Vere Gordon Childe, 1930

The Bronze Age


First Published: by Cambridge University Press, 1930
Mark-up: Steve Painter


IV. THE EARLY BRONZE AGE

The Bronze Age peoples of Europe were essentially descendants of the stocks inhabiting the same or adjacent parts of our continent in Neolithic times. These were already racially very mixed, and the rise of metallurgy may well have involved the incorporation of foreign artificers and miners in the community, as indicated in Chapter I. Commercial activity, such as necessarily played a prominent part in Bronze Age economics, was also accompanied by a certain interchange of populations, not to be confused with mass migrations. At the same time the dry climatic conditions prevailing facilitated, and in some cases perhaps even necessitated, migratory movements. We thus are faced, even before the beginning of the Bronze Age, with groups already differentiated that by no means lost their identity when they adopted metallurgy. On the contrary, behind the close similarities of bronze tools and weapons that mark the earliest Bronze Age we discern already great divergences in pottery, burial rites and other traits. These divergences soon infect the bronze industry itself. The latter is again differentiated according as Egyptian or Anatolian traditions predominated among the local artificers.

In a general way it seems likely that metal first won general acceptance among the settled farming populations of the coasts and valleys. On the plateaux and plains where forests were giving way to heath and parkland flora, more mobile tribes mainly, though by no means exclusively, pastoral, continued for a while to content themselves with stone tools. Excluding the Aegean and Sicily, there are only three really important centres of Early Bronze Age culture in Europe, namely, Central Europe, South-eastern Spain and Britain, though Upper Italy may be added as a fourth group and the Rhone valley and Brittany were destined soon to join with the other regions.

CENTRAL EUROPE

In the valleys of the Tisza, the Middle and Upper Danube, the March, the Oder, the Upper Elbe and the Saale we find a series of allied communities. They are settled upon the great trade routes connecting the Adriatic with the amber of Jutland and East Prussia, and Bohemia with Slovakian copper and Transylvanian gold. It is convenient to designate all these kindred groups the Aunjetitz cultures, after a great cemetery at Unetice, south of Prague. There are, however, important differences between the several groups in pottery and to some extent also in ornaments. Strictly speaking the Aunjetitz culture is confined to Bohemia, Moravia, Lower Austria north of the Danube, Silesia and Saxo-Thuringia. On the fringe of this area there are local groups named respectively after Gata on the Austro-Hungarian frontier, Toszeg near Szolnok on the Upper Tisza, Perjamos near Arad on the Maros and Straubing on the Upper Danube in Lower Bavaria.[1]

All equally belong to descendants of the local Copper Age populations, essentially Danubian II (Lengyel) folk mixed in varying proportions with intruders from farther north, Anatolians and Bell-beaker folk from Spain. The latter had profoundly affected the industry of the region, without, however, leaving any appreciable trace on the physical character of the population. The metallurgy of our region is nonetheless on the whole inspired primarily by the Anatolian school, as a consideration of the pins and ear-rings at once betrays. From Danubian II times onwards there had been indications of Anatolian penetration in the pottery, Mediterranean shells and stray metal objects found in graves throughout the Danubian area; prospectors, perhaps from Troy, had discovered the gold of Transylvania and the tin of Bohemia. In the advanced Copper Age some ceramic groups exhibit such marked Anatolian features that one suspects a considerable influx of Orientals. Such would presumably have been extracting gold, copper and tin for export down the Danube to Troy, where rich bronze occurs in the second city. But when Troy II was sacked, the market would be closed. The strangers must produce for local consumption. The rise of the native Aunjetitz industry dated from that moment.

The Aunjetitz people were of moderate stature but long-headed: they were not therefore descended from the exclusively round-headed Beaker folk. They lived primarily by farming, but undoubtedly controlled the exploitation of ore and the trade in amber and metals. Their dwellings were for the most part round beehive pits dug in the loess, but rectangular houses with plastered wattle walls were also built. The villages were of modest size judging from the cemeteries, which comprise no more than a hundred graves. The dead were always interred in the contracted position with the knees drawn up to the breast. In one case in Bohemia a megalithic kist formed the tomb.

Stone and bone tools including celts (some of flint with rectangular cross-section as in the northern Neolithic province), hammer-axes, grooved hammer-stones, crescent-shaped flint sickles, bone awls and chisels, horn picks and axes, are quite common in the settlements. From hoards and graves we know flat and flanged celts (both axes and chisels) and quadrangular awls of bronze. The principal weapon was the flat triangular dagger with wooden or bronze hilt, but two bronze battleaxes with knobbed butts have been found in Bohemian graves.

The pins all belong to the group with loop heads, and in particular those with simple roll, knot, perforated globular, racket, disk or husk heads. Distinctive of the Aunjetitz culture in the narrower sense is the pin with a cast loop surmounting an inverted conical head. In all cases the shaft is generally bent near the point. Except for the “manchette” armlet with engraved or ribbed surface, restricted to Bohemia and the immediately adjoining territories, the bracelets are less typical. On the other hand, the ingot torque (Fig. 122) is found throughout the area, as are the spiral lock-rings of gold or bronze like Fig. 129 and the cognate form of Fig. 128. Amber necklaces of two or more strings of beads connected by spacers are common only in Bohemia, Saxo-Thuringia and Bavaria. In Moravia and Lower Austria amber occurs sporadically, while none is reported from Hungarian graves. Tubes of rolled bronze leaf and fossil Dentalium shells, together with imported Cardium shells or bronze imitations thereof, were likewise strung together for necklaces. Little bone disks decorated with concentric circles may have had a similar use. Girdles of stuff or of multiple bronze chains were worn, and scutiform or circular plates might be sewn on to the former.

