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Archaeology - Bronze Period

3. The accordingly indicates the transition from the later stone age to the third or Bronze Period, which, beginning apparently with the recognition of the native copper as a malleable metal, and then as a material capable of being melted and moulded into form by the application of heat, was followed up by the art of smelting the crude ores so as to extract the metal, and that of mixing metals in diverse proportions so as to prepare an alloy of requisite ductility or hardness, according to the special aims of the artificer.

Along with the full mastery of the working in copper and bronze the skill of the goldsmith was correspondingly developed; and the ornaments of this period, including torques, armlets, beads, and other personal decorations and insignia of office, wrought in gold, are numerous, and often of great beauty. The pottery of the same period exhibits corresponding improve in material, form and ornamentation, though, considering the mimetic and artistic skill shown in the drawings and carvings of the remotest periods, it is remarkable that the primitive pottery of Europe is limited, alike in shape and decoration, to purely arbitrary forms. This is its crudest conventionalism consists almost exclusively of varieties of zigzag patterns scratched or indented on the soft clay. This primitive ornamentation seems so natural, as the first aesthetic promptings of the human mind, that it is difficult, if not in some cases impossible, to distinguish between the simple pottery of comparatively recent origin, recovered on the sites of old American Indian villages, and primitive pottery obtained from British barrows pertaining to centuries long prior to the Christian era. But the fictile ware exhibits an improvement in some degree corresponding to that of the metallurgic art, which everywhere throughout Europe furnishes weapons, implements, and personal ornaments of the bronze period, characterized by much graced and delicacy in form, and by an ornamentation peculiar in style, but not unworthy of the novel forms and material.

It was long assume, alike by historians and antiquaries, that the beautiful bronze swords, spear-heads, shields, torques, armillae, &c., so frequently discovered, were mere relics of foreign conquest or barter, and they were variously assigned to Egyptian, Phoenician, Roman, or Danish origin. But this gratuitous assumption has been disproved by the repeated disco very of the moulds for making them, as well as of the refuse castings, and even of beds of charcoal, scoriae, and other indications of metallurgy, on the sites where they have been found. It has not escaped notice, however, that the transition appears to be an abrupt one from stone to bronze, an alloy requiring skill and experience for its use; and that few examples are recorded of the discovery of copper tools or weapons, though copper is a metal so easily wrought as to have been in use among the Red Indians of America. The inference from this fact is one which all elements of probability tend to confirm, viz., that the metallurgic arts of the north of Europe are derived from a foreign source, whether by conquest or traffic; and that in the beautiful bronze relics so abundant, especially in the British Islands an din Denmark, we see the fruits of that experience which the more ancient civilization of Egypt and Phoenicia had diffused. The direct intercourse between the countries on the Mediterranean and the Cassiterides, or Tin Islands, - as the only known parts of the British Islands are called in the earliest allusions which are made to them by Herodotus, Aristotle, and Polybius, - abundantly accounts for the introduction of such knowledge to the native Britons at a very remote period. Phoenician and Carthaginian merchant ships traded to Cornwall centuries before the white cliffs of Albion were first seen from the roman war-galleys. Greece also, not improbably, proved a mediator in this all-important transfer. It is at least to be noted that the forms of weapons, and especially of the beautiful "leaf-shaped sword," as figured on the most ancient painted Greek vases, closely correspond to the most characteristic relics of the bronze period in the north of Europe and the British Isles.

In reviewing the characteristics of this bronze period, the disclosures of native art on the American continent supply some singularly interesting and suggestive illustrations. There, throughout the whole northern regions of the North American continent and in the ruder areas of South America, as well as in the West Indian archipelago, a population was found consisting exclusively of rude nomad hunters, in a pure stone period of primitive savage art. Nor does it at all conflict with this that the were to a certain extent familiar with the resource of the rich copper regions of Lake Superior, where that metal is found in enormous masses in a malleable state. This they procured, and not only themselves employed it in the manufacture of weapons, implements, and personal ornaments, but distributed it by barter far down the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, and eastward to the great lakes, to the St Lawrence valley, and to the Hudson river. Silver and lead are also found in the same rich mineral region in metallic crystals, and were not unknown to the native tribes. But everywhere those metals were cold-wrought, as a mere malleable stone capable of being hammered into any desired shape, but in total ignorance of the influence of fire or the use of alloys.

But wholly distinct from its rude Indian tribes, North America had its semi-civilised Mexicans and South America its more highly civilized Peruvians, who had learned to mine and smelt the ores of the Andes, and make metallic alloys wherewith to fashion for themselves bronze tools of requisite hardness for quarrying and hewing the solid rock. With these they sculptured the statues of their gods, and reared palaces, temples, and pyramids, graven with elaborate sculptures and hieroglyphics by a people wholly ignorant of iron, which have not injustly suggested many striking analogies with the megalithic art of ancient Egypt. The huacas, or tombs of the Incas of Peru, and also their royal depositories of treasure, have disclosed many remarkable specimens of elaborate metallurgic skill, - braclets, collars, and other personal ornaments of gold; vases of the same abundant precious metal, and also of silver; mirrors of burnished silver, as well as of obsidian; finely-adjusted silver balances; bells both of silver and bronze; and numerous common articles and tools of copper, or of the more efficient alloy of copper and tin,- all illustrative of the arts and civilisation of a purely bronze age.

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