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Technological Change: Using Iron

Metallurgical technology eventually helped bring about the end of the Greek Dark Age. Archaeology allows us to see this trend, as in the evidence from the burial of a male about 900 B.C., which consisted of a pit into which was placed a clay pot to hold the dead man's cremated remains. Surrounding the pot were metal weapons including a long sword, spearheads, and knives. The inclusion of weapons of war in a male grave was a continuation of the burial traditions of the Mycenaean Age, but these arms were forged from iron, not bronze, which had been the primary metal of the earlier period (often referred to therefore as the Bronze Age). This difference reflects a significant shift in metallurgy, which took place throughout the Mediterranean region during the early centuries of the first millennium B.C.: iron displacing bronze as the principal metal used to make tools and weapons. Greeks probably learned to work iron1 from voyaging Near Eastern entrepreneurs who brought their skills with them from their homelands. The island of Cyprus seems to have been particularly important as a place where this new technology developed and then was passed on to other places further west. In keeping with the habit of characterizing periods of history from the name of the metal most used at the time, the Dark Age can also be referred to as the Early Iron Age in Greece.

The Greeks, like others in the Near East, turned to iron because they could no longer obtain the tin needed to mix with copper to make bronze. The international trading routes that had once brought tin to Greece and the Near East from distant sources had been disrupted in the upheaval associated with the wide-spread turmoil that affected the eastern Mediterranean region beginning around 1200 B.C. Iron ore, by contrast, was available locally2 in Greece and in other areas throughout the Near East. Iron eventually replaced bronze in many uses, above all in the production of agricultural tools3, swords, and spear points. Bronze remained in use for shields and armor, however. The lower cost of iron tools and weapons meant more people could afford them, and with iron being harder than bronze, implements kept their sharp edges longer.

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