The Social Context of Technology: non-ferrous metalworking in later prehistoric Britain and Ireland

Although a little heavy on detail, this is a thorough study of the subject which presents, in a chronological fashion, the archaeological evidence for (mostly copper and bronze) metalworking from sites across the British Isles. The evidence is examined critically, yet on the whole it is inclusive of the various interpretations concerning deposition of metalworking remains and the sorts of tools that may or may not have been used by metalworkers. Given the extent of the detail presented, the book was much easier to search and reference than I had imagined, with all the key sites highlighted in bold in the main body of the text within each of the six main chapters.

The accompanying appendices to the book provide a useful list of excavated sites, and an inventory for all known univalve and bivalve stone moulds, and, somewhat surprisingly, up to 60 identified bronze moulds manufactured for the casting of socketed axes and palstaves. The comprehensive index and bibliography seems also to be the standard for these well-produced Prehistoric Society Research Paper volumes. Alongside this, we find the inclusion of high-quality photographs and drawings of metalworking tools, mould and crucible finds, site plans, and sections, which adds to its useability as a valuable reference source for the academic, field archaeologist, and interested amateur. The readers of this book won’t necessarily be the specialists, but will include those who at some point in their working lives may need to look at this subject in more detail, comparing sites and finds, and placing these in a technological and social context. The value of this book to the subject is that it is unlikely to date quickly.

The thoroughness in the coverage of sites was such that I only noticed one important omission: the Middle Iron Age copper smelting site at Domgay Lane, Four Crosses (Powys), with the remains of 11 furnaces, tuyères, and slag. The site is particularly important in that the ores being smelted here match those of the nearby Llanymynech Ogof copper mine, worked during the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age. This is a minor point in what is otherwise a scholarly work, good reference book, and a great read.

The Social Context of Technology: non-ferrous metalworking in later prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Leo Webley, Sophia Adams, and Joanna Brück, Oxbow, £35, ISBN 978-1789251760.
Review by Simon Timberlake.
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