European Bronze Age Gold in the British Museum

Alessia Murgia, Martina Melkonian and Benjamin W. Roberts

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Guide to the Objects in the Museum

 

Objects in the Collection from Britain and Ireland: Middle Bronze Age (c. 1500 BC–1100 BC)

Bronze Age Gold torc

torc; Middle Bronze Age; 1400BC-1100BC; Dover. British Museum 1891,0417.1

There are 104 objects dating to the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1500–1100 BC) in the British Museum collection which have been found in Britain and Ireland.

This middle phase of gold working in Britain and Ireland is characterized primarily by casting bars which were worked using techniques such as twisting and flange twisting. Sheet-working with repoussé or incised decoration continued to be practised as well as the twisting of narrow strips. The results are mainly neck ornaments such as torcs and bracelets as well as composite rings.

Bronze Age Gold ribbon torc

torc; Middle Bronze Age; 1400BC-1100BC; Swinford. British Museum 1873,0602.1

2.1 Ribbon torcs

Neck ornaments and armlets made by hammering an ingot into a flat band which was then twisted from left to right. The terminals are usually circular in section and bent back to form hooks. They may also have spherical terminals.

There remains considerable debate regarding their dating either to the Middle Bronze Age or Iron Age on the basis of compositional analyses, terminal forms and limited contextual evidence as from Somerset, Co. Galway and Dooyork, Co. Mayo, Ireland, and the Blair Drummond hoard, Stirling, Scotland. The emerging typological consensus places loosely coiled torcs with simple hook terminals from Ireland in the Middle Bronze Age, whilst tightly coiled torcs with knobbed terminals in Britain and Ireland are placed in the Iron Age (Fraser Hunter, Mary Cahill, Jody Joy and Trevor Cowie pers. comm. 9/12/11). However, the presence of objects that do not conform to this binary typology means that dating still relies on good contextual evidence. As a consequence, two ribbon torcs have been dated to the Middle Bronze Age and the remaining 12 ribbon torcs have been placed in the undiagnostic section with a probable Iron Age date.

References: Eogan 1983b; Warner 2004.

Bronze Age Gold bar torc

torc; Middle Bronze Age; 1400BC-1100BC; Towednack. British Museum 1932,0511.2

2.2 Bar torcs

Neck ornaments and armlets made from a bar usually of a square cross section which was then twisted from left to right. Bar torcs usually have terminals that are bent back and trumpet shaped. Four bar twisted torcs are part of the British Museum collection.

References: Eogan 1967; Taylor 1980, 8–12, 55–7.

Bronze Age Gold flange twisted torcs

torc; Middle Bronze Age; 1400BC-1100 BC; Salcombe Cannon Site. British Museum 2005,0503.2

2.3 Flange twisted torcs

Neck ornaments and armlets made from a cast bar usually of a square cross section. Three or four longitudinal cuts were made into the bar which was then worked to create an X or Y-shaped section. The torcs were then twisted by rotating the ends of the bar in opposite directions. The terminals are in the form of an elongated hook usually formed from a tapered, round section bar. They are either created from the same bar as the body of the torc, or made separately and soldered or fused on. Six complete and five fragments of flange twisted torcs are part of the British Museum collection.

References: Northover 1989.

Bronze Age Gold Spirally grooved torc

torc; bracelet; Middle Bronze Age; 1400BC-1100BC (circa). British Museum 1873,0212.1

2.4 Spirally grooved torc

Gold bar torc or bracelet fragment with spiral grooves along the round sectioned body. It was manufactured by casting a round sectioned rod into which a continuous spiral was deeply incised. The rod was bent into a curve and the outer surface polished. One end appears to have been deliberately cut and several areas have suffered damage and cracks. There is one example of a spirally grooved torc in the British Museum collection.

References: Northover 1989.

Bronze Age Gold Bar bracelet

penannular bracelet; Middle Bronze Age; 1400BC-1100BC; Salcombe. British Museum 2005,0503.1

2.5 Bar bracelets

Ornaments made from a simple bar of gold bent into a circular shape that could have been worn as a bracelet. However, several appear to be unfinished pieces and could simply have been ingots. Eleven Middle Bronze Age bar bracelets are part of the British Museum collection.

Bronze Age Gold Sheet bracelet

bracelet; Middle Bronze Age; 1400BC-1100BC; Mountfield. British Museum 1863,1212.2

2.6 Sheet bracelets

Ornaments made from a sheet and broad band of gold decorated with embossed ribs and rows of pointillé. A fragment of sheet bracelet is part of the British Museum collection

References: Eogan 1967.

