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Bronze Age Britain

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In Great Britain, the Bronze Age is considered to have been the period from around 2700 to 700 BC.


Late Neolithic

  • 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)
  • 1900-1500: Bedd Branwen Period; copper+tin

Middle Bronze Age (MBA), 1500-1000

  • 1500-1300: Acton Park Phase: palstaves, socketed spearheads; copper+tin, also lead
  • 1300-1200: Knighton Heath Period; " rapiers"
  • 1200-1000: Early Urnfield; Wilburton-Wallington Phase

Late Bronze Age(LBA), 1000-700

  • 1000-900: Late Urnfield: socketed axes, palstaves (also lead)
  • 800-700 BC: Llyn Fawr Phase, Ewart Park Phase: leaf-shaped swords

Early Iron Age, 700-600

  • Hallstatt C


The Beaker culture

Extent of 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 Stonehenge along with Seahenge.

Immigration brought new people to the islands from the continent. Recent tooth enamel isotope research on bodies found in early Bronze Age graves around Stonehenge indicate that at least some of the immigrants came from the area of modern Switzerland. The Beaker culture displayed different behaviours from the earlier Neolithic people and cultural change was significant. Integration is thought to have been peaceful as many of the early henge sites 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 cairn or long barrow was used to house the dead, the 'Early Bronze Age' saw people buried in individual barrows(also commonly known and marked on modern British Ordnance Survey maps 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 Spain and 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 Age arrived 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 Cornwall and Devon in what is now southwest England, and thus tin mining began. 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 culture of southern Britain.

The greatest quantities of bronze objects found in what is now England were discovered in East Cambridgeshire, where the most important finds were recovered in Isleham (more than 6500 pieces).

The Wessex culture

The rich Wessex culture developed 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

The Deverel-Rimbury culture began to emerge in the second half of the 'Middle Bronze Age' (c. 1400- 1100 BC) to exploit these conditions. Cornwall was a major source of tin for much of western Europe and copper was extracted from sites such as the Great Orme mine 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 Peoples harried the entire Mediterranean basin around this time. Cremation was adopted as a burial practice with cemeteries of urns containing cremated individuals appearing in the archaeological record.

Bronze Age boats

  • Ferriby Boats
  • Langdon Bay hoard - see also Dover Museum
  • Divers unearth Bronze Age hoard off the coast of Devon
  • Moor Sands finds, including a remarkably well preserved and complete sword which has parallels with material from the Seine basin of northern France
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