- Bronze Age Britain
Late Neolithic, 3000 BC to 2750 BC
Meldon Bridge Period
Early Bronze Age (EBA), 2700-1500
*2700 BC - 2000 BC:
Mount Pleasant Phase, Early Beaker culture: Ireland: copper+arsenic, flat axes, halberds; Britain: copper+tin
*2100-1900 Late Beaker: knives, tanged spearheads (
Bush Barrow; Overton Period)
Bedd Branwen Period; copper+tin
Middle Bronze Age (MBA), 1500-1000
Late Bronze Age(LBA), 1000-700
*1000-900: Late Urnfield: socketed axes, palstaves (also lead)
Llyn Fawr Phase, Ewart Park Phase: leaf-shaped swords
Early Iron Age, 700-600
The Beaker culture
In around 2,700 BC a new culture arrived in Britain, often referred to as the
Beaker culture. Beaker pottery appears in the Mount Pleasant Phase(2,700 BC - 2,000 BC) along with flat axes and burial practices of inhumation. People of this period were also largely responsible for building many famous prehistoric sites such as the later phases of Stonehengealong with Seahenge. Immigrationbrought new people to the islands from the continent. Recent tooth enamel isotope research on bodies found in early Bronze Age graves around Stonehengeindicate that at least some of the immigrants came from the area of modern Switzerland. The Beaker culturedisplayed different behaviours from the earlier Neolithicpeople and cultural change was significant. Integration is thought to have been peaceful as many of the early hengesites were seemingly adopted by the newcomers.
Also, the burial of dead (which until this period had usually been communal) became more individual. For example, whereas in the Neolithic a large
chambered cairnor long barrowwas used to house the dead, the 'Early Bronze Age' saw people buried in individual barrows(also commonly known and marked on modern British Ordnance Surveymaps as Tumuli). They were often buried with a beaker alongside the body, or sometimes in cists covered with cairns.
There is some debate amongst archaeologists as to whether the 'Beaker people' were a race of people who migrated to Britain "en masse" from the continent, or whether a prestigious Beaker cultural "package" of goods and behaviours (which eventually spread across most of western Europe) diffused to Britain's existing inhabitants through trade across tribal boundaries. Modern thinking tends towards the latter view. Alternatively, a ruling class of Beaker individuals may have made the migration and come to control the native population at some level.
Believed to be of Iberian origin (modern day
Spainand Portugal), Beaker techniques brought to Britain the skill of refining metal. At first they made items from copper, but from around 2,150 BC smiths had discovered how to make bronze(which was much harder than copper) by mixing copper with a small amount of tin. With this discovery, the Bronze Agearrived in Britain. Over the next thousand years, bronze gradually replaced stone as the main material for tool and weapon making.
Britain had large reserves of tin in the areas of
Cornwalland Devonin what is now southwest England, and thus tin miningbegan. By around 1,600 BC the southwest of Britain was experiencing a trade boom as British tin was exported across Europe.
The Beaker people were also skilled at making ornaments from
gold, and examples of these have been found in graves of the wealthy Wessex cultureof southern Britain.
The greatest quantities of bronze objects found in what is now
Englandwere discovered in East Cambridgeshire, where the most important finds were recovered in Isleham(more than 6500 pieces). [Hall and Coles, p. 81–88.]
The Wessex culture
Wessex culturedeveloped in southern Britain at this time. Additionally, the climate was deteriorating, where once the weather was warm and dry it became much wetter as the Bronze Age continued, forcing the population away from easily-defended sites in the hills and into the fertile valleys. Large livestock farms developed in the lowlands which appear to have contributed to economic growth and inspired increasing forest clearances.
The Deverel-Rimbury culture
Deverel-Rimbury culturebegan to emerge in the second half of the 'Middle Bronze Age' (c. 1400- 1100 BC) to exploit these conditions. Cornwallwas a major source of tinfor much of western Europe and copperwas extracted from sites such as the Great Ormemine in northern Wales. Social groups appear to have been tribal but with growing complexity and hierarchies becoming apparent.
Disruption of cultural patterns
There is evidence of a relatively large scale disruption of cultural patterns which some scholars think may indicate an invasion (or at least a migration) into southern Great Britain circa the 12th century BC. This disruption was felt far beyond Britain, even beyond Europe, as most of the great
Near Eastern empires collapsed (or experienced severe difficulties) and the Sea Peoplesharried the entire Mediterraneanbasin around this time. Cremationwas adopted as a burial practice with cemeteriesof urnscontaining cremated individuals appearing in the archaeological record.
Bronze Age boats
Langdon Bay hoard- see also Dover Museum
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/northamptonshire/4330031.stm Divers unearth Bronze Age hoard off the coast of Devon]
* [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.5611 Moor Sands finds, including a remarkably well preserved and complete sword which has parallels with material from the Seine basin of northern France]
*R.F. Tylecote, "The early history of metallurgy in Europe" (1987) [http://www.angelfire.com/me/ik/britishBA.html]
Atlantic Bronze Age
* [http://www.tf.uni-kiel.de/matwis/amat/def_en/articles/rapier_to_longsax/from_rapier_to_langsax.html From Rapier to Langsax: Sword Structure in the British Isles in the Bronze and Iron Ages] by Niko Silvester (1995)
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