Copper Age: Weapons & Tools

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll explore the little-known Copper Age. Looking at production sites and artifact finds throughout Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, and China, we'll learn what kind of tools and weapons humans used in the Copper Age.

Between Stone and Iron

When studying the distant past, including the early formation of ancient civilizations, you likely heard about the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. However, there is an age missing. Has anyone ever told you about the Copper Age? Most likely not, since it didn't last long in any location, and only recently did scholars designate a separate age for this technology rather than lump it in as an early part of the Bronze Age. Let's find out what this unusual age was all about and what kinds of instruments the people of the Copper Age created.

The high level of copper in this calcite crystal give it the unusual color you see.
copper in calcite crystal

Chalcolithic Age

The Copper Age, also known as the Chalcolithic Age, was a short period of time between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. While it generally lasted for only 1,000 years in any place, its importance cannot be understated. Humans had previously worked with gold and, in a few isolated areas, some copper, the Chalcolithic Age saw the first large-scale production of copper tools. Copper offered people a great advantage over stone. The metal was far more durable than the stone tools they had previously used, which could shatter if hit too hard. Metal tools could also hold a sharper edge. Gold was far too soft for anything but ornamentation, but copper made metal tools possible for the first time.

Using a mold carved into stone, early coppersmiths could pour melted copper into the hollow space to mass-produce tools and weapons.
copper axe and mold

Originally, metallurgy, the science and craft of metalworking, was quite simple and involved forming tools from copper by hammering the metal. Around 4500 BCE, someone discovered that copper hardened if it was melted down and allowed to resolidify. This process, called smelting, became an integral part of metalwork. This also allowed coppersmiths to separate the metal from impurities found in the rock, as well as pour the liquid metal into molds for mass production.

Smelting metal ores at high temperatures allows them to separate the metals they want from the surrounding rock.
smelting fire

When and Where

The Copper Age occurred at different times in different places. Some regions developed copper metallurgy independent of other cultures, but many gained the technology through contact with people who were already using copper.

Mesopotamia and Anatolia

As we've noted, small-scale production of copper tools occurred prior to the Chalcolithic in some places, including ancient Turkey and Mesopotamia, where archaeologists found copper axes dating back to 7500 BCE. Large-scale production, however, first appeared in the Middle East as early as 6500 BCE, with clear evidence showing up in the archaeological record by 5500 BCE. The earliest known sites for copper production come from northern Mesopotamia, with many of the sites located in present-day Syria. In other parts of the Middle East, archaeologists have discovered copper axes, nails, roofing tiles, crowns, and even weapons like the head of a mace, a bludgeoning weapon with a rounded, metal or stone head attached to a short handle.

Copper Axe Head
copper axe head

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