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: Late Bronze Age (c. 1500 BC–1100 BC)

Bronze Age Gold Penannular Bracelet

penannular bracelet; Late Bronze Age; 1150BC-800BC; Monkston Park. British Museum 2002,0701.4

The Late Bronze Age phase of Britain and Ireland goldworking (c. 1100–800/700 BC) represents with 179 objects the main part of the British Museum Bronze Age gold collection and, in comparison with the previous periods, includes a far wider range of object 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 techniques.

The Late Bronze Age ornaments were decorated with repoussé technique, incised, punched or stamped 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 gold working 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.

Bronze Age Gold Torcs

torc; Late Bronze Age; 1150BC-800BC; Monkston Park. British Museum 2002,0701.1

3.1 Torcs

Neck-ornaments made of a thick penannular bar of elliptical cross section and decorated with geometric patterns. There are three torcs of this type in the British Museum collection.

References: Longworth 1972, pl. 79; Treasure Annual Report 2000, 13–14, n. 5; Armbruster and Louboutin 2004.

Bronze Age Gold Collar

collar; Late Bronze Age; 1150BC-750BC; Mooghaun North. British Museum WG.32

3.2 Collars

Neck-ornaments made of a flat gold sheet hollowed to produce a concave cross section. The body tapers from a broad centre to narrow solid, circular and plain terminals. One collar from the hoard at Mooghaun North, Co. Clare, Ireland, is preserved in the British Museum.

 

3.3 Gorgets

Neck-ornaments made of a flat gold sheet that narrows from the centre to each end where disc-shaped terminals were attached. The bodies are richly decorated with the repoussé technique, while the disc-shaped terminals are frequently decorated with central conical projections and patterns of concentric circles. Three fragments of a gorget body and one possibly disc-shaped gorget terminal are part of the British Museum collection.

References: Eogan 1994, 88; Cahill 1995; 2006, 290.

Bronze Age Gold Bullae

bulla-pendant; Late Bronze Age; 1150BC-750BC; Ireland. British Museum 1874,0303.8

3.4 Bullae

Pendants made from a piece of sheet gold shaped like a double D, which has been folded over at the centre to form the suspension tube. The bullae are decorated with geometric patterns. One bulla is preserved in the British Museum collection.

References: Eogan 1998; Cahill 2009.

Bronze Age Gold Sleeve fastener

sleeve fastener; Late Bronze Age; 1150BC-750BC; Ireland. British Museum 1874,0303.6

3.5 Sleeve fasteners

Ornaments, whose function is unknown, made of a crescent-shaped body and decorated with longitudinal cast grooves on the outer surface. The ends are usually decorated with a fine diamond pattern located between bands of incised grooves. The terminals expand to form two flat plain discs set at an angle to the body. Eleven sleeve fasteners are preserved in the British Museum.

References: Eogan 1972.

Bronze Age Gold Lock-ring

lock-ring; Late Bronze Age; 1000BC-750BC; Gaerwen. British Museum WG.18

3.6 Lock-rings

Ornaments, whose function is unknown, made from three gold plates which are secured together by a binding strip to create a hollow and incomplete ring. The ring is triangular in cross section. The three gold plates, technically termed face plates, are sometimes decorated with repoussé decoration or with fine concentric incised lines imitating fine wire work. More infrequently, lock-rings are made from face plates formed or constructed from individual gold wires fused together or from striped twisted gold wires soldered together.

 

3.6.1 Gold face plates in triangular cross section secured by a binding strip. Five of these lock-rings are part of the British Museum collection.

 

3.6.2 Gold face plates made from wires soldered. One of these lock-rings is preserved in the British Museum.

References: Eogan 1969; La Niece and Cartwright 2009.

Bronze Age Gold Pennanular rings

penannular ring; Late Bronze Age; 1150BC-750BC; Garvagh House. British Museum 1965,0606.1

3.7 Pennanular rings

Incomplete rings which could have been used for nose, hair or bodily adornment, but whose function remains unknown. They include a wide range of types such as rings of solid gold (plain or decorated with grooved patterns); gold plated rings with copper alloy or other base metal core; striped rings with silvery gold alloy wire circumferentially inlaid; and gold plated rings on a white metal core, with punched decoration.

Fifty-three penannular rings are part of the British Museum collection. They have been classified, according to Meeks et al. 2008, on the basis of their composition (solid gold or gold plated metal core), thickness (solid or hollow) and decoration (plain, decorated, inlaid or punched).

 

3.7.1 solid plain gold ring

 

3.7.2 solid decorated gold ring

 

3.7.3 gold plated penannular ring with copper alloy core

 

3.7.4 hollow thick foil ring with no core

 

3.7.5 gold striped penannular ring

 

3.7.6 gold foil plated ring with silvery gold wire inlaid into the gold foil

 

3.7.7 gold plated tin core with punched decoration

 

3.7.8 gold plated metal core with punched decoration

References: Eogan 1997; Northover 2000; Meeks et al. 2008.

Bronze Age Gold Bracelets

penannular bracelet; Late Bronze Age; 900BC-750BC; Pollen Shore. British Museum WG.10

3.8 Bracelets

These ornaments usually have rounded or flat bodies which can be solid or hollow. There are also examples of bracelets with a hollow rounded body. The ends are frequently expanded to form solid or concave conical-shaped terminals, although outwardly expanded semicircular plain terminals or circular, oval and square sectioned solid plain terminals also occur. In a few cases, the ends are turned back (recurved) to form terminals. Decoration, if present, consists of incised geometric patterns on the terminals.

