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Copper Age: Overview & Features

Sasha Blakeley, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Sasha Blakeley

    Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

    Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

When was the copper age? Learn about the chalcolithic age, features of the chalcolithic age, and chalcolithic age animals. Also, read about chalcolithic sites.

What is the Copper Age? Many people have heard of the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, but the Copper Age is less commonly discussed. Without the Copper Age, however, it would have been impossible for humans to transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. The official name for the Copper Age is the Chalcolithic Age or Chalcolithic period. The word ''Chalcolithic'' comes from the Greek words khalkós, meaning ''copper'' and lithos, meaning ''stone.'' This indicates the connection between copper and stone in the tool use of the people who lived during the Copper Age.

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The Chalcolithic Period

At one point, all human societies relied on stone tool technology. Eventually, some of these cultures started the process of developing agriculture, still with stone tools, which we call the Neolithic period, or New Stone Age. Then, many societies discovered bronze, which kicked off what historians call the Bronze Age. The transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age took experimentation, failure, and innovation, creating a society that actually relied on bronze tools.

The period between the late Neolithic and the early Bronze Age, during which human societies started experimenting with metal tools and slowly reorganizing their societies, is called the Chalcolithic period. Like the Stone Ages and the Bronze Age, it's also named after the material that changed everything. Welcome to the Copper Age.

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  • 0:04 The Chalcolithic Period
  • 0:57 Starting the Copper Age
  • 2:08 Social Changes in the…
  • 3:24 The End of the Copper Age
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Prior to the use of metal in tools, humans used tools that were primarily made out of stone. Eventually, however, humans began to learn that it was possible to mine metals that could then be heated, shaped, and cooled to make stronger, lighter, and often more effective tools than humans could make from stone. Copper was a common choice for tool production for several reasons:

  • It is relatively abundant
  • It can be found naturally in the form of pure copper
  • It is relatively easy to smelt compared to other metals prevalent at the time
  • It can produce sharp and effective tools

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Life in the Copper Age was very different from life today. However, a surprising number of innovations were made possible through the use of copper, drastically changing the way that people lived. Different societies used copper differently, and this in itself is important. While copper was smelted in several different societies, it was also traded over great distances. Copper was one of the first trade goods to be traded on an intercontinental scale.

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The Chalcolithic Age provided a very different living experience for people than the vast majority of people experience today. Features of Chalcolithic Age societies included:

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The Copper Age came about in large part because of climate change. After the last Ice Age ended (around 11,000 years ago), there was a relatively abundant growth of plant and animal populations in regions that had previously been covered by ice. People enjoyed a fruitful existence during which agriculture was developed and often used alongside hunter-gatherer techniques. Later, the climate changed again, becoming drier and warmer. People became less able to rely on hunting and gathering, agriculture and ranching became more essential. This meant that people also relied more heavily on tools to produce their food. This may have been just the push that people needed to create copper tools.

Domesticated cattle were important Chalcolithic Age animals

Chalcolithic Age animals were important for the survival of communities

By the Chalcolithic Age, several species of animals had been domesticated and were regularly used in pastoral communities around the world. These Chalcolithic Age animals included sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle, which were used for their meat, milk, and possibly labor. Some archaeological evidence also suggests that horse riding began during the Chalcolithic Age, particularly in Eurasia. In addition to domesticated animals, Copper Age people had a heavy reliance on hunting animals for food and for clothing.

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There are many examples of Copper Age archaeological sites that are in many cases still being studied to learn about what life was like for Chalcolithic people. Examples of famous sites include:

  • The Nahal Mishmar Treasure is a collection of more than 400 copper artifacts found near the Dead Sea that date to around 3,500 BCE.
  • Wadi Faynan is a river valley where evidence of the copper trade between modern-day Jordan and Israel has been found.
  • A Copper Age village in the Besheeba Valley in Israel dates back to 4,200 BCE and may have housed around 1,000 people.
  • Azután in Spain has evidence of a later Copper Age village dating to around 2,000 BCE.

