New Bronze Age finds from the British Museum: why…

The point of all this is, of course, to produce a specialist report. In this case a Treasury Report for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (http://finds.org.uk), that will eventually be published (previous Treasury Reports can be found here: http://finds.org.uk/news).

 

As a researcher, these are important, as in some cases they will be all that will ever be available or accessible in respect of the the finds in question, with some being returned to the owners rather than ending up in museum collections.

Accurate measurements, descriptions and typological assignations are important for assigning objects to specific periods, and must be reliable in order to be used as the basis for future arguments and interpretations about these past communities. Of course, accuracy, particularly when in a hurry, need not be pretty…

 

For example, in the 2005/2006 Treasury Report, a hoard from Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, was reported to have a hilt or handle fragment of a sword of Carp’s-Tongue type (the bottom row of swords in the below picture). This association meant that the hoard should be dated to somewhere late in the period c. 950-800 BC. The same phase as our hoard from Nottinghamshire. However, subsequent work during 2007-2011 on swords of this type in Iberia and France, have revealed a type of proto-Carp’s-Tongue sword, known as Type Huelva/St. Philbert (the top row of swords in the picture below). These swords, however, have been demonstrated to be dated to the period c. 1050-950 BC. This is the date of the Wilburton phase which, as we described in an earlier post (…: when… ), is the period prior to the one our Nottinghamshire hoard belongs to. Tiny changes such as these can require us to radically revise our ideas about what types of objects we believe might have been available to people at any particular time, and the connections and relationships that they may have represented.       

Such typological work on bronze objects, however, was for long out of fashion, snubbed and rejected by many in both the academic and commercial sector, in Britain. Less so on the Continent, however. This is partly because it was seen as a laborious and time consuming way of what is, so it was believed, merely cataloguing. But typology is and can be so much more. These tiny objects, whole and broken, represent the technological choices of the past communities that both produced them and consumed them, and the socio-political and economic conditions in which they existed.  These little pieces of metal, and all the tiny idiocracies of morphology, over which so many have laboured, are glimpses of styles and tastes, of changing fashions and fads. Aesthetics have always been important to people, not only as indicators of how we live but what we wish to communicate to others about ourselves, our choices and our relationship with our communities. What French ethologists have long called ‘technological choices’.

This Maussian approach to metalwork typology very much characterises the modern typological endeaver. But whereas contemporary archaeological theory has attempted ever more leaborate slights of hand to reveal the agency of the ‘individual’ in the archaeological record, Bronze Age researchers are mopre frequently orientated to revealing communities, of which such objects are highly evocative.

So much of what we own, use, and wear defines us. Whilst the accessibility today of such things might have radically changed, as might approaches to their production, the significance of these pretty little things for persons and communities is far from being representative of a ‘modern’ condition.  

 

New Bronze Age finds from the British Museum: What…

So, a new find has ended up in a museum. Usually this is then studied by a specialist in the museum. But sometimes specialists like myself, who are also researching the same subject, are invited to look at these new finds and help make sense of them, and identify what they are. For those that weren’t able to follow my Twitter feed this morning, I found this waiting for me at the BM at 10am…

My job then is start identifying the different objects in the hoard. Some things are obvious, or appear so. Such as a sword or an axe. Simple common sense tells us what the object is and what they were likely used for. Sort of like when we travel abroad to another country: we see a large moving coloured metal object with wheels and people inside, common sense tells us that in all likelihood it is a car and is used for transport, in much the same way as it would be back home. But sometimes, it’s not that easy, such as in the case of this object from the new hoard… 

But we’ll come back to this later.

So, we think we know what some of our objects are. These axes from the hoard are a good example.

 Even though there are a startingly diverse array of axes available to us today, they are similar enough to us for us to be able to identify them as an axe, a cutting tool, particularly for cutting wood. Indeed, from timbers that have survived and been recovered, many have been found with blade marks from just these types of objects. That gives us our general category of object. Then we have to figure out what ‘type’ each one is… here’s where we play a game of snap.

So, we all know what a car is, whether home or abroad. But there are also brands of cars: Ford, Toyota, etc. An objects ‘type’ is sort of similar, telling us a lot about which region the object may have come from, in the same way that car brands often have regional or national associations.

We do this by looking at lots and lots of pictures of other objects, and trying to find ones that look the same: snap.

Often, specialist books or catelogues of these exist. So, I spent part of the morning looking through a book of axes looking for ones that look the same as the ones in the hoard. In the book, similar brands or types will already have been grouped together, and help discern the different meanings or significance that the types have.

The four axes from the hoard, in the photo way above,  are of  (L/R) 2 x Type Welby, a Type South-eastern and a Type Meldreth.

