Stone Age man's first use of ‘native metals’ (metals found in nuggets and seams) occurred in the Neolithic period over 8000 years ago.
Of these native metals — mainly gold, silver and copper — Neolithic man discovered that copper could be worked into serviceable tools, and the Copper Age, sometime called the ‘Chalcolithic’ meaning ‘copper-stone’ age, began.
However, it was the introduction of arsenic to molten copper which revolutionised metalwork and brought about the end of the stone age. Arsenic — a metal that occurs naturally with copper, and would almost certainly have been encountered in Neolithic copper mines, when alloyed with copper produces BRONZE.
This discovery was made over 7000 years ago in the Middle East, and very soon, ancient man smelted bronze for not only tools and weapons, but for jewellery, building materials, coins, art, sculptures and many other things.
Two thousand years later, around the 3rd millennium BCE, tin was alloyed with copper to produce the bronze we know today.
Timeless specialises in the collection and display of Bronze Age axes, spearheads and arrowheads, which we believe to be among the most enigmatic of artefacts. While each of these ancient finds is unique, a brief summary of some of the types of Bronze Age tools and weapons is given below.
The first copper axes were brought into Britain around 4500 years ago by the Beaker people as they migrated from continental Western Europe. There are several different types of these early copper axes, and Timeless occasionally offers them for sale framed or mounted.
The earliest axes were flat, trapezoidal in shape and with a thick butt and flared blade as seen above, dating from around 4500-4300 years ago. Later developments of the early Bronze Age flat axe saw the introduction of lateral flanges running along the length of the axe.
Late Neolithic / Chalcolithic Copper Flat Axe, c. 2500 BCE
Middle Bronze Age Palstave Axe Head. c. 1500 BCE
Sometime after 2000 BCE, the inhabitants of Britain learned the technique of copper working, and around five hundred years later, the production of tin-based bronze. Here we see the development of the Palstave Axe — erroneously named after the Icelandic 'Paalstab', a type of digging tool.
The Palstave Axehead is a delight to own. They are usually decorated on the blade with ribs or grooves, and later versions were cast with loops to allow the axe to be strapped to a wooden haft using leather thongs - above is an example of a Middle Bronze Age palstave axe head (and how they were hafted), dating from around 1500 BCE.
Towards the end of the Bronze Age in Britain, around 1000 BCE, the composition of bronze began to change with lead largely replacing tin (perhaps due to dwindling tin reserves in Cornwall and Devon). The lead-bronze mixture was easy to use, and foundry workers were able to produce ever larger and more decorative pieces.
Here we find the first appearance of the
These represent some of the most finely cast and beautiful examples of Bronze Age axes, and fall into three broad categories: the Northern English axes with broad, stout forms, the Irish axes which are referred to as 'baggy' in shape, and the south-eastern axes which are longer and narrower than the other axes.
As with palstave axes, the small loop on the side of socketed axes would have been used to help secure the axe head to the haft.
Looped and Socketed Axe. c. 1000 - 600 BCE
Leaf-Shaped Spearhead. Blackmoor Hoard
The earliest were slender and leaf-shaped with a reinforcing ovate midrib and cast with tangs (thin protrusions at the base of the spearhead) which fitted into a slit at the end of the spear’s shaft —an example of this type can be seen here.
Bronze Age Spears
Early Bronze Age Spearhead with Rat-Tail Tang. c. 2500 BCE
Alongside its use as a hunting implement, the spear appears in virtually every culture that ever engaged in mass combat.
They were cheap to produce, relatively easy to use, and very effective in formation fighting. In archaeological discourse, spears are often distinguished from javelins by their use: spears are thrusting weapons, javelins are thrown. Consequently, spearheads tend to be heavier and more robust than javelin heads, although there is much overlap
By 2000 BCE, spearheads had evolved to produce kite-shaped blades, and the tang had been replaced with a socket which would be affixed to the staff with bronze or wooden pegs. Many spearheads of this type have been discovered in the wetlands and peat bogs of Ireland
By the mid to late British Bronze Age (1500-700 BCE), the spearhead had developed many different forms, including the addition of side or basal loops in a similar manner to the Bronze Age axe heads. The blades may be leaf-shaped, triangular, barbed, or flame-shaped as seen in the beautiful example above.
Middle Bronze Age Flame-Shaped Spearhead . c. 1000 BCE
In Britain, bronze tools and projectile or thrusting weapons (including spearheads) continued to be produced well into the Celtic Iron Age (after around 700 BCE), as iron was preferred for edged or cutting weapons, e.g, swords, knives and rapiers.
Spearheads represent some of the most beautiful artefacts of the late Bronze Age. The example on the left was discovered in a hoard of Bronze Age artefacts in Hampshire, and now resides in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.
Barbed and tanged flint arrowheads continued to be manufactured well into the early Bronze Age (2500 - 1500 BCE), and it is therefore no surprise that the earliest bronze arrowheads were similar in shape and nature to Neolithic flint arrowheads
Arrowheads of this period are rarely found in Britain, and the majority of early Bronze Age arrowheads acquired by Timeless have a Southern European or Western Asian provenance.
Early Bronze Age Barbed and Tanged Arrowhead, Ancient Persia
During the early Bronze Age, archers were of low status and largely neglected in warfare, as is evident by the grave-goods of the period. Most warrior burials contained only swords, spearheads, daggers, jewellery and ceramics, with the exception of equestrian tribes (such as the Sarmatians and Scythians) whose primary weapon was the bow and arrow.
Consequently, most early Bronze Age arrowheads were made of flint, chert or obsidian, and it wasn’t until the Middle Bronze Age (1500 – 1100 BCE) that bronze arrowheads were produced in large numbers. On the left is an example of an arrowhead from this period. As can be seen, the arrowhead displays a ‘leaf-shaped’ blade that were typical of hunting arrows.
It was during the Middle Bronze Age that the archer came to prominence. So much so, in fact, that the infantry’s main role became one of a defensive line behind which chariot archers could regroup and rearm, and there is evidence to suggest that the archer dominated the battlefield during this period, whether from a chariot or on foot.
Perhaps the most obvious development in the Middle to Late Bronze Age was the introduction of the socketed arrowhead.
In warfare, socketed arrowheads were often affixed to the shaft lightly, typically using animal fat or wax, and often just moments before the arrows were fired. This resulted in the arrowhead remaining in the flesh of its target (or the ground if it missed), and prevented the enemy from picking up the arrows and firing them back. Below is a stunning example of a late Bronze Age / early Iron Age barbed and socketed arrowhead.
Late Bronze Age Barbed and Socketed Arrowhead. Scythia.
By the late Bronze Age, arrows’ dominance gave way to javelins as armour improved, and archery became less effective in warfare. The arrowhead would not see a true resurgence on the battlefield until the development of the armour-piercing arrow during the Iron Age.
Timeless Galleries are indebted to the following authors for much of the information on this blog:
Logan Thompson (Ancient Weapons in Britain), R. Ewart Oakshott (The Archaeology of Weapons), Dan Howard (Bronze Age Military Equipment), P. R. S Moorey (Ancient Bronzes from Luristan)
Francois Bordes (The Old Stone Age), Charles Ede (Collecting Antiquities), Richard Hattatt (Brooches from Antiquity; Iron Age and Roman Brooches), Miranda J. Green (Celtic World)
Oliver Jessop (A New Artefact Typology for the Study of Medieval Arrowheads), Hazel Martingell (The Illustration of Lithic Artefacts)