Mark Dalton

Early Bronze Age British Funerary Vessels: similarities and differences in manufacturing techniques and the socio-cultural implications

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

Use of macroscopic techniques to characterise fabric, and identify evidence of construction techniques, enhanced by scientific analysis of a targeted sample.

Start Date: October 2016
End Date: October 2019
Themes: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding. What objects can reveal about the social, cultural, religious, creative and political history of their makers, users, owners, depositors and collectors.
Research discipline: Archaeology, Scientific research
Location: UK
Staff member: Neil Wilkin, Michela Spataro
Department: British and European Prehistory
University and department: University College London, Institute of Archaeology
University supervisor: Mike Parker Pearson

What are the problems with Early Bronze Age pottery typologies in Britain?

Subjective choices were made regarding the finished forms of pots and the perspective of the potters were not considered.

How can the use of Chaîne Opératoire aid pottery studies?

It takes into consideration the choices made at every stage of manufacture, allowing for an understanding of the perspective of the potter.

Can Early Bronze Age pottery classification schemes produce meaningful types?

By studying the decisions made at various stages in a pots production and contextualising vessels, the meanings and reasons for the similarities and differences between pots will become clearer.

About my research

Funerary pottery represents one of the most common and most important sources of information regarding ritual and social practices and identities during this period. The vessels will be studied in far greater depth than previously attempted by supplementing macroscopic examination with methods of archaeological science and experimental archaeology.

Past ceramic studies have been mainly concerned with documenting and studying the finished form of vessels rather than the production process from the perspective of the potter (chaîne opératoire). Past studies also perceived clear distinctions between ‘traditions’ and ‘types’ that recent research has begun to problematize. Two early Bronze Age vessels that look the same may be made from different clay and temper ‘recipes’, and may use different manufacturing techniques. Conversely, vessels of different types may share important features such as fabric and decoration in common.


This group of Beakers shows the variation in form within the tradition


Beakers are frequently described as being well made from fine fabrics but this is often not the case as seen here with this Beaker from Gloucestershire.


This Collared Urn rim sherd is decorated using a toothed comb, a method that is synonymous with Beaker pottery.

Aims of my research

This project will focus on the social and cultural implications of these similarities and differences that may be significant for interpreting identity and transformation through time, and understanding the ends and beginnings of traditions, rituals and beliefs.

Key research questions will include; how do archaeologists understand the manufacturing process of EBA funerary vessels? Can new, more sophisticated classificatory frameworks based on construction evidence and context be devised? How were similarities and differences in the manufacture and treatment of EBA funerary vessels used to construct and project identities? What can EBA vessels reveal about the transmission of ceramic production techniques? How do the meanings of and use of EBA funerary vessels compare with the use of funerary vessels in the Middle Bronze Age?