Fragments of the Bronze Age

Review by Chris Griffiths.

Those with an interest in Bronze Age metalwork will know that the literature tends to focus on the question of why metal objects were destroyed and buried: were they deliberately broken for recycling, to serve a pre-monetary function, or for symbolic or ritual reasons? Drawing on experimental archaeology, this book uses a dataset of more than 1,700 copper, copper-alloy, and gold objects from south-west Britain (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and Somerset) to approach the debate from a fresh perspective, focusing on the question of how metal objects were damaged and deposited.

After an introduction that sets out an interdisciplinary approach to the subject, the author proceeds to a chapter that sets out a methodology for identifying and interpreting intentional damage. This framework, termed the ‘Damage Ranking System’, is informed by past analyses, material science, and valuable insights from experimental archaeology. The following chapters focus on detailed discussion of case studies, which are themselves a combination of the spectacular and not-so-spectacular, divided chronologically into the Chalcolithic-early Bronze Age, middle Bronze Age, and the late Bronze Age-earliest Iron Age. The analyses presented in these chapters are particularly interesting, charting the change in Bronze Age people’s attitudes towards the destruction of metal objects. For example, few objects in the Chalcolithic-early Bronze Age possess evidence for deliberate destruction, but where it does occur it is more commonly observed on daggers linked with the burial of human remains. By the late Bronze Age, deliberate destruction is frequently observed on a variety of metal objects deposited in a range of places, representing complex practices that cannot easily be generalised.

At 187 pages, this is a slim hardback which effectively demonstrates the value of experimental archaeology to this field of research. In addition to the comprehensive index and bibliography, the inclusion of many maps, graphs, and photographs adds to its useability as a valuable reference source. No doubt this will serve as a source of inspiration for further experimental work, but it will also become essential reading for anyone with an interest in the destruction and burial of Bronze Age metalwork.

Fragments of the Bronze Age, Matthew G Knight, Oxbow Books, £35, ISBN 978-1789256970