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A previously unresearched Early Bronze Age dagger-grave found in 1989 at Racton, West Sussex, is profiled here through a range of studies. The dagger, the only grave accompaniment, is of the ‘transitional’ Ferry Fryston type, this example being of bronze rather than copper. Bayesian analysis of relevant radiocarbon dates is used to refine the chronology of the earliest bronze in Britain. While the Ferry Fryston type was current in the earlier half of the twenty-second century bc, the first butt-riveted bronze daggers did not emerge until the second half. The Racton dagger is also distinguished by its elaborate rivet-studded hilt, an insular innovation with few parallels.
The excavated skeleton was that of a senior male, buried according to the appropriate rites of the time. Isotopic profiling shows an animal-protein rich diet that is typical for the period, but also the likelihood that he was brought up in a region of older silicate sedimentary rocks well to the west or north west of Racton. He had suffered injury at or close to the time of death; a slice through the distal end of his left humerus would have been caused by a fine-edged blade, probably a dagger. Death as a result of combat-contested leadership is explored in the light of other injuries documented among Early Bronze Age burials. Codified elite-level combat could help to explain the apparent incongruity between the limited efficacy of early dagger forms and their evident weapon-status.
The appearance of the distinctive ‘Beaker package’ marks an important horizon in British prehistory, but was it associated with immigrants to Britain or with indigenous converts? Analysis of the skeletal remains of 264 individuals from the British Chalcolithic–Early Bronze Age is revealing new information about the diet, migration and mobility of those buried with Beaker pottery and related material. Results indicate a considerable degree of mobility between childhood and death, but mostly within Britain rather than from Europe. Both migration and emulation appear to have had an important role in the adoption and spread of the Beaker package.
Excavations at Trecastell, Powys, south Wales, in 2007 yielded a copper halberd complete with its haft-grip. This has major implications for the mode of hafting halberds, but the discovery has also prompted a reconsideration of insular halberds in their north-west European context. Understanding the relationships between different types of halberd and different regional groups continues to be hampered by the dearth of good dating evidence, but the creation of better classifications for British and Irish weapons and new radiocarbon dates on two examples, one being Trecastell, have allowed a new developmental scheme to be advanced.
The emergence of metal-headed halberds is considered more generally. While it is acknowledged that halberd-like implements pre-existed in other materials in some parts of Europe, it is argued that the appearance of metal-headed halberds depended on the transmission of a particular set of metallurgical and related skills. A new model for the vigorous uptake of halberds on a regional basis helps explain the patchiness and anachronism of halberd hotspots.
The Trecastell halberd adds to one of the significant concentrations of the weapon type in Britain and prompts a more general review of the earliest metalwork from Wales and the Marches. For the Chalcolithic, halberds are instrumental in identifying a major contrast in depositional behaviour; this contrast dissolves at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age when a ‘new deposition ground’ is established. The former is attributed to the existence of a regional group across much of the region for whom the halberd served as a cultural icon, while the latter may relate to the demise of this enshrined value for the halberd.
Two round barrows were excavated in 1982–3 at Church Lawton near to the eastern edge of the Cheshire and Staffordshire Plain. One of the barrows was defined by a ring of nine glacial boulders and it is possible that these monoliths initially formed a free-standing stone circle. The remains constitute a rare example of the use of stone to enhance a Bronze Age barrow in the lowlands of central western England. Beneath the mound demarcated by the boulders were the burnt remains of a small, roughly rectangular turf stack associated with fragments of clay daub and pieces of timber. No direct evidence of burial was found within the monument. A radiocarbon date suggests that the structural sequence began sometime in the late 3rd–early 2nd millennium cal bc. The other barrow was principally a two-phased construction and contained urned and un-urned cremation burials. A battle-axe was placed next to one of the burials. Radiocarbon dates obtained from the cremations and associated deposits indicate that individuals were being interred from the late 3rd or early 2nd millennium cal bc, with the practice continuing until the middle of the 2nd millennium. The barrows formed part of a cemetery, consisting of three known mounds.
Two hundred years after William Cunnington and Sir Richard Colt Hoare’s excavations into Bronze Age barrows on Normanton Down, Wiltshire, we offer a fresh appraisal of this renowned cemetery, which lies within sight of Stonehenge. The paper focuses specifically on burial deposits of Early Bronze Age Period 3, seen as representing a dynastic succession that controlled access to Stonehenge for a while and presided over the ceremonies therein. Pre-eminent are the finds from the Bush Barrow grave group, now housed in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes, and still without close parallel. Long-held notions that the skeleton was extended are dispelled; instead, the grave assemblage is reconstructed around the universal crouched inhumation rite of the period, giving rise to important new implications. Special attention is also given to two probable female graves nearby; essentially contemporary, their accompaniments contrast in a number of respects, pointing to very distinct affiliations. Our capacity to reinterpret such burial complexes is a tribute to the records made by the pioneer excavators.
