A significant number of Early to Middle Bronze Age monuments, burial groups, settlement enclosures and so on have been exposed and excavated only partially. This leads to a truncated understanding of key aspects of Bronze Age landscapes. Current wording of planning legislation should be used actively to ensure that regionally important sites are, where possible, at least exposed in their entirety so that it is possible to address questions such as the size of MBA cremation cemeteries; the overall plan form of funerary monuments and so on.
It is sometimes necessary and/or desirable to excavate beyond development footprints – this includes at least exposing the extent of (if not also investigating in detail) important archaeological entities (major Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age pit concentrations, round houses, round barrows, cremation cemeteries and so on). In some cases it might even be interpretatively worthwhile to sample landscape evidence beyond major concentrations of Bronze Age archaeology (e.g. field systems, see also Evans forthcoming). It is certainly possible that recent shifts in planning policy have contributed to an increase in the partial exposure and excavation of archaeological entities. In the long-term this trend will almost certainly have a negative impact both on developing detailed understandings of the Early to Middle Bronze Age and on our capacity to communicate about this archaeology to wider audiences. Multi-stranded investigations combining evidence from different aspects of past landscapes and from excavated sites and scientific analysis (e.g. palaeoenvironmental evidence).
Strategic radiocarbon dating is necessary, both where it is helpful to generate absolute dates to support typological schema and, in particular, where material culture is lacking (e.g. Early Bronze Age settlement structures, Middle Bronze Age land boundaries and settlement enclosures, burials without grave goods, and so on). The requirement for dating (in particular radiocarbon dating) should be supported in briefs; contingency funds should be made available to cover cost of dating; and dating strategies should be developed on a site by site bases, informed by the post-excavation process.
The outcomes of radiocarbon and other modes of dating should be collated periodically at a regional level, either in an online forum, or otherwise in annual summaries in local journals. Scientific dates should also be recorded on a routine basis at a national level in OASIS. As well as making this information more accessible, this would also help practitioners to make better informed and more strategic decisions about what needs to be dated and how standard site-based dating programmes could productively be enhanced.
Accepting the complexities involved in dating Bronze Age land boundaries, teasing out a more refined understandings of specific construction sequences and of the longevity of field systems remains important. Sequences of dates are required in order to address such questions, as well as a targeting of features which are cut by them or which cut them (e.g. Arnoldussen 2018).
Early Bronze Age ceramics sequences need to be refined, especially the chronological relationship between Beaker, Food Vessel, Collared Urn and Biconical urn deposits.
Middle to Late Bronze Age ceramic sequences need refining, especially the chronological relationship between Deverel Rimbury and Post-Deverel Rimbury ceramic traditions where materially rich settlements spanning the Middle and Late Bronze Age coincide spatially. Ladle and Woodward’s (2009) close dating for the Middle to Late Bronze Age ceramics from Bestwall Quarry, Dorset provides a useful model in this respect.
The character/reality of differences in the evidence from different parts of the region (e.g. north and south), from different regional geologies (clay, chalk, fen, etc.), and from distinct landscape zones (riverine, coastal, inland) needs to be better understood. Certain types of evidence (e.g. MBA settlement) are currently more visible and well researched in certain parts of the region (e.g. south Cambridgeshire, the eastern Fen basin and parts of Essex). However, the extent to which various factors – past practices, the distribution of fieldwork, etc. – contributed to this patterning is still not clear. The failure to integrate ‘wetland’ and ‘dryland’ narratives has been raised as an issue at a national level. Alongside this characterisation of ‘difference’ across the region, should be an assessment of how people and objects were moving around the region (e.g. the extent to which marine resources occur inland as well as along the coast). It is also vital researchers remain open to examining patterning beyond the (artificial) regional boundary. For instance consideration of the emergence of Bronze Age landscapes around the Fen basin (including into Lincolnshire) is analytically important.
Examination of links between East Anglia and Western Europe is necessary, particularly in a maritime context. There is growing evidence for close similarities in the character and make-up of Bronze Age landscapes on both sides of the North Sea during the second millennium BC. This relationship needs to be investigated more systematically and to establish whether broad resemblances in the evidence base were accompanied by more direct evidence for contact and exchange. In order to address this issue, it is vital that positive working relationships are developed with colleagues working on the near Continent. Fokkens et al’s (2016) recent synthesis of the Late Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age evidence from the Netherlands provides an extremely useful starting point for comparison.
