The Bronze Age is thought of as the beginning of humanity’s ascent into modernity. Copper had been alloyed with other metals to form hard, durable bronze in various places before, but it wasn’t until this time, beginning around 3300 B.C., that it really began to supplant stone for tools and weapons for good. That shift gave the period its name, but a lot happened then—the rise of urban civilization, written language, various forms of the wheel, and more.
The Bronze Age also saw the rise of centralized governments and kingdoms, as well as the spread of trade, which saw societies interact and exchange ideas. From the Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian polities in the Near East to the Minoans on Crete, to the Indus Valley in South Asia and various other cultures across Europe and East Asia, the Bronze Age was when the general outlines of the world we know began to be inscribed, across a wide swath of the planet. It ended—depending on where one was in the world—with the spread of iron metallurgy, which took place in Europe and the Near East in the 11th century B.C. The innovations of this period remain with us today, as do some amazing places and remarkable objects that can still be seen.