A log-coffin excavated in the early nineteenth century proved to be well enough preserved in the early twenty-first century for the full armoury of modern scientific investigation to give its occupants and contents new identity, new origins and a new date. In many ways the interpretation is much the same as before: a local big man buried looking out to sea. Modern analytical techniques can create a person more real, more human and more securely anchored in history. This research team shows how.
The furnished barrow burials of Wessex represent a maturation of the Beaker rite during the Early Bronze Age in Britain. Many of these burials were unearthed centuries ago, when archaeology was at its most eager and insouciant, but – happily for us – there were often a few careful recorders on hand. Thanks to their records, the modern scientists engaged in the Beaker People Project can still follow the trail back to a museum specimen and obtain high precision dates – as in the case of the ‘Wessex 1’ grave from West Overton in Wessex reported here.
Bronze Age objects found in the English Channel off Salcombe, southern Britain, include an implement which has its normal home in Sicilian agriculture – perhaps as a plough shoe. The authors assemble and classify the objects and consider the web of exchange networks that brought the artefact from Sicily to Devon via France around the thirteenth century BC.
The famous assemblage of finery excavated by Edward Cunnington from Clandon Barrow, Dorset, in 1882 is usually held to be archetypal of the ‘Wessex culture’ and rich graves. Meticulous examination of the six artefacts and re-appraisal of comparative material casts a new light on the significance of the group. It does not represent a definable cultural package and instead points to a complex set of inter-relationships with ‘foreign’ lands achieved, above all, by plying varied maritime networks. Connections are shown to have run up the east coast of Britain, west towards the Irish Sea, and across the Channel to both Armorica and the Frisian coast. By contrast, links with inland Wessex were rather insubstantial. Questions are raised about the utility of the ‘Wessex’ label.
Although uncertain whether it was a grave group or some other ritual deposit, the assemblage can be seen in a positive light as a record of great exploits in distant travel. The material assembled came to stand for the success of the south Dorset community and its key personages as judged against the prime concerns of Early Bronze Age society. Its paramount importance is emphasised by the choice of site – a focally positioned, yet relatively isolated barrow within a dense monumental landscape and, moreover, a barrow that saw recurrent rejuvenation as part of a cycle of remembrance.
Discovered in County Antrim and Cambridgeshire respectively, the Dunaverney and Little Thetford flesh-hooks are two of only thirty-six currently known examples from the Bronze Age of the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. Both are impressive and enigmatic objects and are among the most elaborate of later-series flesh-hooks dating to c 1100–800 BC. Not surprisingly, from the time it was found in 1829, Dunaverney was the subject of much antiquarian interest. Yet, despite their rarity and unusualness, the Dunaverney and Little Thetford flesh-hooks have never been adequately studied.
Our investigations have provided an understanding of the technology of these two fleshhooks, as well as new chronological information for the type as a whole. They have also revealed new uses of lost-wax casting in the British Isles, where the use of this technique is otherwise rare. The bird motifs on the Dunaverney flesh-hook remain unique, although it is now possible to set them against a broader background of iconographic representations on Atlantic feasting gear. Moreover, certain recurring design features may suggest that iconographic symbols were originally more often present on flesh-hooks. The findspot of Dunaverney lies at the heart of deposits of other contemporary prestige metalwork and that of Little Thetford within the greatest concentration of finds of the innovative Wilburton-stage metalworking tradition; both re-enforce the social significance of these rare objects.
Stonehenge is the icon of British prehistory, and continues to inspire ingenious investigations and interpretations. A current campaign of research, being waged by probably the strongest archaeological team ever assembled, is focused not just on the monument, but on its landscape, its hinterland and the monuments within it. The campaign is still in progress, but the story so far is well worth reporting. Revisiting records of 100 years ago the authors demonstrate that the ambiguous dating of the trilithons, the grand centrepiece of Stonehenge, was based on samples taken from the wrong context, and can now be settled at 2600-2400 cal BC. This means that the trilithons are contemporary with Durrington Walls, near neighbour and Britain's largest henge monument. These two monuments, different but complementary, now predate the earliest Beaker burials in Britain – including the famous Amesbury Archer and Boscombe Bowmen, but may already have been receiving Beaker pottery. All this contributes to a new vision of massive monumental development in a period of high European intellectual mobility….
‘It is the slippery assemblages and the social traditions they represent, that we are trying to precipitate from the mass of beaker data’. Clarke 1970, 33
The pottery we collectively call ‘Beakers’ is united by the thread of a potting and style tradition, Wrapped up in that tradition are also expressions concerning what such a pot is for and who it may represent. Both style and those embedded meanings mutate through the long currency of British Beakers. Indeed, the newly emerging chronology for Beaker grave groups suggests that there was one critical point of rapid mutation in both pot form and associated artefacts. This phase is referred to as a fission horizon, c. 2250–2150 cal BC, and it underlines the difficulties that past schemes of steady evolution have run into.
