Anyone writing an account of prehistory must decide how to shape the narrative. Which were the major periods of change? How are they represented in the archaeological record, and what is the right way of distinguishing between local phenomena and more general developments? The previous chapter considered an ‘Earlier’ Bronze Age. That raises the question of how the ‘Later’ Bronze Age should be characterised (Figs. 4.1 and 4.2).
One might suppose that the problem was solved forty years ago, for the term has been used in Irish archaeology since the 1960s. In 1979, it was employed to organise a major synthesis of The Bronze Age in Europe (Coles and Harding 1979), and at about the same time an entire conference was devoted to the British Later Bronze Age (Barrett and Bradley eds. 1980). There seems to be a consensus that the period should be divided in half, but there any agreement ends.
The different schemes are superficially similar, but they are based on different criteria, and it is not possible to harmonise them. That is understandable, for classification is never a neutral exercise. It depends on the priorities of individual authors and on the questions that they ask. Thus the two-fold division of the Irish Bronze Age favoured by George Eogan (1964) depended on a study of the metalwork.