Troy I, or Bronze Age Troy: An incomplete, tantalizing picture

The people who lived at Troy I were around for the very beginning of the Bronze Age, around 5000 years ago.  Whether or not they smelted their own bronze (we don’t know), they had bronze tools, weapons, and other bronze and copper items to use in addition to their stone implements.  They fished, and they were weavers, and they built houses and fortification walls.  They created pottery with their hands, because the potter’s wheel wasn’t in use here yet.

Fragment of Troy I “eye motif” pottery

That’s about the extent of what we know about the people who lived during the first level of Troy, from around 3000-2500 BCE.  But we can flesh it out a bit.

Schliemann’s Trench, revealing Troy I remains

First of all, smelting bronze. What is smelting?  It doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? I couldn’t resist: I had to look up where that word comes from — the German word “smelzan,” meaning melt. Which makes sense, now that I hear it. Briefly, bronze is largely made of copper which must be separated out from other minerals to a pure state through smelting. This took technology: high heat and carbon (or another reducing agent).  To make bronze, you must add tin or arsenic to the copper, creating a metal that’s harder than copper alone.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Don’t you wonder how people came up with these ideas?  Like making coffee.  How did anyone ever think to pick coffee beans, dry them, roast them, grind them, and pour hot water over them to make a delicious drink? We have an idea of how copper smelting may have been discovered: probably accidentally, in a kiln, which gets up to a temperature high enough to enable smelting. Then bronze was somehow created when copper was mixed with tin, possibly, again, in a kiln.  People amaze me with their persistence and curiosity. If you want to know more, check out the Wikipedia page on smelting.

Why should you care about smelting? Well, the ability to use copper and bronze must have completely changed the lives of the people of Troy.  Think of making and using a cutting implement, like a knife, out of stone and how that’s different from making and using a metal knife.  What kinds of tools could you make without metal? It must have been incredibly time-consuming and restricted.  The addition of copper and bronze must have significantly changed their lives.

Trojan plain from Troy, looking out across the Dardanelles, August 2012

We don’t know if bronze was actually smelted at Troy, or if bronze implements were imported or brought in. Since the time of Troy I, this spot on the Dardanelles was important for controlling trade between the Aegean and Black Seas.  It’s narrow, and in the past, travelers and merchants were stranded here when the wind died down, so at times, trade at Troy was vigorous.  Sorting out what was brought in and what was produced there must, in some cases, be quite difficult.

Troy I was also a fishing village. We think that Troy was located on the coast millennia ago, although it’s a few miles inland now because the two rivers that empty into the sea here filled the ancient harbor with silt.

Check out how different scientists think the coast used to look. (BBC News, 7 Feb, 2003)

Are there civilizations or cities located on a coast that don’t fish?  I guess it’s possible. A bronze fishing hook that was found in the Troy I excavations is also cited as proof that Troy I inhabitants fished,

Bronze fish hook from Troy I

and a fish bone design decorated ceramics from this level, perhaps mirroring real life, as mentioned by Mustafa Askin, (lifelong resident of the area, tour guide, author, hotel owner, and extremely kind man) in his book on Troy.  Sorry, I can’t find any images of these ceramics. If I do, I’ll share them.

A fascinating tidbit regarding weaving at Troy I: According to the University of Cincinnati website about Troy: “During the late Bronze Age there is evidence that a purple dye was extracted from shells. The Trojans may have exchanged their purple-dyed textiles for exotic luxury goods.”  Now THAT really adds to the picture, doesn’t it?  I want to know more!

And the people of Troy I were builders.  Many of the structures at Troy I were constructed using a herringbone pattern:

Herringbone pattern on walls, Troy I, Turkey

Although this type of building isn’t unique to Troy, it’s distinctive.   Making walls using this herringbone pattern, with each stone in a row set at an angle, and the stones in the row above set at the opposite angle, results in stronger walls. Tthe stones lock into each other and are harder to break.  It’s also easier to make the height of the wall come out even, because the stones don’t have to be regular.  They can be different sizes and placed so that the wall is still more or less level on top in the end.

I’ll leave you with a photo of the 5000 year old Troy I walls.  5000 years ago, people were building these walls, and eating fish, and making beautiful pots with their hands, and weaving purple cloth.  It’s an incomplete and tantalizing picture.

Bronze Age Troy walls, August 2012

For a reconstruction and a panorama in this same spot, visit the University of Cincinnati website (Move the slider and click on the image itself to see a panorama of what you can see today and a reconstruction.).  It’s worth taking a look.  And while you’re at it, you can read a little bit more about Troy I.

(Click here for my previous post on Troy.)

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