Bronze Age and the transformation of Neolithic societies in Europe


This is 19 cm long  Bronze Age lance head from an old S/W-German Collection. A very fine example of prehistoric weaponry. When we consider the beauty of Bronze Age weapons, we must not forget the terror brought by specialized warriors on Bronze  Age communities.

The concept of dividing prehistorical ages into systems based on different materials was introduced by the Danish archaeologist Christian Juergensen Thomsen (1788–1865). Thomsen was able to use the Danish national collection of antiquities and the records of their finds as well as reports from contemporaneous excavations to provide a solid empirical basis for the system. He showed that artifacts could be classified into types and that these types varied over time in ways that correlated with the predominance of stone, bronze or iron implements and weapons.

This kind of epochalism has much criticized. For example Graham Connah asserts: “So many archaeological writers have used this model for so long that for many readers it has taken on a reality of its own. In spite of the theoretical agonizing of the last half-century, epochalism is still alive and well … Even in parts of the world where the model is still in common use, it needs to be accepted that, for example, there never was actually such a thing as ‘the Bronze Age.”

Anyhow we have still to ask for the impact of metals on society, social systems, social agency and ideologies.  Many researchers argue that that there is a qualitative difference between Neolithic and Bronze Age social formations in prehistoric Europe, which fundamentally changed both their worldviews and their political economies.


During the Bronze Age we see the development of permanent higher-level institutions in charge of trade and alliance formation. There was a rapid development of inter-regional economic dependency and new levels of division of labor compared to the preceding times.

One aspect of  this transformation was the the formation of a complete new set of weapons (swords, lances, protective body amour) and for the first time the formation of more permanent warrior groups and retinues, which among other things is evidenced by systematic use wear on swords and lances, and trauma on skeletons. These new weapons were much more deadly and efficient than anything preceding them, and the warriors also demanded regular training to master effective swordsmanship. In short the swords introduced a new institution of warrior elites with retinues that could be mobilized and hired as mercenaries when needed. This new panoply of weapons was to be in continued use until historical times , and it became an institution that could be mobilized by chiefly leaders, but which could also overthrow them….IMG_4428




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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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One Response to Bronze Age and the transformation of Neolithic societies in Europe

  1. Marnie Dunsmore says:

    “During the Bronze Age we see the development of permanent higher-level institutions in charge of trade and alliance formation. There was a rapid development of inter-regional economic dependency and new levels of division of labor compared to the preceding times.”

    Read David Thompson. Native Americans had long ranging trade relationships and inter-regional economic dependencies without metal. Even before the horse, they traded for stone, beads, shells, furs, dried meat, hides, art, ochre, medicinal and culinary herbs, lumber, tobacco, and weapons. They had a highly developed sign language to facilitate trade and communication between different groups. Native Americans also fought in formation, and used shields. The Blackfoot even have specific works for these military formations. Some West Coast Native groups used body armor made from hide. So, if all of these existed in North America before the introduction of metal, it does raise the question as to when formation fighting, body armor, shields, and lances appeared in Europe.

    It is doubtful that the Bronze age had much to do with the initial development of trade networks. These networks likely existed before the Bronze Age.

    Victor David Hanson argues that until the Late Iron Age in Europe, professional warrior classes and mercenaries were not common. See “The Western Way of War” and “A War Like No Other” (both my Hanson). Troops were raised mostly from farmers trying to defend their farmland.

    The Blackfoot were doing the same thing: most of their wars and skirmishes with adjacent peoples were fought to defend their very well defined hunting territory bounded by the Rocky Mountains on the West, the Saskatchewan River on the Northeast and the Missouri River on the South.

    So again, while metal must certainly have been an advantage, the changes it brought were mapped onto an existing framework of trade, defense, and social networks.

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