The pottery of the whole group is very fine, well-baked and burnished, but rarely decorated. It varies in colour from orange to black and is often mottled like Anatolian wares. The leading form is a mug or jug with a loop handle attached some way below the rim. In the narrower Aunjetitz area it is at first pouch-shaped, having a rather pear-shaped body, a slightly conical neck and an everted rim (Fig. 145). The body and neck were moulded separately and then joined, a procedure which leaves a groove round the shoulder. Later the body is suppressed altogether, and we get the classical keeled mug with cavetto neck (Fig. 147), In both varieties there is a dimple in the base. The earlier pouch-shaped type alone is found in Bavaria and Lower Austria and recurs with rather longer and narrower neck and a trumpet mouth in the Hungarian Toszeg group. At Perjamos and Gata the distinctive type is an hour-glass mug with two handles descending from the brim to the belly, an essentially Anatolian type that began to appear even in Danubian II. An amphora is also found in Bohemia, but there the handles are attached to the neck below the rim.

Together with the mug goes a wide dish with a groove under the broad brim (Fig. 146). There are also a few bowls on hollow pedestals and many large jars or pithoi intentionally roughened on the outside. Bohemia and Moravia have also yielded a number of small vases that obviously imitate stone models, imported presumably from the Aegean. Finally, from Nienhagen on the northern slopes or the Harz comes a famous clay copy of a Minoan metal cup of the so-called Vapheio shape[2].

Incised ornament when present is limited to a belt of parallel lines round the rim or shoulder with fillets hanging from it. In Hungary the incised lines are replaced by applied ribs arranged in the same way. Small nipples on the shoulders are found everywhere. The art of the Aunjetitz group is better illustrated by the engraved patterns on daggers, armlets and pinheads. It is purely rectilinear, the favourite motive being a small hatched triangle. On round surfaces these may be arranged in concentric rings. The cross is also found on some disk-head pins. This rigidly rectilinear style is universal throughout the Early Bronze Age save for the Spanish and Scottish stone carvings to be mentioned below. It is sometimes regarded as West European but might equally well be northern, since similar triangle patterns had been very common on the Corded Ware vases of Thuringia in the later Stone Age.

In Saxo-Thuringia side by side with regular Aunjetitz graves distinguished by no superficial monument, we encounter interments under barrows, often very richly furnished. The most famous are the barrows of Leubingen and Helmsdorf. Both contained halberds in addition to the normal Aunjetitz armoury. Such barrows probably belong to descendants of the Neolithic Corded Ware folk of Thuringia. The halberds and a celt of English manufacture from Helmsdorf show that these warriors controlled trade routes leading westward as well as the great amber route along the Elbe. The special culture that was differentiated under these circumstances in the Saale valley may well be no earlier than Reinecke's phase B while the Aunjetitz culture proper occupies both phases A and B.

North of Magdeburg and Glogau no burials furnished with Early Bronze Age types are known. But at least in Scandinavia and along the North Sea coasts the old Nordic population still lived on in a Stone Age, burying their dead either in megalithic long kists or under barrows. In a few such graves gold spirals of Aunjetitz types (like Fig. 129) or other stray imports have been unearthed to confirm the synchronism of this belated Stone Age with a precocious Bronze culture. Similarly, south of the Drave the so-called Slavonian culture seems to lack metal. Yet the pottery includes keeled mugs quite like those of Aunjetitz and Toszeg. Moreover, one group of Middle Bronze Age pottery from Hungary is a direct continuation of the Slavonian tradition.

UPPER ITALY

A contemporary centre of metallurgical industry in Northern Italy must be inferred from the distribution of certain types such as the flanged celts like Fig. 20. I. It is not, however, easy to locate the centre accurately. In the province of Brescia extensive cemeteries, notably the type site of Remedello, have been explored that go back to the Copper Age, in fact to the Bell-beaker period. Beside the narrow-shouldered West European dagger and others of Early Minoan form with midrib and short tang and flint copies of both, the graves contained round-heeled triangular daggers and even flanged celts, albeit of pure copper.[3]

Within the period covered by the cemeteries pile-dwellings were being founded on the Italian Lakes. These were occupied for a long time and have yielded stone tools as well as Middle and even Late Bronze Age types. But there are indications that some Early Bronze Age forms were actually cast in the lake-villages, and amber beads attest their relations with the North. It is supposed that the lake-dwellers were invaders from beyond the Alps though their precise home is uncertain. Some of the pots really resemble early Aunjetitz shapes, but they exhibit a curious spur or thumb-grip at the top of the handle that is more at home south of the Alps.

The Early Bronze Age culture of Italy is, therefore, still rather vague. Industrially, Aegean and Spanish traditions met there, even the halberd is represented in hoards. Ethnically, an old native Neolithic stock was overlaid by Bell-beaker elements from Spain and immigrants from beyond the Alps.

