European Bronze Age Gold in the British Museum

Alessia Murgia, Martina Melkonian and Benjamin W. Roberts

Technical analyses on selected objects by Susan La Niece

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Chronology

 

The chronology for Britain and Ireland, from where the majority of the collection derives, begins with the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age phase (c. 2500–1500 BC) and has been divided into four periods following Eogan (1994) and Needham (2000).

The Primary Bell Beaker phase (c. 2500 BC–2000 BC) is characterized by the introduction into Britain and Ireland of a distinct material culture and set of practices – including gold working. The gold working is characterized by a small but consistent number of gold objects that used new sheet-working techniques together with incised geometric patterns or, alternatively, of linear and embossed decoration. The ornaments produced with this metalworking technique were wristguards, basket–shaped ornaments and discs.

The goldworking of the Bell Beaker tradition (c. 2400–2000 BC) is characterized by the presence of sheet-working techniques together with the use of incised geometric patterns or, alternatively, of linear and embossed decoration. The ornaments produced with this technique were mainly lunulae, strips/ornaments and plaques.

Meanwhile there is the appearance of objects where gold was used in combination with exotic materials such as amber, jet or shale. Among these were jet buttons covered or decorated with gold foil, gold discs and discs of amber bound with gold as well as gold and amber necklaces.

The earlier phase of the Early Bronze Age (c. 2200–1900 BC) is characterized by the presence of sheet-working techniques together with the use of embossed and pointillé decoration. An example of ornaments produced with this technique are the Lockington armlets.

The goldworking of the later phase of the Early Bronze Age (c. 1900–1500 BC) is characterized by the presence of sheet-working techniques together with the use of incised, embossed and pointillé decoration. The ornaments produced with this technique were concave gold discs, small gold discs, cups and the cape from Mold, Flintshire, Wales.

The Middle and Late Bronze Age (c. 1500–700 BC) phases have been grouped into two periods following Eogan 1994. It is potentially possible to place certain gold object types into finer bronze metalwork phases (cf. Needham 1996; Roberts et al. 2013), but given the relative lack of association between bronze and gold hoards the decision was taken to have a broad chronological framework.

The Middle Bronze Age phase (c. 1500–1100 BC) is characterized by sheet-working and bar-working techniques. The ornaments produced with the sheet-working technique were decorated with repoussé or incised decoration, while the ornaments obtained by bar-working techniques were decorated by twisting the body.

The Late Bronze Age phase (c. 1100–700 BC) includes a far wider range of objects types, decorative motifs and production techniques. It is still characterized by bar-working and sheet-working techniques, but new techniques can be identified such as gold plating, gold inlays, wire-working and the creation of hollow bodied objects. There are also objects such as gorgets which were made using a range of different techniques. The Late Bronze Age ornaments were decorated with repoussé technique incised and punched decoration. The main patterns were grooves, rows of dots, concentric circles, conical projections, concentric and filled triangles, chevrons, diamond patterns and cross-hatch patterns. The results of those goldworking techniques are mainly neck-rings such as torcs, gorgets and collars; pendants; a diverse range of both penannular rings and bracelets as well as lock-rings, sleeve fasteners and dress fasteners.