Across cultures: The introduction of iron in the western Mediterranean, 10th and 9th centuries BC

Nijboer, A. J., 2018, Craft production systems in a cross-cultural perspective: Studien zur Wirtschaftsarchaeologie, Band 1 . Bentz, M. & Helms, T. (eds.). Bonn: Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH, p. 61-81 21 p.

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The transition from Bronze to Iron Age in the western Mediterranean during the 10th and 9th centuries BC is based on the awareness of the inherent advantages of the metal iron over copper-alloys when it comes to two contrary attributes, hardness and malleability. Both qualities of iron/steel could and were manipulated during smelting of the iron-ores and the subsequent smiting. It created perfect implements of all kinds, most of which can nowadays still be bought in hardware stores. The paper examines the structural, generic introduction of this novel metal in mainly Italy and Spain/Portugal. It presents well-published sites where relatively much early iron was excavated in combination with related radiocarbon dates. It turns out that the intrinsic qualities of iron are appreciated mainly in iron/steel knives from the 10th century BC onwards after which the repertoire of iron tools and weapons rapidly enlarged till it became the prevailing metal for all tools and weapons in a couple of centuries. The technological transfer involved, appears related to the Phoenicians, who crossed the whole Mediterranean from the 11th – 10th century BC onwards, well before the establishment of permanent overseas settlements. Local overland networks on the Italian Peninsula and in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula resulted in the distribution of the early iron artefacts. In Italy the accompanying technological know-how seems to have spread along these landlocked arteries as well.
Another benefit in this transition from bronze to iron is the availability of terrestrial metal-ores; iron-ores are far more ubiquitous than copper- and tin-ores necessary for the manufacture of bronze. Therefore, the growing use of iron as a base-metal and the local/regional exploitation of iron-ores inevitably resulted in its devaluation. This process of deflation is best recorded in the Near and Middle East from onward the 11th – 10th centuries BC. However, it must successively have occurred in the western Mediterranean, especially during the 8th century BC and later. These intricate topics concerning the introduction of iron are described with moderation since the associated archaeological data for the 10th and 9th century BC are improving but still remain somewhat patchy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCraft production systems in a cross-cultural perspective
Subtitle of host publicationStudien zur Wirtschaftsarchaeologie, Band 1
EditorsMartin Bentz, Tobias Helms
Place of PublicationBonn
PublisherVerlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)978-3-7749-4124-3
Publication statusPublished - 2018

ID: 65269212