Bronze Age Families
During the Bronze Age the population of Britain grew significantly and smaller Stone Age family clans gradually settled into larger communities, meaning there may have been more 1,000,000 people by 2,000 BC.
Farming became important as more food was needed for the growing communities and large areas of forest were cleared to create the first fields, sometimes enclosed with drystone walls boundaries, such as the Dartmoor reaves constructed during the middle Bronze Age. Some estimates suggest the wildwood by this time probably covered 40% of the country. Wheat and barley were the main crops being grown for food; malt for grown for alcoholic drinks; hay and straw was used for animal feed, bedding, thatching and winter fodder.
The climate was warmer than today (probably by 2°C) and this had an impact on agricultural land being used, as farming was able to extend into the the moors and uplands of Britain.By the late in the Bronze Age (around 1000 BC) the climate cooled and became wetter, so many of the farming settlements of the upland areas were abandoned.
Some people started to specialise in crafts, such as metalworking, basketry, bone working, woodworking, boat building, leather tanning and would trade with farmers or other craftsman, however stone tools were still widely used during this period. Trade during the Bronze Age was extensive and evidence suggests the UK had trade connections into the Mediterranean for exporting metals and with the Baltic for importing amber. Such exotic objects would have no doubt been used as status symbols. Trackways or Causeways appeared or were improved and small wheeled, animal-drawn carts/plows were used.
Reconstructed causeway at Flag Fen
Religion during the Bronze Age generally has a connection to most aspects of daily life but is more obvious in the monuments built. A burial of this time would generally be an inhumation (skeletal remains) often in a crouched position such as the Amesbury Archer. Later individuals were also cremated and placed in ceramic urns in pits next to older burial mounds or in the side of them as secondary burials. In Europe cremation burials often occur together in “Urn Fields” however this does not occur so obviously or frequently in the UK.
Ritual activity with artefacts is less well known outside the archaeological world but sites such as Flag Fen (above) have shown that people deliberately broken or damaged metal objects before throwing them into the water either side of the wooden track way discovered there (such as the Melksham hoard below). The reasons behind this are not clear, the may be sacrifices for a good harvest or an offering to empower the individual who made the offering.
Melksham hoard on display at Wiltshire Museum
Bronze Age Homes
Houses in the British Bronze Age were usually circular with a wattle and daub wall or dry stone wall and thatched or turfed roof over a cone of beams at around 45° and single entrance, such as the one shown on the left from Flag Fen. Some were built on stilts, such as those from the settlement at Must Farm quarry (Cambridgeshire) as they were constructed on wetlands.
The orientations of houses found during excavation are usually east facing, towards the rising sun as the inside of these dwellings or “roundhouses” is generally quite dark. A hearth or fire place would be the centre point of round houses and could have housed more than one family. The design of roundhouses meant they retained heat while maintaining a layer of carbon monoxide well above the heads of the inhabitants, this meant any stray sparks from the fire could not ignite the straw roof (lack of oxygen) and there would be limited invertebrate such as beetles, weevils, slugs and rodent activity in the straw that would eat and damage it.
Settlements consisted of groups of five or more round houses, possibly for defence and because people preferred to live near one another. Larger versions may have even houses livestock. At the end of the Bronze Age, houses were still round and this would continue into the Iron Age, but a number of large hall-like rectangular houses are also known.
Bronze Age Clothes
There is are only a few examples of Bronze Age clothing, however there are complete clothing sets from Denmark, in twenty Oak coffin burials that are on permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. These contain the remains of late Bronze Age men and women now renamed like the Egtved Girl, the Mulbjerg Man, the Skrydstrup Woman, the Guldhøj Man, and the Trindhøj and Borum Eshøj bodies. These have inspired my replica Bronze Age clothing (below).
Clothing was mostly wool based, woven with a simple weave so became more sophisticated than the animal hides mainly worn during the Stone Age. These probably ranged in fairly dark colours from brown to black. Leather was being refined during this time and could have been used for clothes, caps or shoes. In August 2006, a Bronze Age leather shoe was found in eastern Norway by a local carpenter, who found it as the shoe thawed from an ice field in the Jotunheimen Mountains.Investigation of the shoe showed that it was from 1420 - 1260 BC; it was made from tanned leather and was 25cm long (or around a UK size 7 / European size 39). The back seam was well-preserved and there were indications that some type of shoelaces were used. Razors and tweezers were used to remove hair and fine bone combs used to style it.
Male clothing & appearance
- Body covering
- Knee-length woollen wrap with a double or single shoulder strap
- Kidney-shaped cloak that hung around the shoulders
- Woollen underwear - found on the Emmer-Erfscheidenveen man in the Netherlands from 1,200 BC
- Head covering
- Felt cap or nap made from numerous small, thin treads ending in knots
- Sheepskin cap (worn fleece-side to head) complete with tail - found on the Emmer-Erfscheidenveen man in the Netherlands from 1200 BC
- Deerskin (fur inside) - found on the Emmer-Erfscheidenveen man in the Netherlands from 1,200 BC
- Leather shoe with shoelaces and stitching at back - found in the north of the Jotunheimen National Park (Norway) from 1,400BC
- Leather belt
- Those men that carried a bronze sword held this in a decorated wooden scabbard
- Bowman wore a stone wrist guards to protect their arms from the sting of the bowstring
Female clothing & appearance
- Body covering
- Knee-length skirt made of cords or wool
- Short-sleeved blouse or tunic
- Head covering
- Sprang hat/hairnet made from numerous small, thin treads ending in knots
- Leather belt plated with spiraled decorated bronze or with a fringe of outward pointing leather triangles made from thin calf skin - found at the Dartmoor Princess cist
- Bronze arm rings
- Beaded necklace of tin, amber, clay and shale - found at the Dartmoor Princess cist
- Bracelet with 35 tin studs held in place by a band of woven cow hair - found at the Dartmoor Princess cist
- Wooden yo-yo shaped earrings (worn in the ears or set into leather belts or other clothing) - found at the Dartmoor Princess cist
- Bone comb
- Handbag covered with over 100 dog-teeth arranged closely together - found near Leipzig (Germany) from a grave dated to between 2,500 and 2,200 BC