrants arrived in the mid-third century, and most of them settled between the Dniester and the lower Dnieper, including the Cherniakhiv area.

Most of the population appears to have been Sarmatians who lived between the lower Danube and the Sea of Azov, as well as Slavs. In the west, there may have been some Dacians and Getae. The Sarmatians practiced inhumation while those deriving from the north, i.e., elements descended from the Zarubintsy culture, continued urnfield practices.

In linguistic terms, it is said that this is the time and place where Slavic and Iranian borrowed lexical items from each other, and where Slavic picked up many of its Germanic loanwords. (Gothic, however, has few Slavic loanwords).

Archaeologists have found fibulae, combs and amulets showing contacts with not only Scandinavia, but also with Central Europe.


Anna Reid

“Borderland: A Journey Through

the History of Ukraine”


London, Orion Books, 1998


The territory of Ukraine was a key centre of East Slavic culture in the Middle Ages, before being divided between a variety of powers. However, the history of Ukraine dates back many thousands of years. The territory has been settled continuously since at least 5000 BC, and is also the site of the origins of the Proto-Indo-European language family.

Human settlement on the territory of Ukraine has been documented into distant prehistory. The late Neolithic Trypillian culture flourished from about 4500 BC to 3000 BC. The Copper Age people of the Trypillian culture were resided in the western part, and the Sredny Stog further east, succeeded by the early Bronze Age Yamna ("Kurgan") culture of the steppes, and by the Catacomb culture in the 3rd millennium BC.

During the Iron Age, these were followed by the Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, among other nomadic peoples. The Scythian Kingdom existed here from 750 BC to 250 BC. Along with ancient Greek colonies founded from the 6th century BC on the north-eastern shore of the Black Sea, the colonies of Tyras, Olbia, and Hermonassa perpetuated by Roman and Byzantine cities until the 6th century AD.

In the 3rd century AD, the Goths arrived in the lands of Ukraine around 250 AD to 375 AD, which they called Oium, corresponding to the archaeological Chernyakhov culture. The Ostrogoths stayed in the area but came under the sway of the Huns from the 370s. North of the Ostrogothic kingdom was the Kyiv culture, flourishing from the 2nd to 5th centuries, when it was overrun by the Huns. After they helped defeat the Huns at the battle of Nedao in 454, the Ostrogoths were allowed to settle in Pannonia.

With the power vacuum created with the end of Hunnic and Gothic rule, Slavic tribes, possibly emerging from the remnants of the Kyiv culture, began to expand over much of what is now Ukraine during the 5th century, and beyond to the Balkans from the 6th century.

In the 7th century, the territory of modern Ukraine was the core of the state of the Bulgars (often referred to as Great Bulgaria) with its capital city of Phanagoria. At the end of the 7th century, most Bulgar tribes migrated in several directions and the remains of their state were absorbed by the Khazars, a semi-nomadic people from Central Asia.

The Khazars founded the Khazar kingdom in the southeastern part of today's Europe, near the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. The kingdom included western Kazakhstan, and parts of eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, southern Russia, and Crimea.


J. P. Mallory

“Tripolye Culture”


Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, 1997.


The Cucuteni culture, better known in the countries of the former Soviet Union as Trypillian culture or Tripolie culture, is a late Neolithic archaeological culture that flourished between ca. 5500 BC and 2750 BC in the Dniester-Dnieper region of modern-day Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The culture was named after Cucuteni, Iaşi county, Romania, where the first objects associated with this culture were discovered in 1884 and excavations started in 1909. In 1897, similar objects were excavated in Trypillia (Трипiлля), Ukraine. As a result, the culture has been known in Soviet, Russian, and Ukrainian publications as Tripolie culture or Tripolian culture. A compromise name is Cucuteni-Trypillia.

As of 2003, about 2000 sites of Trypillian culture have been identified in Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova. The "culture is attested from well over a thousand sites in the form of everything from small villages to vast settlements comprised of hundreds of dwellings surrounded by multiple ditches" (Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture). There were cities with 10-15,000 citizens in the Tripolye culture. It was centered on the middle to upper Dniester River with an extension in the northeast to as far as the Dnieper.

The largest collection of artifacts from the Cucuteni-Trypollia culture can be found in museums in Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, including the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Museum of History & Archaeology in Piatra Neamţ.

The Cucuteni culture has been called the first urban culture in Europe. The Trypollia settlements were usually located on a plateau, fortified with earthworks and ditches. The earliest villages consisted of ten to fifteen households. In their heyday, settlements expanded to include several hundred large adobe huts, sometimes with two stories. These houses were typically warmed by an oven and had round windows.

Agriculture is attested to, as well as livestock-raising, mainly consisting of cattle, but goats/sheep and swine are also evidenced. Wild game is a regular part of the faunal remains. The pottery is connected to the Linear Pottery culture. Copper was extensively imported from the Balkans. Extant figurines excavated at the Cucuteni sites are thought to represent the Mother goddess.


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