IRON AGE, the third of the three periods, Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, into which archaeologists divide prehistoric time; the weapons, utensils and implements being as a general rule made of iron (see Archaeology). The term has no real chronological value, for there has been no universal synchronous sequence of the three epochs in all quarters of the world. Some countries, such as the islands of the South Pacific, the interior of Africa, and parts of North and South America, have passed direct from the Stone to the Iron Age. In Europe the Iron Age may be said to cover the last years of the prehistoric and the early years of the historic periods. In Egypt, Chaldaea, Assyria, China, it reaches far back, to perhaps 4000 years before the Christian era. In Africa, where there has been no Bronze Age, the use of iron succeeded immediately the use of stone. In the Black Pyramid of Abusir (VIth Dynasty), at least 3000 B.C., Gaston Maspero found some pieces of iron, and in the funeral text of Pepi I. (about 3400 B.C.) the metal is mentioned. The use of iron in northern Europe would seem to have been fairly general long before the invasion of Caesar. But iron was not in common use in Denmark until the end of the 1st century A.D. In the north of Russia and Siberia its introduction was even as late as A.D. 800, while Ireland enters upon her Iron Age about the beginning of the 1st century. In Gaul, on the other hand, the Iron Age dates back some Soo years B.C.; while in Etruria the metal was known some six centuries earlier. Homer represents Greece as beginning her Iron Age twelve hundred years before our era. The knowledge of iron spread from the south to the north of Europe. In approaching the East from the north of Siberia or from the south of Greece and the Troad, the history of iron in each country eastward is relatively later; while a review of European countries from the north towards the south shows the latter becoming acquainted with the metal earlier than the former. It is suggested that these facts support the theory that it is from. Africa that iron first came into use. The finding of worked iron in the Great Pyramids seems to corroborate this view. The metal, however, is singularly scarce in collections of Egyptian antiquities. The explanation of this would seem to lie in the fact that the relics are in most cases the paraphernalia of tombs, the funereal vessels and vases, and iron being considered an impure metal by the ancient Egyptians it was never used in their manufacture of these or for any religious purposes. This idea of impurity would seem a further proof of the African origin of iron. It was attributed to Seth, the spirit of evil who according to Egyptian tradition governed the central deserts of Africa. The Iron Age in Europe is characterized by an elaboration of designs in weapons, implements and utensils. These are no longer cast but hammered into shape, and decoration is elaborate curvilixear rather than simple rectilinear, the forms and character of the ornamentation of the northern European weapons resembling in some respects Roman arms, while in others they are peculiar and evidently representative of northern art. The dead were buried in an extended position, while in the preceding Bronze Age cremation had been the rule.
See Lord Avebury, Prehistoric Times (1865; 1900); Sir J. Evans, Ancient Stone Implements (1897); Horae Ferales, or Studies in the Archaeology of Northern Nations, by Kemble (1863); Gaston C. C. Maspero, Guide du Musee de Boulaq, 296; Scotland in Pagan Times - The Iron Age, by Joseph Anderson (1883).
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