Funerary and Related Cups of the British Bronze Age

Review by Edward Caswell

This book provides a new and welcome synthesis of a particularly enigmatic group of Bronze Age ceramics, which have been variously named, but which the authors choose to classify, justifiably, as cups. Drawing on a large dataset of over 770 cups collated by the authors from England, Scotland, and Wales, it provides a concise and logically ordered discussion of these objects, covering earlier research, physical form, construction, contexts, associations (particularly with human remains), and chronology, before concluding with the catalogue of material. Throughout, the text uses this large corpus to demonstrate that a one-size-fits-all interpretation of these objects, such as incense burners or cremation-related vessels, is not suitable. Instead, they illustrate the range in which these objects’ significance might be understood, using a number of ethnographic parallels and interpretations of specific sites.

There are a few areas where the text could have been further developed. For example, it would have been useful to include higher-resolution images in some parts, and occasionally further figures. The most important images are numerous, though, and mostly of high quality. The text also occasionally conducts inter-regional comparisons. The prehistoric relevance of these boundaries, however, is not assessed, leaving the significance of these results unclear. It provides little contextualisation of this material outside of Britain, too. To have tackled these themes would have extended the book’s length, however, and pulled focus from its stated aims.

Instead, this book effectively meets its goals by providing an extensive gazetteer of these enigmatic objects, while highlighting the need for any interpretation of their significance, particularly around their function, to be more carefully considered than has often been the case. Each section of the book, but particularly the corpus and discussion of associated material culture, will form an invaluable point of reference for researchers of these objects. Similarly, the corpus contains suitable detail to be usable by those wishing to integrate this dataset into their own early Bronze Age studies. The book’s digestible writing style, combined with its clear structure and citations, will ensure it is of interest, too, to a more general audience wishing for a first introduction to these objects.

Funerary and Related Cups of the British Bronze Age
Claire Copper, Alex Gibson, and Deborah Hallam
Archaeopress, £55
ISBN 978-1803271668