This week we mainly look at gold objects from the Bronze Age found in Berkshire, plus a copper alloy flat axehead, and spearhead. There are 42 recorded objects from this period found in West Berkshire, with only 13 recorded from East Berkshire.
Now we start to see a wider variety of objects coming through as expected due to the changing technologies and materials used. The most frequent object recorded on the PAS database is the copper alloy socketed axehead with 1,284 reported to date, followed closely by the lithic scraper tool at 1,054 records. Additionally we see a remarkable 412 hoards, and 366 gold objects reported through the Treasure process!
One of the earliest objects within this period is this copper alloy flat axehead dating to the Early Bronze Age, c. 2000 – c. 1700 BC, found in Lambourn, West Berkshire. Axes in general can be found in copper alloy Bronze Age hoards or as single finds. This particular type of axehead marks the first type which are known as flat axes. These later developed into palstaves and then to socketed axes. This particular axehead is an Arreton type which marked a certain stage of development where there are long raised flanges along the length of the axe. The butt end is curved and the blade is crescent in form. These types are mostly found in the South East of England.
Moving on to the Middle to Late Bronze Age we have this very impressive Blackmoor type copper alloy spearhead dating to c. 1100 – c. 900 BC, from West Berkshire. This spearhead is characterised under Davis’s group 16 ‘lunate’ type where the blade has large crescent-shaped openings on either side of the midrib. (Davis 2016). These types are often regarded as weapons belonging to the warrior elite and would have been both “impressive on parade and effective in combat” (Davis 2016). The spear was formed by fitting this type of spearhead to a wooden shaft, via its hollow socket, usually to be hand-held rather than thrown in combat. A recent study has found that 58% of LBA spearheads recovered throughout England, Scotland, and Wales have come from the South East of England (Davis 2016). Like the axes mentioned above the spearheads can be found in hoards or as single finds.
The type of gold artefacts we find during the Bronze Age in Britain and Ireland are characterised by sheet-working techniques used with incised, repoussé, linear pointillé, and embossed, decoration. Additionally, bar-working techniques where the bar was twisted for neck ornaments such as torcs and bracelets are seen emerging in the Middle Bronze Age.
These type of objects brings us to our next set of finds from Berkshire which include this fascinating gold bracelet threaded with five penannular rings dating to c. 1300 – c. 1150 BC, found in East Berkshire. The object comprises a double twisted gold bar or wire coiled and threaded with four double composite rings and one single ring. Click on the photo to read more about the ornament.
The next set are from a Bronze Age hoard found in West Berkshire and are currently on display in the ‘Hoard’ exhibition at West Berkshire Museum in Newbury! Details can be found here:
The hoard dates to the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1300 – c. 1100 BC and comprises 2 gold twisted torcs and 3 gold penannular bracelets. The bracelets are plain with no decoration. The torcs are described as armlets or neck ornaments and one has been coiled five times and the other six times. Both torcs have plain terminals. For more details on the hoard click on the links below:
The last two objects fall under ornaments whose function are unknown, and date from the Middle to Late Bronze Age.
This gold ribbon fragment was discovered folded several times over and has incised ribbed decoration with a pierce perforation at one end. It was found in West Berkshire and dated to c. 1500 – c. 800 BC. Two similar gold ribbons have also been found in West Berkshire and recorded on the PAS database.
And finally this gold penannular ring found in West Berkshire dating to c. 1150 – c. 800 BC. This is a gold foil plated ring with silvery gold wire inlaid into the gold foil as decoration. The ornament was scientifically tested to include a copper alloy core beneath the gold plating. This is quite a common type of Bronze Age penannular ring.
Often gold ornaments are scientifically analyzed during the Treasure process to identify the techniques used and to establish the metal content. Some research studies have focused on determining the provenance of the gold via compositional or isotopic measurements, as there are currently no discovered Bronze Age gold mines in Europe. Therefore, it is often difficult to establish where the gold came from. This is especially the case when re-melting, recycling and alloying make it very difficult to connect artefacts and their sources.
Portable Antiquities Scheme. Guide to Bronze Age:
Later Prehistoric Finds Group Object Datasheet No.3. A Short Guide to Late Bronze Age Spearheads. Richard Davis PhD, Feb 2016.