The Bronze Age in Britain is agreed to have taken place from around 2500 to 800 BC. Archaeologically, it was characterised by the use of copper, and eventually bronze. Copper was used more frequently in the earlier stages of the Bronze Age, but by around 2150 BC the Celts had discovered how to make bronze – by mixing copper with a small amount of tin. Britain was, and still is, rich in tin mines – especially in the Southwest, namely, the areas of Cornwall and Devon. These rich natural resources brought Celtic Britain into extensive contact with other European cultures at the time – British tin became a very prosperous trade. In fact, archaeological evidence indicates that a new culture, known as the Beaker culture crossed from mainland Europe into Britain around 2500 BC, bringing with them not only new burial rites and people, but also new technology – new metalwork techniques. These new techniques were instrumental to the Celts’ use of bronze, copper, and even gold.
Bronza age materials
On account of its hardness, bronze was the material most often used for crafting tools and weapons, such as spearheads, knife blades and axe heads. Since the majority of these items are bronze which has aged significantly, patination has developed on them over the millennia, giving them a wonderful turquoise-green hue. As briefly mentioned, there was also some use of gold. The most famous golden artefact from Bronze Age Britain is most likely the Mold Cape, which is one of the finest examples of the repoussé technique and golden metalwork from a prehistoric culture. Gold tends to be discovered in a burial context, as it would be left with its owner so as to accompany them to the afterlife.
Status symbol jewellery
A common form of ware from Bronze Age Britain is the torc. These were symbols of wealth, power and courage – judging by the material and decoration, they appear to have been Celtic. A popular motif in the art of the Celts is that of the spiral. This symbol existed in the Neolithic period in Britain, and often was depicted as three spirals, known as a triskelion. The tripartite styling of the spiral was less common in the Bronze Age, but the spiral itself was nonetheless pervasive. It implied endless movement. Art from this era is typically not designed with decoration in mind, other than ornamental jewellery, and it is very rare to find art that takes the form of a figure. Figured art only became widespread in Britain after the Roman conquest.
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