Further attention needs to be paid to the emergence of inland ‘pioneer’ landscapes, which in some cases appear to have been settled in a sustained way for the first time in the Middle Bronze Age (Evans and Patten 2011), versus lower lying riverine/coastal landscapes, which were often already cleared of woodland and occupied in a sustained manner prior to the Middle Bronze Age. While it is clear that earlier earthworks (Neolithic and Early Bronze Age monuments) played a major role in the development of some key Middle Bronze Age river valley landscapes, this was not necessarily the case everywhere. In areas where such monuments were much less concentrated, the makeup and articulation of Middle to Late Bronze Age landscapes is potentially quite different and deserves further consideration.
Settlement mobility requires further study. There is a general assumption that the appearance of substantial evidence for settlements and fields in the Middle Bronze Age was accompanied by a settling down of contemporary populations. However, this shift should be investigated actively rather than being assumed. It is certainly possible that the makeup of occupation in the E/MBA involved both temporary camps and more sustained settlements; it would be very interesting to try tease out such subtleties in the archaeological record. An integrated landscape-scale approach that considers the character and intensity of settlement and farming practices is key to addressing this question. The accumulative importance of isolated Early Bronze Age settlement evidence needs to be recognised. Evidence for these more ephemeral occupation traces should be synthesised and integrated into broader accounts of the period.
Synthesis/detailed analysis of Middle Bronze Age settlement evidence from across the region is required in order to enable major interpretative progress. In addition to providing an overview of settlement morphology, a consideration of depositional practices, of major contrasts in the makeup of settlement and of the character of settlement-associated practices would be interesting.
Examination of the inter-relationships between settlements, together with the variation and changes in settlement types, and the makeup of finds assemblages associated with different settlement forms offers potential to explore the social changes taking place. Positive and systematic methods need to be developed for understanding less visible/robust aspects of the Bronze Age settlement record – floors, working surfaces and artefact scatters. Cut features – pits, gullies and so on – represent only a tiny proportion of the makeup of occupation evidence; significant evidence often resides in the plough/subsoil. In order to approach these interpretatively important but much less visible/robust evidence forms, clear and consistent approaches must be developed across fieldwork organisations for fieldwalking (before, and as a complement to, excavation), buried soil sampling, soil micromorphology (to understand soil formation processes, past land-use and also how specific structural features were used), and phosphate analysis.
Synthesis of plant/animal remains are vital to understanding Early and Middle Bronze Age ecologies in a period that has been described, at a broad level, as witnessing an agricultural revolution (Stevens and Fuller 2012). Recent work emphasising the hybrid character of human ecologies (Stepanoff and Vigne 2018) and the diverse strategies often employed during periods of agricultural change (including both intensification and extensification e.g. McClatchie 2014; McClatchie et al 2016) should be considered in addressing farming practices in this period. Animal health and people’s responses to/understandings of it are an understudied element of Bronze Age ecologies.
Although detailed palaeoenvironmental and other scientific work has accompanied the excavation of some of the more extensive field systems and is essential, for instance, in terms of understanding the role played by fields, such work continues to be a feature of the work of only a few key fieldwork organisations. It is vital that a broader awareness is built of the potential applications of scientific methods so that these approaches can be used in a targeted and interpretatively/cost-effective way. The development of strong working relationships with specialists in pollen sampling, phosphates, plant macro/micro, etc. is also vital in this respect. Relevant samples are taken systematically – rather than patchily as is currently the case – where evidence is well preserved (e.g. in waterlogged features – waterholes and wells – close to field systems, in well-preserved land surfaces beneath earthworks, etc.), and where regionally/nationally significant Early to Middle Bronze Age remains are uncovered.
Understandings of Early to Middle Bronze Age landscapes could be enhanced significantly if, in addition to hand-excavating slots across ditched land boundaries (as has traditionally been the case), substantial sections of these systems, and associated waterholes, are also excavated by machine (see for instance the methods employed by Luke 2016 and Pickstone and Mortimer 2011). This would improve significantly the potential for artefact retrieval (and thus enhance understandings of the chronology of these features) and would importantly increase the possibility of identifying the isolated deposits (e.g. burials, metalwork deposits etc.) which we now know are a key feature of Bronze Age boundaries. Rather than being applied wholesale, such work is probably most productive where initial hand-excavation has flagged up the potential for finding further interpretatively significant deposits. Machine excavation of land boundaries and waterholes should only be undertaken after the completion of traditional hand-excavation as specified in the brief, and only according to terms agreed with the monitoring authority following this initial work.
