Tag Archives: Bronze Age

Strange gold spirals from Denmark

This is a short mention of an interesting archaeology story that came out at the start of the month. An excavation in Boeslunde, south-west Zealand, Denmark, has revealed an unusual find of around 2,000 fine gold spirals, dating to around 900-700 B.C. Previous excavations here have brought up 10 gold rings- six of which were large and heavy, and four of which may have been ‘oath rings’ (typically found in sacrificial settings). With this new find, the site has now provided the most gold artefacts by weight from the Northern European Bronze Age. The spirals are made from extremely pure gold that was hammered flat to just 0.1 millimetre thick, and all together weigh between 200 to 300 grams (7-10 ounces). It has been suggested that the spirals may have once been woven into hair or used on some ceremonial clothing or headdress of some kind. A large lump of the coils may have sat originally in a birch wood box with a leather lining, based on remnants found at the scene, with others found in bunches of three or four, but archaeologists don’t seem to know what they were used for (they were probably ritual then…). To my mind they seem to look more like shavings or waste product from some sort of manufactory process, but what seems like careful disposal would make this unlikely. I don’t know- I’m probably wrong. If anyone reading this post does know any more about this find or have any theories, please feel free to post these below- I’d be glad to hear them!

Image: Morten Petersen / Zealand Museum.

Image: Morten Petersen / Zealand Museum.

Spiral in situ surrounded by birch fragments. Image: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Spirals in situ surrounded by birch fragments. Image: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Image: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Image: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Image: Morten Petersen / Museum Vestsjælland.

Image: Morten Petersen / Museum Vestsjælland.

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A British Chalcolithic?

A recent excavation of the  Neolithic portal dolmen of Perthi Duon on the island of Anglesey has revealed the following artifact:

 

Copper Artifact from Anglesey

Image: Dr George Nash

Now, this may not look like much, but this small piece of metal may prove to be very important in terms of the chronology of prehistoric Britain. It is thought that this small artifact is a piece of copper, and if this is the case, then it may provide evidence for a British ‘Copper Age’. The Copper Age (or Chalcolithic) was a period at the beginning of the Bronze Age, before the discovery of the technique to produce bronze by mixing tin and copper, and has been evidenced in the archaeological record on the European continent. However, it is unknown whether such a period can be defined for Britain, or whether the process of bronze production was brought to this island without copper being used first. It is hoped that this small piece could provide evidence for such a period here, however it is going to need testing and analysing first before such a claim can be satisfactorily made. It may turn out to have entered Britain as a completed object, meaning that the technology may not have been brought, and bronze could have been made here first, or it could have been formed here, suggesting the technology for copper working was in place in Britain. I am personally quite excited by the prospect of a British Chalcolithic, but am hesitant to jump to too many conclusions on the basis of this one object. I shall look out for updates with interest though.

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An intact Bronze Age burial on Dartmoor

Okay, this post is a little late considering this story was in the media almost two weeks ago, but just incase you may have missed it, I thought I’d put it up anyway. Better late than never and all that.

In 2011, a Bronze Age cist was discovered on Dartmoor on Whitehorse Hill, near Chagford, containing an intact cremation burial.

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

Remarkable in itself for being undisturbed, this burial has been described as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 100 years, as well as the most important ancient find on the moor, and the contents are soon to go on display to the public.

The cremation was wrapped in an animal pelt that had survived incredibly due to being buried in peat, and this fur also contained a fragment of textile (possibly a belt or sash) with a leather fringe, a bracelet (which I will discuss below), and a coil-made basket. Within this basket were discovered about 200 beads, with some made from shale, and others of amber traded from the Baltic, a flint flake and wooden disks believed to have been used as either stud earrings or inserted into a belt, made from spindle wood. This is a hard, fine-grained tree that grows on Dartmoor, which traditionally is used to make knitting needles, and these pieces are the earliest examples of wood-turning in Britain, being unique in the archaeological record of the island. Prior to this find, only eight beads had been found on Dartmoor from the Bronze Age within the last 100 years, and so this discovery has greatly increased the volume of material from this period that is available for study. 

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

A selection of amber beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

A selection of beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

However, despite the presence of amber suggesting a high status individual due to the magical associations with this material and its part in long-distance Continental trade, it is the bracelet that is of real interest due to the decoration included. The bracelet itself is made from woven cow hair, with 35 studs originally included (three are now missing) as decoration made from worked tin. This is particularly interesting, as it provides the earliest example of worked tin from the South West of Britain, and tin in itself is rare in the prehistoric record as decoration. As well as the bracelet, this excavation also revealed a bead made from tin.

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

It is believed that this burial belonged to a female aged between 14 and 25 who was of  a high social standing, and the location of the cist on a site 600 metres above sea level that would have been visible to much of the surrounding landscape suggests a person who needed to be seen and remembered by many people over a wide region.

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LiDAR and landscape archaeology in the New Forest

LiDAR- Light Detection and Ranging- systems work by firing a pulsed laser beam from an aircraft many thousands of times a second. These pulses then pass through any vegetation or undergrowth and bounce off the ground, to be picked up by on-board detectors, and then converted into 3D CGI images. Such systems are used in the archaeological study of landscapes to build up a better and clearer ideas of the way sites in the past interacted with on another and fit into the topography of the landscape, showing the lines of sight and viewsheds available, as well as a plethora of other uses. One of these other uses is to find hidden and buried features, and this has been employed to spectacular effect recently by archaeologists in the New Forest, Hampshire. The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) has said that experts have surveyed a 350-square-mile region, with much being hidden under dense forest, but the really exciting thing about this is the fact that over 3,500 new sites and areas of interest have been discovered. Amongst the finds have been prehistoric field systems, Bronze Age burial mounds and an Iron Age hill fort, with the new surveys contributing to our knowledge of two Bronze Age barrows on Beaulieu Heath. All-in-all, this seems to have been a very profitable piece of landscape archaeology, and should produce fruitful study and research opportunities for many decades to come. I shall look out for further findings with interest!

LiDAR scan of Bratley Inclosure by the A31, showing the archaeology. Imahe: New Forest National Park Authority.

LiDAR scan of Bratley Inclosure by the A31, showing the archaeology. Image: New Forest National Park Authority.

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