6. Finding the furnace (or hearth)

To summarise, there is very little direct in situ evidence of metalworking in southern England during the Beaker period and Bronze Age, although there is more indirect evidence, especially in the Middle to Late Bronze Age. Mining and recycling/reworking of artefacts is well understood, but the locations of metalworking activities/processes remain elusive, potentially due to the 'sparse evidence' left behind from these activities (Roberts 2013, 540). As discussed, there is likely to be an issue with the visibility of the archaeological evidence of metalworking during excavation. It is proposed that the changes visible in the archaeological record between the Beaker period/Early Bronze Age, and Middle to Late Bronze Age could influence the locations where such metalworking might have occurred. It is also important to consider how we might unearth this evidence.

6.1 Beaker period and Early Bronze Age

During the Beaker period there is widespread evidence for a continuing association with earlier ceremonial monuments in Wessex, recognisable by the Beaker burials at the Sanctuary (Cunnington 1931); the West Kennet Avenue at Avebury (Smith 1965); and Stonehenge (Parker Pearson et al. 2015, 30), to give some of the many examples. It is demonstrable that henges were built during, or are associated with, the Late Neolithic period and in central southern Britain, Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age communities continued to use them (e.g. Stonehenge – Parker Pearson et al. 2015). It has been argued that some enclosures were associated with ritual and social practices, such as large-scale feasting. Given the direct association between Beakers and the use of henges in southern Britain, and the appearance of copper artefacts during this period, is it possible that early metalworking practices were, for at least a period of time, associated with such monuments?

It has been suggested that the creation of the ditch at Durrington Walls was, given the lack of flint axe fragments and impressions in chalk blocks, at least partly undertaken with copper axes, increasing the potential linkage between such enclosures and metals in the 25th century cal BC (Parker Pearson (2011, 59), although this remains a contentious interpretation. The carvings of 110 bronze axes and four bronze daggers on stones 3, 4 and 5 on the east side of the sarsen circle at Stonehenge also indicate a connection between such monuments and metals, with the Stonehenge examples stylistically dated to the latter part of the Early Bronze Age c.1750–1500 cal BC (Parker Pearson et al. 2015, 123), and this may represent a long-lived association. In Ireland there is also a direct association between older ceremonial monuments and metalworking; on the land surface next to the Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange, which has been broadly dated to around 2000 cal BC, there are Beaker period metalworking stone tools and a bronze flat axe (O'Kelly and Shell 1979).

If the metal tools themselves were literally creating at least some enclosures or being used to create features within the enclosures (e.g. stone hole settings), is it possible that metal artefacts were created or recast (reborn?) within the enclosures? The novelty and theatre of such a transforming event associated with the making, using or remaking of a symbolically important metal object might have become a significant part of the enclosure function. Such monumental complexes have been argued to embody the transformation of individuals between the realms of the living and the dead (Parker Pearson et al. 2015), but maybe the process of transformation associated with such enclosures was not confined solely to people, but also applied to metals (and possibly other materials)? The performance of working metals, deeply invested within a ritualised routine to ensure the successful transformation of material from one form to another, could well have been undertaken in areas viewed as containing special powers or good omens, such as henges and other enclosure monuments. Younger (2017) draws attention to the transformative effects of fire and its association with henge sites, and it is possible that these transformative effects extend to the later working of metals within henges. Whilst the linkages described above are suggestive, there is currently no direct evidence for the making or remaking of metal artefacts within henges, although such ideas could be tested through the application of targeted geochemistry (see below).

6.2 Middle Bronze Age – Late Bronze Age

From the Middle Bronze Age period (c.1500 cal BC), settlement sites become more common in the archaeological record, and many of these contain structured deposition within roundhouses and enclosure ditches. Given the positive association between the Middle Bronze Age Roundhouse 1 at Tremough and bronze working, combined with the increasing number of moulds discovered in Middle and Late Bronze Age sites across the country, this line of enquiry has the potential to yield much information on the organisation of metalworking. As discussed earlier, Middle Bronze Age roundhouses can be interpreted as representing a realignment/reorganisation of belief systems from circular ceremonial monuments to circular domestic structures. At Tremough, a roundhouse contained evidence of metalworking and many other roundhouses have produced evidence for a range of other functions including weaving and domestic occupation. In many cases though, defining activities within a roundhouse is difficult, especially given that main difference in roundhouse architecture which survives in the archaeological record is size (e.g. Jones and Taylor 2013). It is, therefore, likely that some examples have been excavated where the process of metalworking had occurred but has not been identified, due to a lack of surviving identifiable evidence.


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