Bronze Age Norfolk

Around 2000 BC to 800 BC.

The term Bronze Age is used to describe the period in prehistory when people were using weapons and tools made out of bronze.

Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. In order to produce bronze tools tin had to be traded over long distances from areas such as Cornwall. Copper was mined in Britain at places like the Great Orme mine in north Wales. There are no natural resources of copper or tin in East Anglia and therefore the bronze objects, or the raw material to make them must have been imported from elsewhere. As bronze began to be used more widely, old weapons and tools could be melted down and recycled into new objects. Tools and weapons changed shape over the period. By closely examining the size and shape of an object archaeologists can usually tell when in the Bronze Age it was produced.

Very little is known of settlements in the Bronze Age. It is thought that people were living in small farmsteads, where a wooden palisade surrounded a few thatched roundhouses. Around these settlements the landscape was effectively managed and field systems were used for arable farming and the grazing of domestic animals. A landscape like this has been excavated at Mildenhall, and similar farmsteads have been recorded in other parts of Britain. Archaeologists in Norfolk have also excavated many pits and groups of pits dating to the Bronze Age. Examples have been recorded at Witton (NHER 6969) and Hunstanton (NHER 4372). It is not clear what these pits were used for. Rubbish may have been thrown down them or they may have been used in religious ceremonies. It is possible that they were used for both. Often only a few features are found - perhaps indicating the sites were only used occasionally, perhaps every summer or at special times of the year. The development of mixed land management (arable and pastoral farming), the use of horses and wheeled vehicles and the transition to a more hierarchical society with power held by a few people within a larger group were some of the significant changes during the Bronze Age. Unfortunately archaeological evidence for these changes is often hard to interpret. Bronze Age hearths have also been recorded, for example at Snetterton (NHER 9178, 9179, 9180 and 9181)

The people of Bronze Age Britain were relatively mobile. The archaeological evidence suggests that various types of pottery were used in Late Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. Archaeologists used to think that these different types of pottery were used by different groups of people. It is possible, however, that the spread of different types of pottery occurred as ideas, traditions and technologies were exchanged and traded. People were also moving from place to place. Scientific analysis has shown that some Bronze Age people immigrated to Britain from as far away as Switzerland. The rich decoration used on some metalwork and pottery during this period and the time and expense involved in creating these objects suggests that Bronze Age society was stratified - some people were rich and had fancy things and others were poor and had more basic equipment.

Most archaeological evidence for the Bronze Age comes from burials. 625 burial mounds or round barrows have been recorded in Norfolk and many more possible barrows have been spotted on aerial photographs but have not been positively identified. These mounds of earth, sometimes surrounded by ditches, were built over the cremated or interred remains of the dead. Examples of surviving barrows include those at Harpley (NHER 3527,3528,3529, 3531, 3532 and 4759), Kelling (NHER 6201), Salthouse (NHER 6202, 6203, 6204, 6206, 6208, 6209, 6210, 6211 and 6212) and Weasenham All Saints (NHER 3654, 3656, 3657 and 3658) Most of these date to the Early Bronze Age - barrow building seems to have gone out of fashion, at least for some people in Norfolk, later in the Bronze Age.

The other major source of evidence for the Bronze Age is hoards of metalwork. Objects and metal working debris were collected together and placed in the ground. In Norfolk these hoards are concentrated on the edge of the Fens or in watery, more marginal areas. It is not clear why these hoards were buried. Some archaeologists suggest they were caches of raw materials hidden by metalworkers for safekeeping. Others think they were gifts to gods. Selected examples of hoards in Norfolk include those found at Hunstanton (NHER 1101), Feltwell (NHER 5295), Gorleston on Sea (NHER 10556 and 10557), Caister on Sea (NHER 12872), Snettisham (NHER 1504, 1670, 1671 and 1672) and Salle (NHER 41976 and 42594).

The end of the Bronze Age was not sudden. Iron technology was introduced gradually, and flint and copper alloy (particularly for decorative items) continued to be used.

 

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