A Bronze Age is a period in a civilization's development when the most advanced metalworking used bronze. The Bronze Age is part of the Three-age system for prehistoric societies. Most surviving bronze implements are tools or weapons, though some ritual artifacts survive.
The bronze age established a far-ranging trade network. The network imported tin and charcoal to Cyprus, where copper was mined and alloyed with the tin to produce bronze. Bronze objects were then exported far and wide, and supported the trade. Isotopic analysis of the tin in some Mediterranean bronze objects indicates it came from as far away as Britain.
The Minoan empire appears to have coordinated and defended the bronze-age trade.
One crucial lack in this period was that modern methods of accounting were not used, or available. Numerous authorities believe that ancient empires were prone to misvalue staples in favor of luxuries, and perish by famines created by uneconomic trading.
How the Bronze age ended is still being studied. There is evidence that Mycenaean administration of the empire followed Minoan. There is evidence that several Minoan client-states lost large populations to extreme famines or pestilence, so the trade network is believed to have failed at some point, preventing the trade that would have previously relieved such famines and prevented some forms of illness (by nutrition). It is also known that the bread-basket of the Minoan empire, the area north of the Black Sea, lost population and probably some degree of cultivation in this era.
Recent research has discredited the theory that exhaustion of the Cypriot forests caused the end of the bronze trade. The cypriot forests are known to have existed to later times, and experiments have shown that bronze production on the scale of the late bronze age would have exhausted them for charcoal production in less than fifty years.
One theory says that as iron tools became more common, the main justification of the tin trade ended, and the trade network ceased to exist. The indvidual colonies of the Minoan empire then met accidents of drought, famine or war, and had no access to the far-flung resources of an empire to recover.
Another family of theories looks to the explosion of Thera, which occurred shortly before the end of the bronze age. Thera is about 40 miles north of Crete, which was at the time the capital of the Minoan empire. Some authorities speculate that tidal waves from Thera destroyed Cretan cities. Others say that perhaps a tidal wave destroyed the Cretan navy in harbor, which then lost crucial battles with the Mycenaean navy, so that a former colony took over the empire.
Another theory looks to the loss of Cretan expertise in administering the Empire. If this expertise was concentrated in Crete, and simply became discredited by military failure, the Mycenaeans may have made crucial political and commercial mistakes when administrering the empire.
All of these theories are persuasive, and all may have operated to some extent.
In Britain, the Bronze Age is considered to have been the period from 2500 to 500 BC. The Neolithic (New Stone Age) had just finished and change was significant. First, the climate was deteriorating, forcing the population down from easily-defended sites in the hills to fertile valleys. Also, the burial of dead (which until this period had usually been communal) became more individual. For example, whereas in the Neolithic a large chambered cairn was used to house the dead, the Bronze Age saw people buried in individual cists, sometimes covered with cairn material. Ritual sites also changed, often becoming cruder and smaller as, perhaps, the original meaning became diluted and twisted as it was passed down from generation to generation.