The Bronze Age is the period of human time between the Stone Age and the Iron Age, terms referring to the material with which tools and weapons were made.
In Britain Begins (Oxford: 2013), Barry Cunliffe says the concept of the three ages, mentioned as early as the first century B.C., by Lucretius, was first systematized in A.D. 1819 by C. J. Thomsen, of the National Museum of Copenhagen and finally formalized only as late as 1836.
In the three age system, the Bronze Age follows the Stone Age, which was further divided by Sir John Lubbock (author of Pre-historic Times as Illustrated by Ancient Remains; 1865) into Neolithic and Paleolithic periods.
During these pre-bronze ages, people used stone or at least non-metal implements, like the archaeological artifacts one sees made of flint or obsidian. The Bronze Age was the beginning of the era when people also made tools and weapons of metal. The first part of the Bronze Age may be called the Calcolithic referring to the use of pure copper and stone tools. Copper was known in Anatolia by 6500 B.C. It wasn’t until the second millennium B.C. that bronze (an alloy of copper and, commonly, tin) came into general use. In about 1000 B.C. the Bronze Age ended and the Iron Age began. Before the end of the Bronze Age, iron was rare. It was only used for decorative items and possibly coins. Determining when the Bronze Age ended and the Iron Age began, therefore, takes into account the relative preponderance of these metals.
Classical Antiquity falls completely within the Iron Age, but the early writing systems were developed in the earlier period. The Stone Age is generally considered part of prehistory and the Bronze Age the first historical period.
The Bronze Age, as stated, refers to a dominant tool material, but there are other pieces of archaeological evidence that connect a people with a period; specifically, ceramic/pottery remains and burial practices.