The Bronze Age

So, what do we actually know about the bronze age? Not a whole lot, it seems, and even less in relation to Britain (information from grecian areas seems abundant but the two cultures were very different.)

Personally I didn’t really know anything before this project, so I went to both the Uni Library and the Forum and grabbed as many useful looking books as I could. Which came to 4. We really don’t know much. I also found out there are a very small number of Bronze Age artifacts in the Castle Museum, so I visited those as well. I read through them and made a spider diagram. Here’s what I found out:

The Bronze Age:

  • The Bronze age in Britain was between c.2,500-800 B.C. This is before the Romans in Europe (Iron Age), and majoritively before the celts. Boudicea and the Roman Invasion were around 500 A.D. and therefore cannot be included (alas, we know a lot more about the Iron Age)

Society

Life Expectancy & Health:

  • The life expectancy was around 25 years. Infant mortality was high.
  • Deforming diseases such as rickets and arthritis are common in skeletal remains.

Living Conditions:

  • Most sites were peasant farmers in agricultural hamlets or farmsteads.
  • In the early Bronze age single farmsteads, small hamlets and larger villages make up settlements. In the later Bronze age/Early Iron Age there is evidence of more fortified hill forts and towns; e.g. Maiden Castle, Dorset.

Maiden Castle and Hill Towns from late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. Allsopp, B. and Clark, U. (1979) English architecture : an introduction to the architectural history of England from the Bronze age to the present day. Stocksfield: Oriel Press. p.13

  • The standard house is small and round, with large wooden posts and tree-trunk walls to support a thatch, straw, bracken, heather, turf or reed roof. In areas where stone is readily available stone foundations and walls are common.

Excavations of round houses. Harding, A. F. (2000). European Societies In The Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.31

  • Rectangular houses are also common but these are always larger and suggest they were for communal use.
  • Houses had a central stone lined fire pit and a clay floor. The fire was used for both warmth and cooking.

Illustration of Bronze Age Fisherman. Mohen, J-P; Eluere, C (2000). The Bronze Age In Europe. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. p.17

Sketch of Bronze Age labourers. Mohen, J-P; Eluere, C (2000). The Bronze Age In Europe. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. p.16

Agriculture and Subsistence

  • Agriculture provided the main source of food.
  • Tilled fields and garden plots supplemented farm animals such as sheep, goats, pigs and cattle.

Agricultural field structure in Bronze Age Dartmoor, Britain. Harding, A. F. (2000). European Societies In The Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.156

Clothing

  • Most clothing was made of woven fabric – normally wool or hemp but sometimes other plant substances and linen.
  • Leatherworking was a common craft and animal skins were often worn. Sometimes woven clothing would be fashioned to resemble animal skins.
  • Cloaks, footwraps, shoes and buttons were all worn.

Preserved Bronze Age man ‘Otzi’ found by German hikers on the edge of a glacier on the Italian/Austrian border, along with the tattoos seen on his body. Mohen, J-P; Eluere, C (2000). The Bronze Age In Europe. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. p.34-35

clothesotzi

Clothes found on a Bronze Age man preserved in an Italian/Austrian glacier. Although not British, this nearly one of a kind find of preserved clothing gives examples of dress. Mohen, J-P; Eluere, C (2000). The Bronze Age In Europe. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. p.37-38

dress

Examples of Scandanavian Bronze Age dress. Harding, A. F. (2000). European Societies In The Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.371

Bronze Age Textile. Harding, A. F. (2000). European Societies In The Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.261

Bronze Age weave types.  Harding, A. F. (2000). European Societies In The Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.262

Ornaments and Jewelry

  • Most ornaments were made of bronze or gold.
  • Gold jewelry found includes often rings, pins, torcs, capes, arm spirals, daggers, pendants and wire rings.
  • Amber, bone, shale, antler, glass and clay jewelry has also been found, noteably beads.
  • Amulets are often found in tombs and are defined as ‘not ornaments, but having no standard function.’ These included amulets, pendants, fossils, shells, animal teeth and rings.

IrishGoldOrnaments

British Bronze Age earrings – associated with the ‘beaker people’ of the early Bronze Age. Jewellery through 7000 years (1976) London: British Museum Publications. p.54

British Bronze Age earrings. Jewellery through 7000 years (1976) London: British Museum Publications. p.71

Gold and Bronze Bracelets from the Bronze Age collection at Norwich Castle Museum.

Gold Cape. Jewellery through 7000 years (1976) London: British Museum Publications. p.18

Gold earrings from Bronze Age Collection at Norwich Castle Museum.

Gold jewelery from Bronze Age Collection at Norwich Castle Museum.

Irish Dress Fasteners. Jewellery through 7000 years (1976) London: British Museum Publications. p.73

Jewelery and ornaments from tumulus graves as they would be positioned when worn. Harding, A. F. (2000). European Societies In The Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.375

Stone Jewelery from the Bronze Age collection in Norwich Castle Museum.

Wire jewelery. Jewellery through 7000 years (1976) London: British Museum Publications. p.70

Wire necklace from the Bronze Age collection at Norwich Castle Museum.

Wire necklaces from the Bronze Age collection at Norwich Castle Museum.

Tools and Weapons

  • Tools were usually made of copper, bronze or flint.
  • Weapons included knives, spears, rapiers, socketed axes and leaf shaped swords.
  • Tools included awls (for leatherworking), spades, hoes, ploughs and sickles.

Culture and Custom
Burial Customs

  • Both burial and cremation were common.
  • Barrows (round mounds made up of posts or stakes or often made of stones with turf heaped on top) were common.
  • This is known as ‘Tumulus burial’. Barrows are common near henges, but coffins and pyres were also used, but more often outside of Britain.
  • Womens graves are often filled with more wealthy burial goods.

Monuments and Cult

  • Stonehenge was begun in the neolithic and finished in the early Bronze age. Though the purpose of Stonehenge is widely disputed, most research points towards druidic/priestly worship and sun related cultures (Stonehenge referred to as a a ‘giant sundial’ with some frequency’).
  • Druid’s circle in Penmaenmawr, North Wales, is also associated with cult activities, as cremation urns and food vessels have been discovered here.
  • There is also evidence of caves being used for cult activities, particularly burial and cremation, throughout the bronze and iron ages; for example, bone cave in Dan Yr Ogof caves, Wales.
  • Standing stones are common near barrows, though the purpose of these are unclear.

Stonehenge as religious architecture. Allsopp, B. and Clark, U. (1979) English architecture : an introduction to the architectural history of England from the Bronze age to the present day. Stocksfield: Oriel Press. p.14

Stonehenge as a ‘solar sanctuary’. Mohen, J-P; Eluere, C (2000). The Bronze Age In Europe. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. p.98-99

And that is pretty much everything I now know about the Bronze Age! I feel more prepared, I think.

Books

Mohen, J-P; Eluere, C (2000). The Bronze Age In Europe. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Allsopp, B. and Clark, U. (1979) English architecture : an introduction to the architectural history of England from the Bronze age to the present day. Stocksfield: Oriel Press.

Harding, A. F. (2000). European Societies In The Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jewellery through 7000 years (1976) London: British Museum Publications.

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