SPAIN

As a centre of Early Bronze Age industry South-eastern Spain ranks in importance with Bohemia and even perhaps the Aegean. Here, too, it looks as if the rise of a local Bronze Age coincided with an interruption of relations with the Eastern Mediterranean, which obliged foreign metallurgists, settled round the rich lodes of copper and silver, to produce for a local market. The effects of earlier eastern trade are illustrated by the Copper Age settlements and cemeteries of Los Millares in Almeria and of Palmella in Portugal. At Los Millares the dead were buried in beehive tombs built of stones and roofed by corbelling. Similar, but sometimes even finer, tombs are known from Granada, Andalucia and Southern Portugal. The tombs at Palmella are similarly shaped, but hewn out of the rock. Both types seem to be derived from the Eastern Mediterranean. That is confirmed by the discovery at Los Millares of ostrich-shell beads, pins of hippopotamus-ivory, vases of stone and plaster, painted pottery and bone combs, as well as flat celts, West European daggers, saws, arrowheads and other copper implements. With the Oriental imports are found also Baltic amber, English jet and French callais. The pottery in all the above-mentioned tombs includes Beaker ware mingled with undecorated local vases sometimes of Early Minoan or Cycladic form.

Siret[4] believes that these rich tombs belonged to Oriental colonists who had founded trading-posts at points commanding the sea route to the North and the local supplies of ore. He insists that the rarity of gold and silver at this time is due to the fact that the precious metals were exported to the Ancient East and the Aegean, just as in Denmark, when in Late Neolithic times the amber trade with Bohemia was established, that substance, formerly common in every tomb, ceased to figure in the grave inventory. In the Bronze Age culture that succeeded that of Los Millares, silver became relatively common and foreign imports correspondingly rare, as might be inferred on the assumption of the interruption of eastern trade.

The chief centre of Early Bronze Age civilisation lay in Almeria, the type station being El Argar in that province.[5] The same culture spread all along the east coast of the Peninsula to the Pyrenees and is traceable, though in an impoverished form, in Andalucia and Southern Portugal.

Physically the Bronze Age population of South-eastern Spain was mixed. Among the males long-heads and round-heads were represented in approximately equal proportions; the women on the other hand were predominantly brachycephalic.

The El Argar folk were certainly farmers and as surely also metallurgists. Moulds, grooved hammer-stones and slag have turned up in several settlements. The people doubtless exploited the local copper and silver ores, but the supply of tin which had to be imported from Galicia, the Cevennes, Brittany or Cornwall was irregular. None of the tools analysed contained as much as ten per cent, and the majority consist of unalloyed copper. In Almeria the El Argar people lived on hilltops defended by great stone walls, sometimes pierced by a postern reminiscent of Mycenae. The houses were agglomerations of rectangular chambers with stone foundations for the walls. Some may have boasted two storeys. The dead were buried, contracted, within the settlements, among or under the houses, either in small kists of six thin slabs or in large jars. Some sarcophagi, hollowed out of stone, are also assigned to this period. Against a wall in one village was an altar-like construction embellished with horn-like ends suggesting a well-known Minoan cult object, the horns of consecration.

The principal tools are celts, flat or with low flanges, and quadrangular awls. As weapons were employed round-heeled knife-daggers, halberds and the bow and arrows. The daggers, as in the Cyclades, were not seldom attached to the hilts by small silver rivets. As noted, the daggers eventually grew into short flat swords. The halberd, the most distinctive weapon of the peninsula, is already foreshadowed by flint blades from Los Millares and contemporary sites. The bronze specimens vary widely in shape: most are symmetrical, some have very broad butts, the rivets may be quite big and a broad midrib is frequently used to strengthen the blade. The arrows were tipped with tanged copper heads, generally lozenge-shaped and seldom barbed. The type goes back to the Copper Age culture of Los Millares. Narrow plaques of schist, perforated at either end, were probably worn on the wrist by archers as a protection against the recoil of the bow-string. Elsewhere such wrist-guards are found in graves with Bell-beakers.

The ornaments are dull in comparison with the Bohemian. The most interesting is a diadem, an open circlet of silver or sheet copper, shaped so as to leave an upright projection in front. Plain rings of silver or bronze wire were worn on the arms and fingers and in the ears. Another ornament for the arm or neck was made from a boar’s tusk perforated with a series of holes through which small copper rings were stuck. Beads of rolled copper leaf or coiled wire together with shells were hung on necklaces. There are also a few imported beads of callais, segmented beads of Minoan or Egyptian faience and imitations thereof in bone. Pyramidal bone buttons with V perforation served to fasten the garments.

The El Argar pottery, like that of Aunjetitz, is normally unornamented and red, black or mottled. Handles are virtually unknown, nor is the base ever dimpled; rounded bottoms are indeed common. The main forms are goblets with inverted rims on a solid pedestal (Fig. 149), dishes with similar rims, big carinated bowls with flattened conical necks (Fig. 148), and keeled mugs with cavetto necks (Fig. 150). The latter closely resemble the Aunjetitz form in profile, but never have handles. Such parallels need imply no direct connection; they are rather developments of Copper Age types in which North African and Aegean elements were prominent, and some of which reached Central Europe along with the Bell-beaker culture.

