Kent Archaeological Review extract

Man Before Metals.

Man before Metals, a new permanent exhibition at the British Museum, opened to the public on Friday 26 August, 1977.

Intended as an introduction to European prehistory with technological progress as the central theme, the exhibition, through the products of the first three million years of his history, traces man's early achievements in art and technology, and provides a comparison with the staggering rate of progress made over the past ten thousand years, as man has increasingly mastered an ever widening range of raw materials, of which clay and copper initially proved the most versatile and rewarding.

The problems encountered by early man in the mining and working of flint are illustrated, supplemented by a display of some of the finest examples of flint craftsmanship from the Danish Late-Neolithic. The first British pottery, crude and simple, is contrasted with a group of painted wares from the Ukraine, at once more sophisticated and of a higher order of technology. Organic materials on display from the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, the Neolithic lakeside settlements of Switzerland, and the Somerset trackways, are particularly important in helping to convey some idea of the range of perishable materials in use during these periods, which survive only under exceptional circumstances.

Some impressions of the artistic and spiritual aspirations of early man are conveyed by the magnificent Palaeolithic carvings from Bruniquel, Neolithic figurines of pottery, chalk and wood, and by the Folkton Drums, a set of richly carved blocks of limestone unique in prehistoric Europe, and totally enigmatic.

Chronologically, the exhibition closes with the appearance of the first metal tools and ornaments made of copper, gold and bronze, associated in Britain with the arrival of users of Beaker pottery. A burial of this period, recently excavated at Barnack in Cambridgeshire, has been reconstructed in the exhibition to show the variety of objects sometimes placed with the dead.

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