Living on the Edge, Life in the Bronze Age : Chris Carr

Dressed in the clothes of a Bronze Age woman, Chris began her presentation by putting the Bronze Age in its historical perspective. She explained that it began in Britain approximately 4,000 years ago, which was the time of the pharaohs of Egypt, the early biblical stories and the fabled Trojan War. She then took us through the domestic, social and political lives of Bronze Age people, based on the evidence from the archaeological sites at Flag Fen and Must Farm near Whittlesea.

One of the early discoveries at Flag Fen was an alignment of posts, probably the remains of a raised pathway to cross the marshy land. Its inappropriate location suggests that it had a more political or religious purpose than a functional one. With sea levels rising during that period, the loss of land caused insecurity and conflict among the local population. As it was the area where the lands of the Iceni tribe (to the east), the Catuvellauni (to the south) and
Coritani (to the north) converged, the numerous broken swords found adjacent to the posts suggests that it may have been used as a meeting point to negotiate peace terms, the broken swords symbolising an agreement. 

The evidence from the Must Farm settlement indicates that Bronze Age people were technically advanced. They used the natural resources to construct their settlement, which was built on stilts over the water, and they had the technical expertise to build roundhouses and a protective palisade. The small settlements were probably extended family clusters, living in close proximity to other family groups, who survived by rearing cattle, growing grains and collecting wild fruit and berries. However, their lives were hard, precarious and short, and someone aged 40, for example, would be seen as being old.

Life in the roundhouse was reflected in the division of labour, with women taking responsibility for domestic duties, cooking, spinning, weaving and dyeing cloth. The warrior caste headed the social hierarchy, but beneath them were skilled artisans, such as carpenters, builders and fishermen. Their skills and knowledge of the environment enabled them to create complex equipment and apparatus like boats, fish traps and fish weirs. They also had the ability to work metal and cast alloys, but as the copper and tin required to make bronze was not found nearby, it suggests they were also involved in trading networks, both in Britain and Europe.

Chris brought along an array of artefacts to give us an insight into the daily lives, skills and knowledge of the people. What they revealed was that Bronze Age people were not ignorant savages but capable and sophisticated people. They lived in family groups, had belief systems and were in touch with the world around them, a people far more advanced than we had once thought.

Roland Thacker

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