Bronze Age Britain

A little visit to Lambourn Seven Barrows

One day in the 2017 Festival of Archaeology fortnight, a group of enthusiasts for archaeology, plants, and butterflies visited the small nature reserve at Lambourn Seven Barrows (Berkshire, UK).

The seven barrows are the earthwork remnants of a Bronze Age cemetery of perhaps as many as 40 burial mounds.  Most of the 40 are ploughed-out shadows of their former selves.

The barrows are stacked along either side of a now dry coombe on the chalk Downs north of the small town of Lambourn.  They were visited by Anglo-Saxons who buried their own dead in and around the mounds.  At the head of the coombe is an earlier long barrow.  All that remains of that neolithic burial mound is a slight rise in the ground and two sarsen stones, hefted to the wood bank of Westcot Wood.

Thanks to the West Berkshire Countryside Society and West Berkshire Heritage, our eyes accustomed themselves to the disc, saucer, bowl, and bell barrow shapes; we spotted marbled white and little blue butterflies, and cinnabar caterpillars; we tiptoed around birds-foot trefoil, harebells, knapweed, silverweed, salad burnett, scabious, ladies bedstraw, and pyramidal orchids.  We heard ravens.

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:

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…