Synthesis of highly diverse burial evidence across the region (and beyond) is necessary, particularly beyond Middle Bronze Age cremations, which were addressed substantially by Robinson (2007). For instance, it would be very, interesting to consider the incidence and character of grave goods over the duration of the Early to Middle Bonze Age (including more understated offerings such as animal remains and pyre goods). This topic is still poorly understood in the East of England in comparison to other major research areas such as Wessex, the Thames Valley, the Peak District and East Yorkshire. Burial evidence is of particular interest to the wider public: investment in this area therefore has the potential to contribute significantly at a number of different levels. More broadly, routine radiocarbon dating of burials (both cremations and inhumations) without grave-goods is crucial. Cremation cemeteries can no longer be assumed to be Middle Bronze Age in date. Equally, it is now clear that isolated inhumation burials were made throughout the course of later prehistory. It is important that the character and chronology of later prehistoric burials that lack clear dating evidence is understood as a component of burial practices more broadly.
The growing number of Middle Bronze Age inhumations offers new interpretative scope in this respect, as does the burgeoning application of aDNA and isotope analysis (informative about diet and disease). Additionally, although it is recognised that farming practices and living conditions are key to human health, evidence from human remains is rarely considered alongside that from palaeoenvironmental remains (e.g. for dietary make-up, insects indicative of living conditions, etc.).
The strategic application of aDNA and isotope analysis is currently revolutionising understandings of the makeup of Early Bronze Age societies and of the character of Bronze Age burial practices. For instance, it is now possible to identify the genetic relationships of people buried within cemeteries or where there are multiple burials in one grave. Evidence from the Eastern Region (in particular from Over, Cambridgeshire and from Trumpington Meadows, Cambridge) has played a key role in recent international research in this area – we are already starting to see trends of incoming groups in the Beaker period followed by reversion to indigenous DNA again. It is vital that researchers in the region seek actively to contribute to major scientific research programmes of this kind, and are open to the interpretative opportunities of new scientific methods more broadly. Cross-disciplinary research of this kind is essential for stimulating public interest in archaeology. Scientifically -led findings (e.g. for the arrival of Beaker people and for Neolithic population displacement) should be balanced with concerted efforts to find corollaries within the broader evidence base.
The shifting contexts of monumentality, from an Early Bronze Age emphasis on circular monuments to the creation of landscape-scale structures in the Middle and Later Bronze Age, require further study and interpretation. An important platform for this process would be a basic synthesis/mapping of key regional monument types (e.g. barrows, ring ditches and so on). Last’s (2007) arguments regarding the diversity of Bronze Age funerary monuments and Garwood (2007) and Garrow et al’s (2014) considerations of the chronology of monument building require further consideration within the region.
Integration of excavated and stray find evidence is necessary in order to maximise the potential of this material. In order to facilitate this process, effort needs to be invested in making artefact records held within the PAS, in HERs and in museum databases both more compatible and more readily accessible. Effort should also be invested in quantifying (at a basic level) excavated finds assemblages recorded in OASIS/HERs. This would improve significantly the potential for identifying assemblages that merit further analysis. Although presence/absence of artefact and material types is regularly recorded in OASIS/HERs, it is often very difficult to assess the size/overall character of excavated assemblages. The addition of an option within these records for highlighting exceptional (regionally and nationally significant) assemblages would be helpful in this respect.
Ceramic evidence is in urgent need of synthesis. This is necessary for the Early Bronze Age (particularly beyond Collared Urns, addressed in detail by Law (2009)) and Middle Bronze Age ceramics in general, both in terms of the makeup of this dataset and their depositional contexts.
The now significant corpus of metal artefacts from the Eastern Region requires further use and analysis. Despite the substantial number of metal artefacts now recorded for this period in the PAS database there have been no significant attempts to draw this evidence together, or to undertake more detailed or scientific analysis of these objects.
At a smaller scale, long-term synthetic studies of Early and Middle Bronze Age flint working, textile production, and animal bone working in the Eastern Region would be extremely useful. More broadly, greater collaboration between artefact specialists would facilitate the creation of more dynamic and better integrated understandings of Early to Middle Bronze Age material culture.
The relationship between different modes of deposition (e.g. hoards, burials and odd deposits) needs to be considered. It is now clear that odd deposits of human fragments, whole pots, metalwork deposits etc., in waterholes, field boundaries and settlement features, were a common occurrence throughout the Early to Middle Bronze Age. This evidence should be assessed alongside that for hoards, burials and watery deposits in order to produce a composite account of depositional practice in the Early to Middle Bronze Age. Definitions of ‘odd’ or ‘unusual’ deposits should be developed alongside understandings of ‘average practice’ (Garrow 2012) on a site by site basis rather than being predetermined in any way.