There are 92 Late Bronze Age bracelets currently in the British Museum collection. They have been classified on the basis of their body thickness (e.g. thin, solid, hollow or flat); the shape of body section (e.g. rectangular to circular, oval, octagonal, lozenge or D- or C-shaped); the expansion and direction of their terminals (e.g. unexpanded, slightly expanded, expanded, outwardly expanded, inwards coiled or back coiled/reverse); the terminal section shape (sub-squared, sub-rectangular, rectangular, sub-circular, circular, semi circular, semi-oval, oval, conical, octagonal or spherical) and terminal thickness (from solid to plain, concave or hollow).

 

3.8.1 bracelet (solid thin circular sectioned body; unexpanded sub-squared terminals)

 

3.8.2 bracelet (solid thin circular sectioned body; slightly expanded sub-squared terminals)

 

3.8.3 bracelet (solid thin circular sectioned body; slightly expanded sub-circular terminals)

 

3.8.4 bracelet (solid thin circular sectioned body; slightly expanded circular terminals)

 

3.8.5 bracelet (solid thin circular sectioned body; slightly expanded oval terminals)

 

3.8.6 bracelet (solid thin circular sectioned body; expanded conical shaped and solid terminals)

 

3.8.7 bracelet (solid thin circular sectioned body; expanded conical shaped and concave terminals)

 

3.8.8 bracelet (solid thin circular sectioned body; expanded conical shaped and hollow terminals)

 

3.8.9 bracelet (solid thin oval sectioned body; slightly expanded sub-circular terminals)

 

3.8.10 bracelet (solid thin oval sectioned body; slightly expanded oval terminals)

 

3.8.11 bracelet (solid circular sectioned body; slightly expanded circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.12 bracelet (solid oval sectioned body; slightly expanded circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.13 bracelet (solid oval sectioned body; slightly expanded oval and solid terminals)

 

3.8.14 bracelet (solid octagonal sectioned body; slightly expanded octagonal and solid terminals)

 

3.8.15 bracelet (solid circular sectioned body; expanded circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.16 bracelet (solid oval sectioned body; expanded circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.17 bracelet (solid circular sectioned body; expanded conical shaped and solid terminals)

 

3.8.18 bracelet (solid circular sectioned body; expanded conical shaped and concave terminals)

 

3.8.19 bracelet (solid circular sectioned body; expanded conical shaped and hollow terminals)

 

3.8.20 bracelet (solid circular sectioned body; expanded spherical terminals)

 

3.8.21 bracelet (solid lozenge sectioned body; slightly expanded sub-circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.22 bracelet (solid lozenge sectioned body; slightly expanded circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.23 bracelet (solid lozenge sectioned body; slightly expanded oval and solid terminals)

 

3.8.24 bracelet (solid lozenge sectioned body; expanded conical shaped and concave terminals)

 

3.8.25 bracelet (solid D-shaped body; slightly expanded circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.26 bracelet (solid D-shaped body; outwardly expanded semi-circular and plain terminals)

 

3.8.27 bracelet (solid D-shaped body; outwardly expanded circular and plain terminals)

 

3.8.28 bracelet (solid D-shaped body; outwardly expanded oval and plain terminals)

 

3.8.29 bracelet (C-shaped body; expanded solid oval and plain terminals)

 

3.8.30 bracelet (C-shaped body; outwardly expanded semi-circular and plain terminals)

 

3.8.31 bracelet (C-shaped body; outwardly expanded oval and plain terminals)

 

3.8.32 bracelet (solid slightly concave oval sectioned body; expanded conical shaped, oval and plain terminals)

 

3.8.33 bracelet (circular sectioned body, hollow tubular section; expanded conical shaped and plain terminals)

 

3.8.34 bracelet (circular sectioned body, hollow tubular section; expanded conical shaped and hollow terminals)

 

3.8.35 bracelet (solid rectangular sectioned body; expanded circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.36 bracelet (flat thin rectangular sectioned body; slightly expanded sub-circular terminals)

 

3.8.37 bracelet (flat thin rectangular sectioned body; slightly expanded semi-circular terminals)

 

3.8.38 bracelet (flat rectangular sectioned body; slightly expanded sub-rectangular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.39 bracelet (flat rectangular sectioned body; slightly expanded rectangular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.40 bracelet (flat rectangular sectioned body; slightly expanded semi-oval and solid terminals)

 

3.8.41 bracelet (flat rectangular sectioned body; expanded sub-circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.42 bracelet (flat rectangular sectioned body; expanded circular and solid terminals)

 

3.8.43 bracelet (flat rectangular sectioned body; inward coiled terminals)

 

3.8.44 bracelet (flat rectangular sectioned body; back coiled (recurved) terminals)

References: Hawkes and Clarke 1963; Clarke and Kemp 1984; Hook and Needham 1990; Eogan 1994, 84–5, 88; Gwilt et al. 2005.

Bronze Age Gold Dress fastener

dress fastener; Late Bronze Age; 1000BC-750BC; Ireland. British Museum 1834,1222.1

3.9 Dress fasteners

Ornaments, originally labelled as dress fastener. They are made of a hollow or solid body with a broad curving form ending in very large circular expanded terminals. Terminals can be decorated with an incised geometric pattern. There are seven dress fasteners in the British Museum collection.

 

3.9.1dress fasteners with solid body

 

3.9.2 dress fasteners with hollow body

References: Eogan 1994, 88; Cahill 1998.

Bronze Age Gold Cylindrical beads

bead; Late Bronze Age; 1100BC-750BC; Ireland. British Museum 1853,0926.2

3.10 Cylindrical beads

Ornaments made from a rectangular thin sheet of gold rolled into a cylindrical shape and decorated with embossed grooves. Fifty-four cylindrical beads are in the British Museum collection.

References: Eluère 1982, 30–1.