The Bronze Age

​The Estonian archaeological chronology designates the period 1800–1000 BC as the Early Bronze Age. This was the time when bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) artefacts were first used in the Estonian territory. At first, the metal items were only luxury items – only 14 bronze objects of that era have been found, including axes, a sickle and a spearhead. The oldest bronze object found in Estonia is apparently an arrowhead originating in the southern Urals and unearthed on Muhu Island in the western archipelago. As bronze was a rare import material, stone axes continued to be made and used. 'Late stone' axes indeed constitute the most numerous remains of the Early Estonian Bronze Age. Besides the site on Muhu Island, only a few settlements of the same era are known today. As the graves have not survived, it is not clear what was done with the dead. The economy was based on alternating slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting and fishing.

​During the Late Bronze Age (1000–500 BC), radical changes took place in the coastal areas of northern and western Estonia, where settlement had become so dense that people began cultivating permanent fields. The main crop was barley. A small field was cultivated for a few years, then left to lie fallow and used as pasture for a decade or two when cattle, mostly oxen, fertilised it with manure. The fields had to be cleared of stones, which were piled in low walls, still visible today in the alvars of northern Estonia. Cattle-breeding became increasingly important. People lived on separate farms, and were buried in stone-cist graves.

​Larger Early Bronze Age settlements existed in Asva, Ridala and Kaali on Saaremaa Island, in Iru near Tallinn, and in Narva Joaoru. The inhabitants of these settlements were engaged in trading and the making of handicrafts; the latter especially is evident in numerous fragments of clay moulds and crucibles.

​During the Early Bronze Age, the Estonian coastal areas became, culturally, a province of southern Scandinavia. Bronze and numerous bronze objects came from Scandinavia. The local grave type – the stone-cist grave – is also of Scandinavian origin. The Baltic-Finnic languages borrowed many Germanic words during the Bronze Age. This was probably caused by brisk trading between the Estonian fortified settlements and Scandinavian power centres. Metal and luxury items came from the West, whereas Estonia exported seal blubber, furs, honey and other products of a hunting-gathering culture.

​Most of the Bronze Age antiquities are located in Estonian coastal areas. Besides occasional finds, only a few immovable antiquities have been found inland. Central and southern parts of Estonia were certainly inhabited as well, but there was no custom of burial in stone graves. The share of hunting and gathering in the bronze Age was probably larger inland than in coastal areas.

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