In reviewing the continental background for Beaker-carrying cultures, a corridor of Bell Beaker/Corded Ware fusion is perceived along the southern flanks of the Channel. This created a modified spectrum of Beaker culture which stands at the head of the insular phenomenon. The long ensuing currency of Beaker pottery and Beaker graves in Britain does not hold up as a unified, steadily evolving entity. Instead, three ‘phases of meaning’ can be suggested: 1) Beaker as circumscribed, exclusive culture; 2) Beaker as instituted culture; 3) Beaker as past reference. The fission horizon initiates phase 2.
Thirty-six Atlantic flesh-hooks are documented, classified and discussed after critical evaluation of previously identified examples and the addition of new ones. A chronological progression is shown from the more simple classes to the more complex from 1300 to 800 cal BC, but even the latter examples begin as early as c.1100 cal BC. Although highly distinctive, the Atlantic series derives ultimately from similar hooked instruments to the east and newly recognized Sicilian examples introduce an alternative path of dissemination from the more usually accepted intermediary route of the Urnfield culture. The rarity of flesh-hooks is striking and understanding of their social role needs to take into account not only their marked individuality in terms of technological construction or iconographic features, but also their relationship to other contemporary prestige feasting gear. The distributions of flesh-hooks and rotary spits are mutually exclusive over most of Atlantic Europe; thus, not only did they function differently at a practical level, but also at an ideological one. On the other hand, flesh-hooks and cauldrons have very similar distributions but they have a paucity of direct associations. Rather than implying a limited functional relationship, this is interpreted as resulting from their different symbolic meanings and thus different depositional practices. The zoomorphic imagery encountered on Atlantic spits and occasionally on flesh-hooks is found to be unique to each instrument and thus seen to contrast with that of the Urnfield world, suggesting the signalling of tribal or clan identity rather than an over-arching symbolism.
The discovery of a pair of armlets from Lockington and the re-dating of the Mold cape, add substance to a tradition of embossed goldworking in Early Bronze Age Britain. It is seen to be distinct in morphology, distribution and decoration from the other previously defined traditions of goldworking of the Copper and Early Bronze Ages, which are reviewed here. However, a case is made for its emergence from early objects employing ‘reversible relief to execute decoration and others with small-scale corrugated morphology. Emergence in the closing stages of the third millennium BC is related also to a parallel development in the embossing of occasional bronze ornaments. Subsequent developments in embossed goldwork and the spread of the technique to parts of the Continent are summarized. The conclusions address the problem of interpreting continuity of craft skills against a very sparse record of relevant finds through time and space.
Understanding of the nature and significance of connections between Armorica and southern Britain in the Early Bronze Age has been inhibited by poorly refined chronologies. The Armorican grave series is now believed to span seven to eight centuries (c. 2300/2200–1500 BC) and association patterns are used to suggest five assemblages (series 1–5). In the absence of many skeletal remains, structural and organisational evidence is gleaned to suggest that some tombs were not immutably sealed and were used more than once. It is suggested that the accumulation of successive grave groups, primarily in series 2 and 4, is one factor blurring signs of chronological progression, whilst added complexity derives from regional shifts.
A review of specific artefact types and burial rites on the two sides of the western Channel gives little credence to the migration of more than occasional individuals. On the contrary, an essential autonomy in the way that materials and artefacts are employed by elites comes through, yet this is set against some important material connections. The conundrum is resolved by suggesting that inter-dependence was actually limited and that the procurement of exotic materials/goods was driven by ‘cosmological acquisition’ needs which, if anything, maintained real differences between distant participating societies. In Wessex, however, the growth of this mode of extracting ideological capital from long-range contacts was to have profound consequences for superordinate centres based around Late Neolithic ceremonial complexes – their ultimate transformation and eclipse.
The prodigious quantities of refuse recovered from excavations at Runnymede Bridge, Berkshire, England — and at other late prehistoric British sites — highlight those archaeological entities we call ‘rubbish’ and ‘middens’. What is a ‘midden’? General thoughts on an archaeology of refuse are applied to the specific case of these 1st-millennium BC sites in southern England in an attempt to comprehend their origin and scale in terms of the period's social geography.
A new set of radiocarbon measurements for the three phases of Bronze Age enclosure at Rams Hill allows refinement of their chronology. Phase 1 is radiocarbon dated for the first time and appears, contrary to previous indications, not to be very much earlier than phases 2 and 3. The dates are on carefully selected bone samples and give a rather later timespan overall than an earlier set of dates on charcoal, within the 13th–10th centuries cal BC. This span bridges the formal Middle–Late Bronze Age transition, overlapping the use ofPenard and Wilburton metalwork. The opportunity is taken to clarify some confused aspects of Bronze Age periodization.
The development of Bronze Age enclosure in Britain is reviewed. A former suggestion that Rams Hill is representative of a class of Middle Bronze Age high-status enclosure is re-examined. Current evidence does not support the idea of a coherent set of sites either functionally or chronologically. It is considered likely that Rams Hill represents an emergent state of larger-scale enclosure, perhaps after the regular embanking of small domestic sites. However, the precise role of Rams Hill in the regional economy remains enigmatic.