The last two are good examples of the differing significance of these types. Type South-eastern axes are found widely distributed in southern England but mainly in southeast England, hence the name. In this region they are often found in great numbers, in hoards that consist of nothing but other axes. They also occur in hoards that consist of mixtures of local and Continental material, as illustrated in the previous post. These hoards are often called Carp’s-Tongue hoards, connected to part of a cultural or specialised group distributed across northwst and northern France and southeast England, sharing certain types of objects. As our hoard was found in Nottinghamshire, representing the very most northerly point of the distribution of this type, it’s not surprising that there was only one.   The other axe, of Type Meldreth axe, however, is found widely distributed throughout the whole of Britain. It seems to have no particular regional emphasis or association, and only ever occurs in small numbers. This is not surprising either. Unlike the rather ubiquitous and not particularly well made South-eastern axe, those of Type Meldreth were well cast and well finished and, with their multi-facetted design, were a bit of a Mercedes…     

New Bronze Age finds at the British Museum: When…

So, I’ve just completed 4 hours of looking at one of the new hoards at the British Museum.

To put the next few posts about what I spent that time doing into context we’ll start with ‘when’ the European Bronze Age, and more specifically British Bronze Age, was.

For those that know nothing about the Bronze Age, here’s a couple of links:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/cultures/europe/bronze_age.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronze_Age_Britain

The British Late Bronze Age lasted from 1300-600 BC. This period is broken down in to a small number of phases, based on the bronze objects types, which we call LBA (Late Bronze Age) 1, 2, 3 and 4. These four metalworking phases have been given names taken from sites or finds that somehow best seem to describe what was around at the time. These are Penard, Wilburton, Ewart Park and Llyn Fawr. Of course, there were different things happening all over Britain, and lots of regional traditions in terms of the types of objects they had, and therefore different areas such as southeast England, western England, northern England, Wales and Scotland all have slightly different names for these phases, so as to reflect these local conditions. The phases I’ve mentioned mainly apply to southeast England but are applicable for England as a whole for the most part.

Although many researchers have contributed to this scheme over the years, and certain details have changed significantly, particualrly in light of new scienetific techniques in dating, this basic scheme was laid down as early as 1881 in a wonderfully modern book called ‘ The Ancient Bronze Implements, Weapons and Ornaments, of Great Britain and Ireland’. In the study of bronze objects, new isn’t always better, and I and many others, still use this book today.

The hoard I was invited to look at came from our Late Bronze Age 2 phase, or Ewart Park phase. Some of the objects from this phase have been illustrated below. This phase is characterised, above all else, by the many hundreds of groups or ‘hoards’ of bronze objects, many of which appear in broken or damaged condition, and then buried in the ground.

  Today, many of these hoards are found by metal detectorists, and often end up in a local museum where the objects are identified, not just for dating purposes but also to help tell us a little more about the lives of people at that time.

How do we do that? Essentially, we play a game of snap…

 

New Bronze Age finds at the British Museum: Twittering…

Arrived at the BM to find a small plastic container full of neatly wrapped objects waiting for me: a new hoard from Nottinghamshire.

Like many Bronze Age hoards from Britain it was found by a metal detectorist on private agricultural land.

The hoard consisted of 18 objects, some complete and some fragments, including tools and weapons.

Unfortunately I have no Internet access here at the BM so picturescan be found on my twitter feed @bronzeageman.

First, the sword remains…

New Bronze Age finds at the British Museum

We have a morning mystery. I have no idea what to expect when I get to the British Museum at 10am, other than there will be two hoards, both from the Late Bronze Age, c. 950-800 cal. BC., that have recently been found, and I have to identify the contents and write a specialist report.

If any of you have ever watched Time Team, you’ll know that archaeologists come in all shapes and sizes, and do numerous different jobs. So, we don’t all dig. At least not all the time. Rather than putting trowel to dirt, I spend most of my time routing around in museum archives looking through collections of artefacts.

I’m a doctoral researcher at the Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. I am doing my PhD on the use of bronze weapons, that is rapiers and swords, of the Later Bronze Age in southern England, c. 1400-950 cal. BC.

I’m what they call a metalwork expert, specialised in the bronze artefacts of the Bronze Age, in my case covering what is known as the Atlantic Bronze Age, being the British Isles, coastal and Channel France, the southern Low Countries, and Iberia. I currently live in London, and am in the last 6 weeks of writing up my thesis.

However, I was asked on Wednesday evening by the British Museum’s Curator of European Bronze Age archaeology in the Department of Prehistory and Europe, Dr. Ben Roberts, if I would stop by the British Museum and have a look at two new Late Bronze Age hoards that have just been discovered. Upon discovery they were reported to their local museum, where a Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme would have reported and listed the objects. They have subsequently come to the British Museum to be studied and a short, specialist report produced on them.

It’s these specialist reports, known as treasury Reports, that I’m going to be working on today, and blogging about.

I have no idea what to expect when I get to the British Museum, other than there will be two hoards, both from the Late Bronze Age, c. 950-800 cal. BC, and that there are fragments of sword and socketed axe in them…

Further details about the Portable Antiquities Scheme, your local Finds Liaison Officer and what to do if you find something that you may believe to be of historical and archaeological significance can be found on the Portable Antiquities Website (http://finds.org.uk). Elsewhere on the Day of Archaeology site you’ll also find members of the Portable Antiquities Scheme blogging about their days too.