In the East Spanish cradle of the El Argar culture, so rich in artistic production of the Stone and Copper Ages, no indications of decorative activity assignable to the Bronze Age have come to light. But in the North-west (Northern Portugal, Galicia and the Pyrenees), where isolated bronzes of El Argar form and traces of contemporary mining have come to light, two curious series of rock-carvings exist that may be described here. The first and older group is a degenerate descendant of the well-known Copper Age group described by Burkitt.[6] Its patterns seem to represent yet more conventionalised versions of the human figure. The body has become a rectangle or three concentric circles round a central dot. The head is denoted by a vertical line starting from the periphery and sometimes terminating in a circle or a cross. A pair of short oblique strokes, sprouting from the upper corners of the rectangles or the appropriate cords of the circles may be added to represent arms, and legs may be similarly indicated (Fig. 153). Some of these figures may stand for the four-wheeled carts depicted on the Copper Age monuments.

In a later group conventionalisation had proceeded even farther. Of the old figures nothing now remains but circles sometimes traversed by a radial line and enclosing a round hollow, termed a cup mark (Fig. 153), or a group of such. But mixed up with these geometric figures on some rocks are highly conventionalised but quite recognisable animals, carved in the same technique. Apart from these animal figures the later Galician rock carvings offer most interesting parallels to the “cup and ring” markings of the British Isles. They thus supplement the evidence afforded by beads and tools for the continuance of those ancient trade relations along the Atlantic coasts of which the distribution of megalithic tombs give proof in the Stone Age.

Settlements and cemeteries of classical El Argar type are common only along the east coast of the peninsula from the Ebro to Gibraltar. In Portugal El Argar types occur principally in the late degenerate forms of the local megalithic tombs. The same remark applies to the Pyrenaean region where a local megalithic culture evolved in the Copper Age out of a fusion of Portuguese, Bell-beaker and local Neolithic elements, now accepted some El Argar types of tool and pottery. In time the range of the El Argar culture may be considerable. It must begin quite early in the second millennium BC, yet, at least in its homeland, it has no successor till the Iron Age.

Rock carvings, kist coverstone, slab from tomb

Apart from the limited adoption of El Argar types in the south, it seems that the natives of France were incapable of fulfilling the conditions requisite for regular supplies of metal. Though isolated bronzes of early type are widespread, burials furnished with such are confined to the north-west corner and the extreme east (Savoy and Jura). The negative evidence is supplemented by the discovery of a few Bronze Age trinkets among Neolithic or Copper Age grave goods in the stone kists of the Cevennes or the allees couvertes of the Seine-Oise-Marne basins.

In Normandy and Brittany on the other hand a series of tombs furnished with Early Bronze Age types testifies to a vigorous though belated metal industry. The Armorican culture probably belongs rather to the Middle Bronze Age, like that of the Rhone, and so does not rank as an original centre of metallurgy, but it is nonetheless more convenient to mention it here at the expense of chronological exactitude. The Bronze Age graves lie conspicuously outside the areas where the famous megalithic tombs are concentrated. They seem to denote a new and probably intrusive culture. The tombs are generally chambers built of small stones not bonded with any mortar and roofed either with a single large capstone or with a corbelled vault. The whole structure was buried beneath a mound or cairn. Usually no passage connected the chamber with the exterior of the cairn, but some tombs with a corridor of access in Normandy may belong to this period. The tombs were designed for one interment only, and in most cases the body had been burned, though inhumations occur.[7]

The furniture includes flat celts and round-heeled daggers[8] of bronze and superb tanged and barbed arrowheads of flint. One wooden dagger-hilt had been studded with 1333 little gold nails; other daggers are bronze hilted. Wrist-guards for the bowman have been found but rarely. Among the ornaments may be mentioned a ring-head pin of silver and rare beads of amber or vitreous paste.

A curious vase regularly accompanies these burials. It is strictly biconical though the upper cone is shorter and more depressed than the lower one. Two or four wide strap handles unite the rim to the keel where the two cones join. The vases may be decorated with herringbone incisions or with rows of hatched triangles along the keel and base and the same inverted below the keel and along the rim. This is the same style of decoration that we find generally on bronzes and gold ornaments throughout the Early Bronze Age. The origin of this culture is at the moment unknown.

The Early Bronze Age cultures in Savoy and Eastern France are chiefly represented by burials under barrows, which may still contain stone axes (celts) together with bronze offerings. They are inspired partly from Bohemia and Hungary like the Rhone culture of the Middle Bronze Age.

At the close of the Neolithic Age the dominant folk on both sides of the Rhine possessed the culture termed by Burkitt “Pile-dwelling”. They dwelt in fortified settlements. At the same time part of the country was overrun by Corded Ware makers from farther east and the Bell-beaker folk from the West. Mixed communities arose under these conditions. From an amalgamation between the two intrusive groups sprang the so-called Zoned-beaker group. This people already possessed round-heeled daggers of true Bronze Age type. A large proportion of them went downstream and settled in Britain, as we shall see below.

In the Rhineland itself, however, a kindred group, including more Pile-dwelling elements, remained behind and created the Adlerberg culture, so called after a village and cemetery on a knoll of that name on the outskirts of Worms. The huts were pit-dwellings, partly sunk in the earth, and the graves, situated among the huts, each contained a contracted corpse. Round-heads were predominant in the population. The grave goods are poor and primitive rare flat celts, round-heeled flat daggers and quadrangular awls of bronze, and pins with broad rolled heads and a shaft bent like a sabre. The latter type was also imitated in bone. The graves also yielded flint knives and arrowheads, bone and allegedly ivory rings, and beads and shells, including Mediterranean species, pierced for stringing.

