Europe at the Dawn of the Bronze Age.

Volker M Heyd

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


What is the Early Bronze Age after all? When we are looking at the various European countries and address this question at the regional level, we are certainly able to find a lot of scholarly publications that give us more or less useful definitions and interpretations, name the archaeological culture(s), graves, hoards and settlements that represent its beginnings, and accurately date, both relative and absolute, their beginnings, apogee and end. But as soon as one tries to approach this question at the international level, or even attempts to oversee the wider European picture, then the task becomes very complex.
This leaves us in a situation in which we need to offer criteria that help us understanding the mechanisms that make the EBA different from the preceding Copper Age. In doing so, we may certainly not leave aside the different regional traditions, peculiarities and methodological approaches; it always is a Europe of the regions. Drawing from these, one immediately gets aware of other important factors than the still widely used tin-bronze presence/absence. Such are, for example, arguments of cultural complexity, of levels of social and/or economic organisation, settlement choices and continuities, of trade and long-range exchange networks, of exotic and prestigious artefacts, of precious metals, the objects made of it and of their sheer weight, and of new ways of accumulating, thesauring and depositing them.
Dismissing any attempt of establishing such defined EBA structures in the 4th and at the beginnings of the 3rd millennium BC, and even confining those from the second quarter of the 3rd millennium BC to an emerging centre in the Aegean and the southern Adriatic, the focus of the article inevitably lies on the period of c.2500-2200 BC. Here, three peripheries could be observed that firstly display these new ideas, values and achievements: the eastern and western Balkans and the southern Central Mediterranean; a fourth periphery might eventually be seen in SE Spain. For the first two centuries there seems only punctual transmission beyond these peripheries. Consequently, the Carpathian basin is only displaying comparable EBA structures in the phase IIb of the Hungarian chronological system when novel regionalized centres emerge around c.2300 BC not only along the Middle Danube corridor (Reinecke A0) but also in northern Italy (Polada) and in SE Spain (El Argar). From now the gradual process accelerates and intensifies all over, and soon the trajectory includes regions further northeast, north and northwest.
While Yamnaya, Corded Ware and Katacombnaya are not playing any significant role in this interplay between c.2500-2200 BC, it is the meeting with the predominantly western and central European Bell Beaker network – in the 25th century BC at the peak of its expanding drive – which forecasts future pattern. Here, the question of identities, of multiple identities and changing identities over time is a key factor in the understanding of this transition from ‘communal beaker’ to ‘personalised cup’ users, from tanged dagger wearers and archers to those presenting the panoply of triangular riveted dagger, axe and halberd, from emblematic dress codes to the full set of metal-rich and exotic dress fittings and jewellery, or simply from ideology to elites. In such, the EBA is, if one wants, a kind of capitalist world in embryo state and it is this re-orientation towards the SE of then people in a new multi-polar world that determines Europe at the Dawn of the Bronze Age.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransition to the Bronze Age.
Subtitle of host publicationInterregional Interaction and Socio-Cultural Change at the Beginning of the Third Millennium BC in the Carpathian Basin and Surrounding Regions.
EditorsVolker Heyd, Gabriella Kulcsar, Vajk Szeverényi
Place of PublicationBudapest
EditionMain Series
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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