4. Bronze Age

c2500 BC to c700 BC

Cremation Urns

Cremation Urns

4000 years ago, people still used stone for tools, but they had a new special material – bronze! Bronze is a metal made from a mixture of copper and tin. It is very hard and strong, perfect for making sharp edges.

At this time, people used bronze to make tools and weapons, such as axes and daggers. Travelling bronze-smiths may have camped near a settlement, trading new bronze tools for old ones, food and clothes, and recycling old and broken tools which the people had collected in hoards.  People lived in farmsteads such as one at Laleham, and later in quite large villages in some places, especially along the Thames, where they traded for goods. A large village was found at Runnymede Bridge the people there were in contact with people from distant places through trade gold came from Ireland, and axes and brooches came from as far away as Switzerland.

A type of early bronze axe (palstave)

A type of early bronze axe (palstave)

Settlements of round houses were built from timber, wattle and daub, each could house 6 – 10 people. They had small fenced animal pens and gardens. Very large systems of fields were laid out across most of the countryside, and as well as wheat and barley, they grew flax and beans.  Late in this period, some people became more important than others, and built defended elite settlements – one of these has been excavated at Carshalton.

At this time, people discovered how to spin, weave and make clothes. Although they still wore animal hides, they could hand pluck a sheep for its fleece and weave it into proper garments. They made elaborate bronze fastenings such as buttons and pins to help keep their clothes on!

An artists impression of a round (bell) barrow

An artists impression of a round (bell) barrow

At the beginning of this period people started to bury their dead under mounds with a ditch around them, called round barrows.  Some of these have been excavated, but the round barrow at Deerleap Wood had no bones in it.  It may have been a memorial for someone who died a long way from home.  Later some people cremated the bodies and put them in special pots called urns, or perhaps placed the remains in rivers and ponds.  Offerings of metal weapons and tools, often found in the rivers, may have been part of these funeral rituals.

By the end of this period, it seems that people were beginning to organise themselves into tribes and to have clearly marked territories and boundaries.  This may have caused some fighting, which might explain why there are lots more swords and spears found at the end of this period.

Bronze Age Surrey

The field systems at Hengrove Farm Image: Surrey County Archaeological Unit

The field systems at Hengrove Farm
Image: Surrey County Archaeological Unit

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