The commonest pot is a rather biconical or pear-shaped mug with ribbon handles that may be decorated with rows of incised triangles like the Armorican vases.

GREAT BRITAIN

The round-headed Beaker folk who descended the Rhine settled in Great Britain, introducing there their own habit of individual burial under a round barrow in contrast to the collective interments under a long barrow practised by the supposedly older “Neolithic” long-heads. Naturally the invaders from the East did not exterminate the older population. The latter continued to bury their dead for a time in the family vaults under long barrows, and, though the round barrow eventually became universal, probably ended by absorbing the intruders. They at any rate played a part in the development of the bronze industry. Yet the oldest metal objects in Britain have been found under round barrows and with beakers. Though flint and stone are far commoner than metal with such pottery, the Beaker folk probably introduced the knowledge of metallurgy or the organising ability needed to make that knowledge effective; the establishment of the necessary organisation naturally took time for invaders in a strange country.

Our knowledge of the British Bronze Age being founded in a peculiar degree upon a study of the funerary pottery and associated grave goods, our account of it must begin with a description of the main types. The beakers[9] that symbolise the invaders have been divided into three main classes by Thurnam and Abercromby, denoted by the letters A, B, and C most unhappily since, while the A and C beakers are closely allied, the B beakers are placed in a class apart by ornament and associations as well as by form.

Beakers of class B stand nearest to the continental varieties. The rims are everted and the profile forms a graceful reversed S curve down to the base. The clay is fine, often red and generally burnished. The ornament is arranged in predominantly horizontal zones, as a rule alternately plain and decorated. The patterns, repeated round the zones, are quite simple chevrons, triangles, Xs. The decoration was executed either with a cog-wheel or short-toothed comb of bone or wood whose square teeth, rolled over the wet clay, have left an almost continuous series of little rectangular depressions, or (in North Britain) with a cord impressed upon the damp clay or finally with a simple pointed implement. Beakers of this type are found all over the island. They are regularly associated with bronze, or perhaps copper, daggers of West European type (Fig. 41), barbed and tanged flint arrowheads, stone wrist-guards and buttons with V-perforation, but never with objects of Nordic type (stone battleaxes or flint daggers).

Beakers of types A and C bear a close family likeness. The neck is practically straight or even inturned at the rim and makes a definite angle with the globular body instead of rising out of it in a continuous swelling curve. In type A the neck is relatively long in comparison with the body while in C it is shorter. These beakers exhibit a greater variety of ornament than those of class B. The arrangement is no longer exclusively horizontal; a division into panels or metopes is common, and occasionally vertical bands predominate. The patterns include saltires, elongated triangles and lozenges. Cord-impression is not employed, but in addition to the remaining devices applied to the decoration of B beakers, we have the imprint of fingernails and of a hollow reed or bird's legbone. In type C horizontal ridges in relief may be used decoratively. In the same class are to be included a small group of beakers with handles. Such appendages are foreign to the pure bell-beakers of Western Europe, but are not rare in Bavaria and farther east. With beakers of types A and C are associated flat round-heeled daggers with rivets for the handle (Fig. 42), flint daggers, stone battleaxes and flint arrowheads.

Lord Abercromby[10] believed that the Beaker folk landed at one point on our coasts, probably in Kent, and spread gradually northwards. The gradual degeneration of type A would provide a time scale for checking their advance. The theory of a single landing place is now generally rejected, and class B beakers must be excluded from the typological series as a group apart. On the other hand, the C beakers, which may well be decadent descendants of the A group, are really commonest in North Britain, So the people who made them may in truth have spread northwards by land routes rather as Abercromby imagined.

Partly, at least, contemporary with the beaker burials are others, accompanied by a quite unrelated vase termed a food vessel. This was the funerary pot of the “Neolithic” stock and originated in North Britain or Ireland out of a bowl found in the long barrows and contemporary settlements. The allegedly Neolithic bowls were round-bottomed so that food vessels showing this peculiarity may be regarded as early. Such are lotus-shaped with ornament even on the base; they are termed type A by Abercromby. Very soon the base was flattened and a groove developed round the widest part of the body. As a further development, or more probably as a derivative of another variety of “Neolithic” bowl, the part above the grooves was contracted somewhat to form a slightly concave neck, the groove being now in a well-marked shoulder. The classical types of England are a modification of this. The lower part is an inverted truncated cone; above this comes a marked shoulder bearing one (types 1 and 2) (Fig. 151) or two (type 4) grooves or none at all (type 3). The shoulder is surmounted by a short concave neck. In all food vessels the rim is broad and moulded, generally on the inside.

Food vessels, especially in North Britain and Ireland, are very richly decorated. The cog-wheel technique, distinctive of Beaker ornament, is indeed comparatively rare on food vessels south of Derbyshire, while cord impressions are exceptional farther north. On the other hand, three methods of ornamentation strange to beakers were freely employed on food vessels in Ireland and Western Scotland, but grow progressively rarer as we proceed southward in England. They are termed by Abercromby the whipped-cord, the looped-cord and the false-relief techniques respectively.

