From mines to ports, Bronze Age sites offer invaluable insight into the lives of the people who lived at the time. Many such sites have been subsumed by the passage of time and the work of later civilisations, but there is still a great deal to see. Whether it’s the irrigation channels at Hili Archaeological Park or the artistry of the Tanum Rock Carvings, the sheer diversity of these Bronze Age sites is staggering, with other popular attractions including the Jabel Hafit Tombs and Akrotiri. We’ve put together an expert guide to the landmarks from the Bronze Age with our top places to visit.
What are the world's best Bronze Age sites to visit?
The Hili Archaeological Park is a Bronze Age site located just north of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. It was in use in the 3rd millennium BC and ruins include settlements, tombs, and a later Iron Age falaj (irrigation channel) which made use of water from nearby springs well into the Iron Age. Today the Hili Archaeological Park has been sculpted as both an historic site and public garden and is a popular place to relax and explore for both tourists and locals. A highlight is the Hili Grand tomb with its meticulously cut stone blocks and animal/human images at the entrancesdating back to the Umm Al-Nar culture.
Su Nuraxi di Barumini is a prime example of one of Sardinia’s many nuraghe structures. Little is known about the nuraghe, except that they are thought to have been built from the Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age (circa 1500-800 BC) by the island’s inhabitants as a form of defence, particularly against the Carthaginians. Comprised of a series of stone structures, Su Nuraxi di Barumini became a settlement in its own right and continued to be inhabited up to as late as the third century AD. Today, Su Nuraxi di Barumini is still an impressive site, the main highlight of which is its central stone tower. Many other structures have been identified at Su Nuraxi di Barumini, including homes, a theatre and temples, all seemingly intertwined in what looks like a complex mosaic.
The Jabel Hafit Tombs with their distinctive domal-beehive shape composed of stacked natural and edged stones date back some 5,000 years to the “Hafeet Period” (3200 to 2700 BC). There are approximately 500 tombs in all with rare skeletal remains in the tombs, but workers presume as many as ten individuals were originally buried in any particular tomb.
At least 350 groups of distinct rock art make up the UNESCO-listed Tanum Rock Carvings, a collection of Bronze Age carvings found in the area around the modern town of Tanumshede in Sweden. Dating from around 1700BC – 500BC, they depict scenes from the world of those who lived in the area during this period – including scenes of ships, hunting and domestic life.
Akrotiri is a beautifully preserved ancient site in Santorini, famed for its incredible frescos and its connection with the Minoans. Inhabited as early as the 4th millennium BC – some say earlier – it then thrived and grew into a larger settlement measuring up to 20 hectares in the next millennium, during the Bronze Age. Known to have been linked to Knossos, the stunning ruins of Akrotiri stand in testament of the sophisticated urban settlement which once existed there. The buildings are not only multi-storey, but many of them contain vivid frescoes of various themes. This excellent state of preservation has earned it the moniker of the “Minoan Pompeii”. Some have even claimed it to be the lost city of Atlantis.
The ancient copper mines discovered below the Great Orme – a prominent limestone headland on the north coast of Wales – date back over 4,000 years to the Bronze Age. Uncovered in 1987, archaeologists have uncovered a large underground complex which is thought to be the largest known prehistoric mine in the world. It is thought the mines remained in use until they were abandoned around 600 BC until the Romans later reopened the mines – they were utilised at times during the Romano-British period. Today, visitors can explore the mines on a tour of the tunnels as well as finding our more about the history of the Great Orme Mines in the visitors’ centre.
Qatna Archaeological Park in Tell Mishrifeh in Syria houses the ruins of what was the thriving ancient Mesopotamian city of Qatna. Known to have first been occupied in the third millennium BC, Qatna’s location on an important commercial and political crossroad connecting it to both the Mitanni empire and the ancient Egyptians allowed it to flourish. In fact, in the period between 1600BC and 1200BC, the Late Bronze Age, it grew to become a local kingdom. The Royal Palace is perhaps the highlight of the site. Constructed from 1650BC to 1550BC and with over eighty rooms on one level alone, it would have been an impressive sight, but was devastated during the Hittite conquest of Syria in 1340BC.
The Rathcroghan complex is a four square mile archaeological region located in County Roscommon, Ireland noted for ts wealth of archaeological finds. The area is located within a complex archaeological region with a history stretching back over 5000 years. However, today the region is mostly agricultural land. All that remains of this once great royal landscape is a series of field monuments and mounds which mark the location of the ancient sites.
Al-Khor Island is thought to have been a Bronze Age way station in the Arabian Gulf used by ancient traders around the late 3rd / early 2nd millennium BC. Seafarers and traders of the day would weigh anchor in this protected port as an overnight safe harbour, or perhaps to repair ships, process fish, or prepare charcoal. The Island was protected by an embayment, and ships could be anchored close to shore for repairs or cargo loading. Of the four sites known today, the best preserved are the ones at the northwest and southern end of the island.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is the place to see artefacts belonging to one of the world’s most famous Bronze Age civilisations, the Minoans. Their collection is one of the most comprehensive in the world and includes everything from sarcophagi to wall art. The Minoan culture is specifically attributed to the island of Crete and immediately preceded the Mycenaean period.