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The Bronze Age 2,000bc.-500bc.

The Bronze Age in Ireland saw the development of METAL WORKING, its decoration and its method's of working, brought to its finest "ART" . Copper and Bronze were used for the every-day IMPLEMENTS, e.g.. Cooking Pots, Spears, and Arrow Heads, while GOLD was primarily used in the PRODUCTION of a variety of ORNAMENTS. The variety of such works included:- a LUNULAÉ  / CRESCENTIC COLLARS, ( collars in the shape of a crescent moon ), b GOLD DISCS or SUN DISCS, ( used as BUTTONS ), c TORCS or NECK ORNAMENTS, d ARM BRACELETS, e HAIR CLIPS, f GORGETS or DISC ended GOLD COLLARS.

All of the above were DECORATED with GEOMETRIC DESIGN, and as time went on this DECORATION and WORKING grew ever more complex and INTRICATE, ( detailed).

Stone work was also carried out at this time, as we can see from the many ROCK-SCRIBINGS, ( design's cut onto the faces of large rocks e.g. CUP mark's ), and the many STONE CIRCLES, ( again used as SIGHTINGS for the LUNAR CALENDAR ).

Here we are going to concentrate on the METAL-WORKING, and the methods of producing these pieces, which were introduced from EUROPE into Ireland, and how these techniques were developed here. Copper and BRONZE, ( the add mixture of copper and tin), were used to make a number of every-day objects. The main items  were AXE HEADS, which were formed in a number of ways. The most common was by CASTING, i.e. the smelting of the metal, and pouring the liquid metal into MOULDS, which were pre FORMED into the required shape.

As you can see the basic shape of the axe has not changed all that much from 1,800 / 1,500 BC. The main difference of course is that, the metal-worker/s have gone to the trouble of decorating it. This decoration was incorporated into the axe at the time of CASTING. So how were these made?. There were a number of methods used. The simplest method for Casting is the WET SAND method, i.e.. the shape of the object was formed into wet sand in a pre formed hollow, e.g. in the ground. The DECORATION was then drawn onto the WET sand and the LIQUID metal poured into the MOULD and left to cool and harden. The CASTING was then removed from the sand and you had your axe. Another method used was the forming of a MOULD from CLAY. The shape required was formed in two half’s, from wet CLAY. Both half’s were then brought together, and the liquid metal poured into the hollow in the MOULD and again you are left with your CAST OBJECT. This was probably how the above axe heads were made.

You will notice that these axes were made to fit into, or slot into a pre- formed hole in a wooden handle and were then tied to the handle with THONG, ( strips of animal hide / skin ).The flattened base of the axes were PRE - formed for this. The third method of Casting axe heads was that of a carved stone MOULD. In this method the SHAPE was carved out of a stone leaving a NEGATIVE / EMPTY shape, which was then filled with the metal. If a decoration was still required on the object, then this was covered with wet sand. The design was drawn onto the wet sand and etc.--

The LOST WAX METHOD :-The object that you want to make in metal, is first MODELLED in WAX. This could be a bell or, ( in the illustration ), a SOCKETED axe head. This model is then covered with CLAY, ( forming an exterior "envelope" around your wax model ). The bronze is then poured into the MOULD. The metal fills in all the areas where the wax was,( the wax obviously melts on contact with the hot metal), and there you are, AN EXACT COPY of your ORIGINAL MODEL.

You will notice that even though the basic shape remains, there is a difference in their design. The design now allows the maker, to not alone fit a timber handle into the axe but also includes a tying or fixing handle to the side of the axe, ( part of the original MODEL ), and therefore increases the FITTING to the handle. This shows that people were EXPERIMENTING with various methods of improving the DESIGN of objects and there-by developing TECHNOLOGY.

The aim of the BRONZE AGE peoples, is exactly the same as today, i.e. the improvement of what we have. Bronze Daggers were used as protection and were made in the same way as the axe heads, i.e. CASTING.  These examples are made in two parts. The BLADE is obviously Cast, ( probably from a MOULD, which was made from two separate CLAY forms , and the decoration applied / cut into, the inside faces of the MOULD. The handles were separate, i.e. made from either BONE, Deer ANTLER or indeed in some cases, METAL. Some examples had their handles either RIVETED, ( a metal rivet hammered into both the shaft and handle ), or TIED ,( by means of a leather thong ), to the blade, while the top one probably had its handle either fitted by heat or SOLDERING ,  ( later ). Time for another link! Do have a look at their RE-CONSTRUCTIONS.

 

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