In the first a cord, twisted tightly round a pin or other thin core, is impressed upon the damp clay, a style of decoration known also on “Neolithic” pottery in Scotland. The looped-cord effect may be obtained by twisting two cords together to form a braid which is impressed upon the clay, then unwinding the braid and forming a new one with the cords twisted in the opposite direction. The false relief is obtained by impressing on the soft clay a bone or wooden implement with a triangular point like that of a penknife so as to produce a series of triangles whose bases form a continuous line. The process is repeated with the point of the instrument inverted so as to yield a second series of triangles whose bases shall be parallel to those of the first but whose apices point to the junction of the bases of the first series. A zig-zag band is thus left in relief between the two sets of inverted triangles. Sometimes an actual triangular stamp of wood may have been employed. And in any case the effect is similar to that of the fretwork technique on Central European pottery described in the next chapter. It is already seen on some true bell-beakers from North Spain and Central Europe.

Though covered with patterns, food vessels seldom exhibit such distinctive motives as are seen on beakers of class A. We may, however, draw attention to the radial cruciform or stellate patterns on the bases of some Irish and Scottish examples. They distinctly recall the patterns radiating from the bases of vases of the bell-beaker class in Spain and Portugal.

The food vessels of early type are found principally in Ireland and the more mountainous northern and western portions of Great Britain. In Southern England funerary vases of this group are quite rare, and all belong to late or degenerate types. Food vessels, in fact, doubtless belong to the “Neolithic” stock, dispossessed in the south by the Beaker folk. Nevertheless fresh arrivals from the south-west, whence the “Neolithic” people had presumably come, are highly probable. A reinforcement of Spanish influence is demonstrated by the radial decoration mentioned above as well as by the contemporary halberds, the chambered tumuli of the type of New Grange, the carvings on stones there and elsewhere and other cognate phenomena.

With food vessels are associated flat triangular daggers, celts and awls of bronze, flint arrowheads and stone battleaxes, but no wrist-guards or flint daggers and very few buttons with V-perforation. The skulls of corpses interred with food vessels, like those from the “Neolithic” long barrows, are quite often long-headed in contrast to the pronounced round-headedness of the Beaker folk. Moreover, in some instances food vessels accompany cremated interments and may even contain the ashes.

To adapt them better to the function of ossuaries, the food vessels were eventually greatly enlarged, becoming what are termed cinerary urns. The general adoption of cremation, signalised by the appearance of the cinerary urn, may be conveniently taken to mark the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age here, although no corresponding changes in the buried bronze offerings can be detected. And it must be noted that even beakers were in use side by side with early cineraries.

Sharply defined cultural groups are not distinguishable in Great Britain till the Late Bronze Age, but even in our period we can discern the working of a principle, recently enunciated by Dr Fox.[11] In the predominantly lowland area south-east of a line from Teesmouth to Torquay foreign cultures of continental origin tend to be imposed; in the highland country to the north-west such tend to be absorbed. In our period the Beaker culture maintained itself for a long time in the south; in the north the native Bronze culture characterised by food vessels soon developed and superseded it. Two overlapping phases of the British Early Bronze Age are thus obvious; the first, marked by the earlier types of beakers, witnessed the arrival and expansion of the round-headed invaders; during the second the older population, distinguished by the food vessels, reasserted itself. Thanks to the blending of two traditions the native civilisation of the British Isles during these two periods was vigorous and original.

While they undoubtedly cultivated grains and engaged in trade and industry, our Bronze Age ancestors were semi-nomadic. As Dr Curwen[12] puts it “like the patriarch Isaac who ‘sowed in that land and found in the same year an hundredfold ... and departed thence’ our Bronze Age ancestors inhabited a site from one to five years until the cornplots were exhausted and then moved elsewhere”. No large villages have been found, and the earlier burials do not constitute regular cemeteries. A few fortified enclosures on hilltops were certainly occupied by the Beaker folk, but their foundation dates from an earlier age. The defences, of which Windmill Hill near Avebury offers the typical example, consisted of concentric moats interrupted by frequent causeways.[13]

The dwellings of the period were mainly circular. In England the hut was excavated in the chalky ground and completed probably by a conical roof of skins. In Scotland beaker sherds have been found in “hut-circles” of which the foundation only, a circular bank of stones and turf, survives; the nature of the superstructure is unknown. In one near Muirkirk in Ayrshire[14] a post-hole was observed near the centre as well as a large hole full of ashes and cracked stones that served as a cooking-pit. Such hut-circles are scattered all over the moors throughout the British Isles and are easily seen when the heather is not too high. In all a gap in the circular bank, often flanked by great stones, marks the doorway. In some later huts (Late Bronze Age) on Dartmoor[15] the megalithic jambs and the stone lintel above them are still in position. These show that by the Late Bronze Age at least the hut with low narrow doorway (2 feet 9 inches wide by 3 feet 9 inches high) was already well established. Sometimes the door opens on to a low narrow passage, often bent in an elbow. A comparison with the snow huts of the Esquimaux suggests that these features were designed to exclude currents of cold air. The superstition about draughts that makes railway travelling so painful even now is clearly very old. The inhabitants of hut-circles seem to have enjoyed the odorous warmth of human bodies clustered about a reeking fire as much as their Arctic representatives. The stone hut-circle, with its analogues in the beehive tomb, is an Atlantic-Mediterranean device inherited from the old “Neolithic” stock in Britain, but it continued to grow into even more elaborate forms during the Iron Age.

