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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Know Your Prehistory (7) --
Bronze Age Beginning.
by Joy Saynor.

The time-span of this seventh article in the series has once again shrunk in relation to earlier stages in man's progression from savagery to civilisation. The period of less than 2,000 years can be regarded as lasting about as long as the space of time between the ending of the Dark Ages in Britain and the present day. Our terms of reference will also be narrowed, in that the European Bronze Age in some of its aspects only will be examined.

It was the Minoan civilisation in Crete, circa 2000-1400 BC (Middle and Late Minoan period), which produced the first true, albeit on an East Mediterranean island, European civilisation. A definition of Cretan society at this time would include technological advance in metal-working and pottery making, a developing Class structure resulting from the former, literacy, town life, the growth of roads and wheeled transport and certainly not least, maritime expansion. Cretan maritime skill can be most effectively illustrated by following the progress of their rituals of collective burial through the still Neolithic peasant cultures of the Mediterranean islands, along the coast-line and the hinter-land of France, in the Iberian peninsula to reach ultimately Ireland, Britain and at last, the Baltic regions. This skill is memorably illustrated in West Kent, in the region between Wrotham and the Medway, in the series of megalithic (large stone), burial chambers -- the Coldrum Stones at Trottescliffe, the Chestnuts at Addington, the Countless Stones and the most impressive of all, Kit's Coty House beside Bluebell Hill.

From Crete to the Greek mainland, then centring culturally on Mycenae, was but a short step, but one of potentially tremendous implications for the future of Europe. A pre-requisite for the further diffusion of a new culture was the allying of ethnic restlessness with the influence of peaceful traders, to help to bring the Neolithic era to an end in temperate Europe. This occurred shortly before the stage was reached in North China; 500 years after it had been reached on the Indus; 1,000 years after it had first appeared on the Euphrates and the Nile.

One such group, taking their cultural name from their characteristic pottery -- bell-shaped beakers decorated with cord or comb patterns -- the Beaker People, wandered from Iberia to Northern Europe and thence to Britain and Ireland, meeting en route warrior groups from east of the Rhine, noteable for their stone battleaxes, the Battle-Axe People, and in the process, discovered new sources of tin for their Bronze Age technology in Bohemia. Perhaps the Beaker People were drawn to Britain by this prospect of fresh supplies of their raw materials of copper and tin.

Recent research would seem to indicate that some seven distinct groups reached Britain, coalescing into three native groupings in this country, during a period lasting from circa 2000 to 1600-1550 BC, arriving in two distinct waves of infiltration or aggression. Through these newcomers, Britain was drawn into the European community, sharing in the economic system based upon the collection of copper and tin, and in the manufacture and sale of the finished bronze by itinerant smiths, and producing an aristocracy whose bronze weapons and armour proclaimed their rank.

Some 1,944 beaker finds have been made in Britain, apart from cemeteries of round barrows which have been excavated, containing single interments (in contrast to the Neolithic collective burials in long barrows), but only 100 purely domestic sites have been discovered in the country as a whole, and these the result of accidental discovery. In West Kent, for example, over the past five years, these few Bronze Age sites among the many sites of other periods, have been examined. The Gas Pipe Emergency in 1966, yielded at Botley Hill a possible temporary occupation site with flint flakes and a scraper. (Newsletter, 1966). In the same year, a Middle or Late Bronze Age farmstead was discovered on Hayes Common (KAR Number 7). Another Late Bronze Age farmstead had earlier been investigated at Broomwood, St. Paul's Cray. (KAR Number 8, and Arch. Cant. LXXVI). Field surveys in the Keston and Farnborough areas produced evidence of Neolithic/Bronze Age industries on at least two sites. (KAR Numbers 8 and KAR number 16).The chronology of the Bronze Age in Britain is based on the ten year old scheme (1960), of Professor Christopher Hawkes. He places its beginning in the late Neolithic-Copper Age; copper metallurgy plus early beakers; followed by an Early Bronze Age of late Beakers, to which can be added all the many and varied urn forms. To this succeeded the bronze typology of fully socketed spear-heads, palstaves, dirks and rapiers of the Middle Bronze Age, and ended in a Late Bronze Age minor industrial revolution, with the introduction of 2 per cent lead to produce lead-bronze for improved swords, axes and spearheads. It now seems likely that some of their settlements were protected by palisades and by the occasional hill-fort. But in spite of this evidence of war-like intent, the last technological advance of pre-history, the advent of iron-working, seems to have been part of peaceful trading ventures, unlike the dark ending of the Bronze Age in the Near East a few centuries earlier.


Grahame Clarke -- Know Your Prehistory, a New Outline, 1969.
J. O. S. Pendlebury -- The Archaeology of Crete, 1939.
G. E. Daniel -- The Megalith Builders of Western Europe, 1958. Current Archaeology, Numbers 14 and 19, May 1969 and March 1970.
Other articles in this series.
Issue (year) KAR number Article number Title
Winter 1971 #26 8 Iron Age Progressions
Summer 1971 #24 7 Bronze Age Beginnings
Winter 1970 #22 6 Bronze Age Beginnings
Autumn 1970 #21 5 The Neolithic Period
Spring 1970 #19 4 The Neolithic Revolution
Winter 1970 #18 3 Mesolithic Progress
Autumn 1969 #17 2 The Emergence of Homo Sapiens
Summer 1969 #16 1 The Dawn of Man
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