Any discussion of Iron Age inventions must begin with the understanding that it is iron technology that distinguishes this era from the Bronze Age that preceded it. The production of iron began around 1600 B.C. in Thailand, 1200 B.C. in the Western world and not until much later in China. Although the use of iron spread slowly, it was a decisive change in human technology that brought us to the present day.
Iron used in the manufacture of farm implements helped to advance agriculture throughout the world. Plows with iron tips made it possible to turn hard earth and allowed farmers to expand the amount of land they had in cultivation. This allowed for increased agricultural production which provided a food base for population growth.
Along with the introduction of improved farm tools, Iron Age farmers began to use a system of grinding stones, called querns, to grind their grain more efficiently. The system included two stones, a bottom, fixed stone and a top stone that rotated on an axle. The farmer placed grain between the two stones, inserted a wooden handle into a slot on the top stone and turned it, grinding the grain to flour.
Weapons and armor evolved during the Iron Age. Archaeologists have uncovered iron cannons and stone cannon balls in China. During the period, warriors added iron to their armor to counter iron in weaponry. The most common types of metal armor included scale armor which consisted of small metal discs sewn onto leather or cloth armor. Lamellar armor, strips of metal laced together in a vertical pattern, replaced leather armor in some regions. Most Iron Age warriors wore metal helmets of some sort.
Chinese ship builders changed the configuration of and use of oars and added rudders to their crafts. In Europe, the addition of keels to vessels made them more stable and made it possible to add sails to the crafts. Iron tools for woodworking allowed ship builders to manipulate the shape of their crafts, building ships that tapered at bow and stern.
The Iron Age saw the introduction of two very important artisans tools: the potter's wheel and the wood pole lathe. Before the potter's wheel, people made pottery by rolling and coiling clay; the wheel made the process faster and more efficient. The pole lathe allowed wood workers to make novel items of wood, including buckets and bowls. The worker would rotate a piece of wood with the lathe and use a tool with a sharp cutting edge to shape it into useful objects.
Iron Age people used special peat spades to cut blocks of peat. Scholars speculate that by the time of the Iron Age, much of the wood from trees had been cut, so folks who lived near a peat bog used these short-handled spades to cut squares of peat for fuel.
- Yorkshire & Humber Grid for Learning