Hut-circles generally occur in little groups, evidently tiny hamlets of from four to twelve families. Adjacent to some groups, for instance on Dartmoor and on Spartleton Edge in the Lammermoors, remains of irregular enclosures, fenced by dry walls of stone, are noticeable. They may denote the cornplots of the semi-nomadic villagers.[16]

Nearly all Early Bronze Age burials have been marked externally by a mound of earth or a cairn of stones. But the barrows and the grave beneath them vary considerably in structure. The simplest form of barrow is a roughly circular mound; from their external appearance such tumuli are termed “bowl barrows”. The base of the mound is sometimes surrounded with a ring of large stones, technically called a peristalith, that served to keep the material of the tumulus in place. Occasionally such a ring of stones or a circular trench dug in the virgin soil encircles the grave but is completely buried by the mass of the barrow. Very close attention is therefore needed during the excavation of even a simple bowl barrow to disclose these and other possible structural features. A more elaborate monument is the so-called “bell barrow”. Here the mound is surrounded by a ditch or fosse with a bank outside it; a narrow belt of level ground, known as the berm, generally intervenes between the inner lip of the encircling fosse and the base of the mound proper. Some gigantic tumuli, covering built chambers, such as the celebrated Maes Howe in Orkney, could be classed as bell barrows though some believe them to be Neolithic rather than Bronze Age. In a third type, christened the “disk barrow”, the central eminence has virtually disappeared; we have, that is, an immense berm encircled by fosse and rampart. Such are supposed to be late in the Early Bronze Age; disks are generally earlier.[17]

The normal grave of the Beaker people was a simple trench or, in hard country, a short kist built of six stone slabs at the centre of the barrow. In Ireland and Northern and Western Scotland some round cairns which covered circular or more often cruciform chambers, roofed by corbelling, are still assigned to the Bronze Age. Such chambered cairns are clearly connected with the old long barrows that covered similar chambers. And it must be remembered that Early Bronze Age pottery, principally Beaker ware, has been found in quite a number of long barrows, showing that such family vaults were still in use when the Beaker folk reached our shores.

“The standing stones on the naked wine red moor are a feature of British highland scenery scarcely less impressive than the grandeur of their setting. Mr Burkitt[18] has already described the principal characters of menhirs, alignments and cromlechs as well as Stonehenge,[19] but a few additional words on the stone circles are indispensable to any account of the Bronze Age in Great Britain. It has been suggested that the stone circle developed out of the peristalith of a cairn or from the buried setting under one.[20] At Clava near Inverness we actually find circles of huge upright stones enclosing the chambered cairns, and at Callernish in Lewis a similar ring of uprights encloses a chambered tumulus but just touches its periphery. Our stone circles vary widely in character and doubtless also in date and function. All consist of upright stones placed so as to form a ring, but the number, size and arrangement of the stones are variable. There are circles whose stones barely emerge above the surface of the ground and others like Avebury (Wilts), consisting of stupendous blocks of stone. Some large circles are surrounded by a fosse and bank like the Rings of Brodgar (no bank) and Stennis in Orkney, Arbor Low in Derbyshire and of course Stonehenge itself and Avebury. The diameter between the stones of Brodgar is 340 feet. A much smaller example of a similar type (without bank) is to be seen at the Broomend of Crichie near Inverarie with a diameter of only 38 feet. Its six pillars surround a central burial kist. In a specialised group, confined to Aberdeenshire, the uprights increase in height progressively throughout a semicircle, and a huge horizontal slab, termed the recumbent, lies between the two highest which are of course adjacent. Some circles at least were sepulchral. For example, a kist containing a food vessel was found so precisely in the centre of a circle on Mauchrum Moor on the west coast of Arran that grave and circle must have been conceived as a single monument. The food vessel incidentally fixes the Early Bronze Age date of this circle at least. But others may be later in date and need not have been connected with any burials. Sometimes two circles are closely juxtaposed as in the famous Grey Wethers on Dartmoor.

Near many stone circles stands a single upright termed the outlier. Such are attached to all sorts of circles in all parts of the country, e.g. to the fossed Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, to most Aberdeenshire circles, to the small ring termed the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, etc. Outliers furnish one of the principal arguments to those who believe the circles to have been astronomical. The outlier would be a pointer to mark some celestial event viewed from the centre at a stated season of the year. Unfortunately in quite a number of cases the only possible phenomena to which many of these outliers might have been orientated prove to be of such an inconspicuous nature that they are unlikely to have attracted attention in our clouded heavens. Indeed it is fantastic to imagine that the ill-clad inhabitants of these boreal isles should shiver night-long in rain and gale, peering through the driving mists to note eclipses and planetary movements in our oft-veiled skies.

