We explain what the Copper Age is, what were its cultures and characteristics. Also, the inventions of the time and how it ended.

copper age
The first societies with a complex and hierarchical organization appeared in the Copper Age.

What is the Copper Age?

In the study of Prehistory, the period between the Neolithic (the last stage of the so-called Stone Age) and the Bronze Age (already in the Metal Age) is known as the Copper Age, Chalcolithic or Eneolithic. As its name implies, this was the stage in which humanity met copper: the second (after gold) of the metals that he learned to melt to make tools and utensils.

As with the rest of the stages of the Metal Age, it is not possible to establish an exact date to indicate the beginning and the end from the Copper Age. This type of periodization, more than locating temporarily, seeks to categorize the technological development of different societies in their own history.

Copper artifacts from around 9,000 B.C. have been found. c. in Turkey and Northern Iraq, although it is most likely that they were worked in the cold, by hammering. The first clear evidence of metal smelting was found in Anatolia and is estimated to be around the year 6,000 BC. c.

In other regions where this mineral was scarce, the beginning of the Copper Age is located in the subsequent millennia. As with the other prehistoric ages, occurred irregularly among the different populations of the pastand cannot be used as a universal measure of the historical progress of societies.

It can serve you: Primitive man

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Characteristics of the Copper Age

In very broad terms, the Copper Age was characterized by the following:

  • Humanity met copper, a ductile and easy-to-use metal. Its foundry initially had ornamental purposes, since it is not a resistant metal that can displace flint or obsidian lithic tools. Later they began to experiment with their first alloys, with arsenic, gold and silver, and eventually with tin, which led to bronze.
  • There was an increase in production in the different prehistoric societies, which brought with it a greater exchange capacity and a greater craft specialization, that is, each craftsman could produce new and unique materials. Ceramics, above all, were very important, since mastery of firing led to the first steps in metallurgy.
  • The human population experienced its first big boom, and that implied new ways of occupying the territory and the first social stratifications, which gave rise to the first complex societies. The band as a form of social organization was left behind and the communities grew to integrate thousands of individuals. This growth fostered, in turn, the development of economic and cultural exchanges between the different populations.
  • Livestock farming brought with it the use of derived productsthanks to the use not only of animal power, but also of the milk and wool produced by domesticated species.
  • In the ritual realm, the Chalcolithic was a very important period. The first spaces reserved for ritual or sacred use arose.

Copper Age cultures and settlements

copper age settlements
The peoples of the Iberian Peninsula erected abundant megaliths.

The Copper Age includes only populations from parts of Asia, Europe and North Africa. Among the main cultures and settlements of the period were:

  • The Mesopotamian cultures of Samarra (Iraq) and Tell-Halaf (Syria), who knew the metallurgy of copper and lead around the 4th millennium BC. C., thanks to his advanced knowledge of ceramics. They produced statuettes, seals and built sanctuaries, and learned about irrigated agriculture.
  • The Nagada culture in the Nile Valley (Egypt), a predynastic culture developed from 4,000 BC. C., whose majority of found objects are made of stone, but who also knew metallurgy. It was a society with signs of hierarchical organization, irrigated agriculture and extensive necropolises that already show the social differentiation between classes. Copper, gold, and silver were widely used in the making of pins, amulets, and other ornaments, as well as an important craft.
  • The first European civilization, still unnamed, was discovered at the beginning of the 21st century in the Balkan region, eastern Europe, between the Danube and Thessaly. It had its main foci in the cultures of Vincha (Serbia), Gumenitsa (Romania and Bulgaria), Salcuta (western Bulgaria), Cucuteni (Moldavia, Ukraine and Bessarabia) and Tiszapolgar (around the Carpathians). These cultures shared an important mining and metallurgical industry, whose goldsmith pieces date back to 4,000 BC. C. and a good part have been found in the famous necropolis of Varna, in Bulgaria.
  • The peoples of the Kurgans, inhabitants of the Eurasian steppes north of the Black Sea, were an amalgamation of different cultures in the region, sharing a herding economy, the use of horses, and ritual burial in mounds (called kurgans). These tombs were family mausoleums, whose corpses were dusted with ocher and plaster, and buried together with ceramic objects and meat offerings.
  • cultures of the aegean sea, appeared in the IV millennium BC. C., protagonists of an intense network of cultural and economic exchanges, and who knew copper, the construction of walls and built the first stone temples, located in Malta, such as the sites of Ggantija, Hagar, Qim, Mnajdra or Tarxien. . Among these cultures, the following stood out: the Helladic peoples of mainland Greece, the Cycladic civilization (on the islands of the same name, off the Greek coast) and the Mycenaean civilization (on the island of Crete).
  • The cultures of the Iberian Peninsula, located mainly in the regions of Andalusia and Extremeña, as well as Alentejo and Algarve, in Spain and Portugal respectively, where they built fortified towns and abundant megaliths. Its two cultural poles were Vila Nova and Los Millares (3100 BC), very active in the production of idols, bell-shaped ceramics and decorated stone plates.
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Inventions and tools of the Copper Age

copper age inventions
Copper weapons gave military superiority to the peoples who used them.

Copper made it possible to make ornaments, domestic utensils and religious statuettes. Also allowed to forge swords and shields capable of resisting the onslaught of stone weapons, since they were deformed instead of breaking and could be returned to their original state through hammering. In alloys with arsenic, copper acquired great hardness, and these new elements translated into the military superiority of the time.

On the other hand, the intense network of exchanges that began to occur between the primitive cultures of the world allowed the massive use of the wheel and the cart, as well as the diffusion of bell-shaped pottery and new forms of the plow.

Some towns also knew gold, used as a precious metal for ritual burials of leaders or bosses.

End of the Copper Age

The Copper Age came to an end when, in the attempts to find a more resistant and noble metal than copper, its alloy with tin was discovered, which produces bronze. Different populations achieved this technical advance at different times; around 3200 B.C. C. in the Near East, around 3000 a. C. in Egypt, around 2500 a. C. in Greece and towards 2000 a. C. in Central Asia.

Continue with: Bronze Age


  • Eiroa, JJ (2003). Notions of general prehistory. Planet Group (GBS).
  • Alimen, MH, & Steve, MJ (Eds.). (1989). Prehistory (Vol. 1). XXI Century of Spain Publishers.
  • “Copper Age” on Wikipedia.
  • “Copper Age” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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