 

2.7 ‘Tress’ rings

Ornaments made from a rectangular gold sheet shaped into a penannular form and externally decorated with narrow grooves. These ornaments were once considered to have been hair ornaments despite being large enough to be bracelets. One ‘tress’ ring from Ireland is preserved in the British Museum collection.

References: Eogan 1994, 59.

Bronze Age Gold Wire twisted multiple stranded bracelet

bracelet; Middle Bronze Age; 1300BC-1100BC; Salcombe. British Museum 2010,8032.7

2.8 Wire twisted multiple stranded bracelet

Gold bracelets made up of strands of twisted gold wire fused together longitudinally and coiled into a spiral. Two wire twisted multiple stranded gold bracelets are in the British Museum collection.

References: Treasure Annual Report (2004, 198–9); Roberts and Veysey 2011.

Bronze Age Gold Composite ring

ring; chain; Middle Bronze Age; Late Bronze Age; 1400BC-700BC; Blinkbonny. British Museum WG.21

2.9 Composite rings

Gold penannular rings made by stacking two to six short lengths of circular sectioned wire one on top of the other to produce ribbed rings. Six composite rings and a chain made from five interlinked gold composite rings as well as one gold spiral are part of the British Museum collection.

References: Eogan 1994, 59.

Bronze Age Gold Grooved penannular ring

penannular ring; Middle Bronze Age; Late Bronze Age; 1300BC-750BC; Cuckmere Haven. British Museum 1928,0716.1

2.10 Grooved penannular rings

Gold penannular rings decorated with two deliberately deep cast grooves running around the body, possibly to give the appearance of a composite ring. Two grooved penannular rings are preserved in the British Museum collection.

Bronze Age Gold Bar twisted ring

ring; Middle Bronze Age; Late Bronze Age; 1400BC-700BC; Dinnington. British Museum WG.22

2.11 Bar twisted rings

Ornaments made from a bar of circular cross section and incising grooves to give the appearance of a bar twisting technique in its manufacture. They have traditionally been labelled as earrings. Three bar twisted rings are part of the British Museum collection.

References: Eogan 1994, 59; Cahill 2005b, 86–8.

Bronze Age Gold Bar twisted looped ring

ring; Middle Bronze Age; 1400BC-1100BC; Axbridge. British Museum WG.3

2.12 Bar twisted looped ring

Large gold penannular ring. Double stranded with a round twisted cross section and plain looped terminals. One bar twisted looped ring is in the British Museum collection.

References: Eogan 1997.

Bronze Age Gold Biconical bead/pendant

pendant; Middle Bronze Age; 1300BC-1100BC; Chichester. British Museum 2008,8032.1

2.13 Biconical bead/pendant

Biconical hollow pendants made from coiled gold wire. An eyelet for suspension is placed centrally and comprises a loop made integrally with the object. In one case a round bead had been attached to the top side of the pendant by drawing up one spiral section on each side and fusing it to each side of the bead. Only three examples of a biconical bead/pendant are known, and one biconical bead/pendant is part of the British Museum collection.

References: Treasure Annual Report 2005/6, 20, n. 16.

 

2.14 Bars

This type encompasses a wide range of gold bars from large circular sectioned bars to small rectangular sectioned bars tapering to an edge at either end. They may represent unfinished objects or gold ingots and can only be dated by association.

Forty-two gold bars are part of the British Museum collection.

 

2.15 Large gold plated disc

The Lansdown disc is unique. It is made of gold plated copper alloy and richly decorated with the repoussé technique, and survives only in fragments. A potential replica has been attempted, but recent scientific investigation has revealed this to be significantly inaccurate. It is therefore hard to assess potential typological parallels.

References: Hawkes 1981.

Bronze Age Gold Stud caps on copper alloy spearhead

spear-head; Middle Bronze Age; 1390 BC -1000 BC; Taplow; Thames, River. British Museum 1903,0623.1

2.16 Stud caps on copper alloy spearhead

The addition of two pairs of plain gold studs at the base of the spearhead is comparable to the earlier practice on Beaker bracers or wristguards.

One rapier-shaped bronze spearhead decorated with lines of pointille and gold studs is preserved in the British Museum. It is one of only two bronze looped spearheads with gold decoration known from Britain.

References: Ehrenberg 1977, 211; Davis 2012, no. 701.