The cover-stones of certain Scottish kists containing food vessels or beakers exhibit a curious carved decoration, and allied patterns can be seen on the stones of the peristaliths and chambers of the famous chambered tumuli at New Grange and Lough Crew in Ireland. Here Professor Breuil has been able to distinguish four series.[21] The first, simple engraved lines, and the second, consisting of spirals and other curvilinear figures executed by pocking, are anterior to the building of the tumuli, which partly hide the markings. Subsequently other patterns — lozenges and diapers — pocked all over, were squeezed into the spaces left by the earlier figures. Designs of the same series, Breuil's group IV, recur together with spirals, on the underside of the stone covering a kist containing a beaker at Carnwath in Lanarkshire (Fig. 154). Between these limits fall a large series of patterns, allied in design and technique to group II but executed on living rock surfaces in Southern Scotland and Northern England. The commonest device here is the “cup-and-ring marking”: a shallow depression, 1-2 inches in diameter hammered out in the rock surface, is surrounded by from one to eight concentric circles, pocked out; a groove often runs from the centre to just beyond the outermost circle (cf. Fig. 153). Cognate curvilinear patterns, showing very clearly the motive of a pair of human eyes that is just discernible at New Grange, are carved on a chalk drum found under an Early Bronze Age barrow at Folkton in Yorkshire. Probably in all these carvings we have very conventionalised versions of the human figure or parts thereof and perhaps of ritual objects such as bull-roarers. The peculiarity of the group lies in the use of curvilinear motives that are otherwise foreign to the Bronze Age art of Europe except at a later date in Scandinavia and Hungary. The spirals have been interpreted as due to Mycenaean influence. In any case the carvings do indicate very close connections with the South-west. The spirals of New Grange have parallels, which cannot be accidental, on the walls of the great passage grave of Gavr’inis, Brittany. The cup-and-ring markings exhibit no less significant similarities to the Galician rock carvings mentioned previously. These carvings can hardly be merely decorative. As we have no insight into their inner function and significance, we mask our ignorance by calling them religious or magical.

The purely decorative art of our Early Bronze Age is illustrated on the pottery already discussed and on the weapons and ornaments. Of the latter the most striking are the gold lunulae and jet necklaces described in Chapter III. All show the strictly rectilinear patterns of triangles and similar motives usual everywhere at the period, engraved in the case of bronzes and lunulae and punctured on the jet beads.

The main types of tools and weapons in use have already been sufficiently summarised in dealing with the grave goods associated with beakers and food vessels. The only important addition to the list, given by a study of the few hoards assignable to the period, is the halberd that was, as noted in Chapter III, very common in Ireland. It must again be insisted that flint was very freely used, not only for arrowheads but also for all sorts of knives and scrapers, and polished stone celts, as well as battleaxes, were still current. Yet copper or bronze flat celts were manufactured locally. Moulds for casting such have turned up in Scotland to an extent unsurpassed anywhere on the continent outside South-eastern Spain, and the distribution of actual specimens coincides fairly closely with that of Early Bronze Age settlement as disclosed by Beaker burials. On the other hand, Dr Fox[22] contends that the bronze knife-daggers were imported from the South by sea. They are certainly concentrated in South-western England and become disproportionately rarer to the east and north. Commercial or other connections with the Iberian Peninsula were certainly close during the period. And a dagger whose wooden hilt was decorated with tiny gold nails affords a link with contemporary Brittany. At the same time contact with the lands across the North Sea is illustrated by the amber necklaces and flint daggers of Scandinavian type as well as by beads in the form of a double-axe a well-known “Neolithic” type in Denmark.

Thus three currents met in England during the Early Bronze Age: one from Central Europe represented by the invading Beaker folk, another from the Iberian Peninsula, perhaps unconnected with popular movement, and a third, plainly mercantile, from Scandinavian countries. That explains the intense vigour and originality of our Bronze Age civilisation.


1. CHILDE. The Danube in Prehistory. Oxford, 1929

2. EVANS, A.J. The Palace of Minos at Knossos. London, 1921 ff

3. PEET. The Stone and Bronze Ages in Italy and Sicily. Oxford, 1912

4. “L’Espagne prehistorique”. Revue des questions scientifijues, Brussels, 1893

5. SIRET. Les premiers ages du metal dans la sud-est de l’Espagne. Brussels, 1889

6. BURKITT. Our Early Ancestors. Cambridge, 1926 (p 217)

7. DU CHATELLIER. Les epoques prehistoriques et gauloises dans la Finistere. Rennes, 1907

8. Dechelette figures as halberds certain blades from S. Fiacre, Morbihan. An examination of the weapons, now in Oxford, disclosed not the straight transverse lines left by a halberd shaft, but the semi- circular plate usually left by dagger hilts.

9. BURKITT. Our Early Ancestors. Cambridge, 1926

10. ABERCROMBY. Bronze Age Pottery of Great Britain and Ireland. Oxford, 1912

11. “A Bronze Age Barrow on Kilpaison Burrows”, Arch. Camb. 1926

12. CURWEN, C. “Prehistoric Agriculture in Britain”, Antiquity, i

13. CRAWFORD AND KEILLER. Wessex from the Air. Oxford, 1927

14. FAIRBAIRN. “Further Discoveries ... in Hut-circles ... in Ayrshire”. PSAS. LIV

15. Dartmoor Research Committee Reports in Trans. Devonshire Association, xxvi-xxvn, xxix, xxx

16. CURWEN, C. “Prehistoric Agriculture in Britain”, Antiquity, i

17. CRAWFORD. “Barrows”. Antiquity, 1

18. BURKITT. Our Early Ancestors. Cambridge, 1926

19. CUNNINGTON AND NEWALL, in WAM. XLIV; Arbor Low, GRAY, in Arch. LVIII; Stennis, THOMAS, in Arch, xxxiv

20. CALLANDER. “Recent Archaeological Research in Scotland.” Arch. LXXVII

21. BURKITT. Our Early Ancestors. Cambridge, 1926

22. Fox. Arch. Camb. 1928, p. 145