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While copper is no longer used to make weapons or tools, it still has a number of uses. Several automobile components are made out of copper, as are essential parts of communications systems. It can be used to conduct electricity and is sometimes valued for its antimicrobial properties.

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The Copper Age, or Chalcolithic Age, was a period of human history that came after the New Stone Age (Neolithic) and before the Bronze Age. The Copper Age most likely began on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but other societies also used copper for many years. The Copper Age was likely brought about by:

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Starting the Copper Age

The Copper Age was a time of profound social and cultural change. It should be noted that not all societies started this process at the same time, or in the same way. Some never adopted metal at all. However, many of these changes first occurred around the eastern Mediterranean. The story begins around the end of the 5th millennium BCE. The climate, which had been great for agriculture, became drier, and many societies returned to hunter-gatherer lifestyles. With the domestication of animals that had occurred, many also resorted to pastoral ranching rather than crop farming. All of this brought people into fiercer competition for resources and encouraged experimentation with new materials for more efficient tools.

Two metals suddenly became attractive candidates. One was gold. Gold is pretty and easy to work with, but is extremely soft and isn't great for tools; so, people used it for jewelry. However, gold is often found alongside another mineral: copper. Copper is relatively easy to heat and work into various shapes, but is much stronger than gold once cooled. Ancient craftspeople had their new material.

The distribution of copper technology, with darkest being the oldest
Map

Social Changes in the Copper Age

The true Copper Age is considered to have lasted from around 3500 to 2300 BCE. During this time, human societies began widely utilizing copper for a variety of reasons. They used it to make metal tools for agriculture, construction, and other aspects of daily life. They were still using stone tools as well, but metal was becoming pretty appealing. They also used copper for weapons, to defend their resources in this era of competition. Warriors quickly rose to the top of society as elite and respected protectors of the village.

Copper-tipped axe found on the famous Copper Age mummy named Otzi
Copper axe

Video Transcript

The Chalcolithic Period

At one point, all human societies relied on stone tool technology. Eventually, some of these cultures started the process of developing agriculture, still with stone tools, which we call the Neolithic period, or New Stone Age. Then, many societies discovered bronze, which kicked off what historians call the Bronze Age. The transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age took experimentation, failure, and innovation, creating a society that actually relied on bronze tools.

The period between the late Neolithic and the early Bronze Age, during which human societies started experimenting with metal tools and slowly reorganizing their societies, is called the Chalcolithic period. Like the Stone Ages and the Bronze Age, it's also named after the material that changed everything. Welcome to the Copper Age.

Starting the Copper Age

The Copper Age was a time of profound social and cultural change. It should be noted that not all societies started this process at the same time, or in the same way. Some never adopted metal at all. However, many of these changes first occurred around the eastern Mediterranean. The story begins around the end of the 5th millennium BCE. The climate, which had been great for agriculture, became drier, and many societies returned to hunter-gatherer lifestyles. With the domestication of animals that had occurred, many also resorted to pastoral ranching rather than crop farming. All of this brought people into fiercer competition for resources and encouraged experimentation with new materials for more efficient tools.

Two metals suddenly became attractive candidates. One was gold. Gold is pretty and easy to work with, but is extremely soft and isn't great for tools; so, people used it for jewelry. However, gold is often found alongside another mineral: copper. Copper is relatively easy to heat and work into various shapes, but is much stronger than gold once cooled. Ancient craftspeople had their new material.

The distribution of copper technology, with darkest being the oldest
Map

Social Changes in the Copper Age

The true Copper Age is considered to have lasted from around 3500 to 2300 BCE. During this time, human societies began widely utilizing copper for a variety of reasons. They used it to make metal tools for agriculture, construction, and other aspects of daily life. They were still using stone tools as well, but metal was becoming pretty appealing. They also used copper for weapons, to defend their resources in this era of competition. Warriors quickly rose to the top of society as elite and respected protectors of the village.

Copper-tipped axe found on the famous Copper Age mummy named Otzi
Copper axe

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