The Neolithic and Early Bronze Age

Fraser Sturt and Robert Van de Noort


Maritime themes have long been established in both Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (EBA) research in England – from Crawford’s (1912; 1936) identification of the western seaways as a critical conduit for prehistoric communication, through Childe’s (1946, 36) description of those seaways as ‘grey waters bright with Neolithic Argonauts’, to Case’s (1969) seminal paper on the mechanics of moving domesticated cereals and animals from the Continent to Britain. This early archaeological awareness of the importance of maritime activity is not surprising if we pause to remind ourselves of the island nature of Britain (Fig 3.1). However, since the early works of Crawford and Childe, maritime themes have dipped in and out of scholarly consciousness, as archaeology oscillates between large-scale grand narratives and small-scale accounts. In this process of switching focus, all too often maritime themes have slipped out of view.

Figure 3.1 Map of the British Isles and associated maritime features. Bathymetry and topography drawn from GEBCO 08 (

Oxley (2005, 1) has suggested that a major reason for this is the development of an unfortunate divide between maritime and terrestrial archaeology over the last 30 years. This has resulted in compartmentalisation of research questions where in fact there needs to be integration. As such, although this review sits within a maritime research framework, it makes a deliberate effort to integrate research themes and concerns from the broader sweep of Neolithic and EBA studies. For this reason, all members of the working group saw the consultation and review process as an essential part of formalising the content of the final document. Thus, what is presented here should be seen as both a product of a rich historical legacy of research stretching back over 100 years and as a snapshot of the state of the discipline and its concerns in 2011.

Given this broad sweep, the following text is envisaged not as definitive but suggestive in nature. This creates a tension in the following sections, as an important part of the research framework process is resource assessment. Whilst a broad review of marine and maritime archaeology is made, divided both regionally and thematically, it only aims to pull out trends from the data. As such, it is essential that the material below is read in conjunction with the more detailed regional frameworks and the rapid coastal zone assessments.

The chapter begins by considering the problems with both defining and dating the start of the Neolithic and EBA, before moving on to consider coastal change, maritime settlements and subsistence strategies, seafaring, networks of communication and maritime identities. However, above all else, what hopefully emerges from the text is the rich and com- pelling nature of the maritime record, the challenges of working within this sphere, and ultimately its great potential to transform our views of the past.

Definitions,  chronology  and process

As recent debate has made clear (Garrow 2010; Pluciennik 1998; Sturt 2010; Thomas 1997; 2001; 2003; 2008; Whittle et al 2011), any attempt at establishing a research framework for the Neolithic and EBA needs carefully to consider issues of chronology, process, and definition. For Neolithic studies in particular, the act of determining what we mean by Neolithic, when this form of society begins and via what process/es it is established, has proved notoriously controversial (Sheridan 2007; Thomas 2008; Whittle et al 2011). Importantly, no matter which way we choose to read the material culture, the shift to a Neolithic way of life did require contact with the Continent, and thus directly involved seafaring and maritime activity (as discussed in more detail in Sections 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4) (see Fig 3.2).

Figure 3.2 Timeline for the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, as approached within this chapter

With regard to dating the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition, work by Whittle et al (2008, 2011) indicates a date of c 4000 BC for the earliest evidence of Neolithic activity in England. However, it must also be noted that we continue to find evidence for late Mesolithic activity within eastern and northern England well into the 4th millennium BC (Sturt 2006; Whittle et al 2011). As such, the period with which this chapter is concerned has no definitive start date, more an indicative temporal horizon. Thus, the mechanisms behind this transition, the date it occurred, and the part that seafaring played within it must remain a key maritime, and indeed a central archaeological, research theme. In addition, the role that seafaring played in day-to-day life throughout the periods discussed here is of potentially great significance. Too frequently we have limited our discussions to terrestrial activity, without detailed consideration of what part maritime activity may have played within society.

Just as defining a start to the early Neolithic is problematic, so too is pinpointing the shift to the EBA. Here the broad temporal horizon given for the transition lies around 2200 BC (Pollard 2008), with the EBA seen to end at around 1500 BC. Again, these dates are indicative, with regional chronologies revealing differences in the timing of the transition and the duration of different periods. However, just as in the Neolithic, the role of seafaring, voyaging, and communication with other parts of Britain, Ireland and the Continent will emerge as research questions of central importance, and are discussed in detail in Sections 3.2 and 3.3.

Finally, and all too often overlooked, the character of the sea and connected waterways themselves must be seen as a central component of this chapter. As Evans (2003) has argued, appreciating the changing textures of space that people inhabited in the past is crucial to understanding the nature of their societies. This is particularly important within prehistory, where the environmental data can be seen to offer a comparatively high-resolution record of continuity and change. As argued below, these data offer an important entry point for current debates on the perception of space, cognition, and everyday life within the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Interestingly, it is within maritime and wetland zones that we often find the highest-resolution forms of data to inform these discussions. However, any attempts to engage with these sorts of data require that we look beyond the narrow temporal confines of the Neolithic and EBA. In order to appreciate the data and methods used in these forms of analysis, we have to engage with change at a variety of different temporal and spatial scales. Thus, if anything, working with this dynamic marine environment should serve to force us to connect our archaeological thinking, rather than separate it.

Broad research issues

In order for our understanding of both transitions (and the main body of the periods) to move forward there is a general need for the following:

  • Increased absolute dating of sites, assemblages and environmental sequences
  • Establishment of an open-access up-to-date database of absolutely dated archaeological sites
  • Isotopic and genetic investigation of faunal and floral material (for reasons discussed below) Whilst these data remain controversial, it is only through continued research that the suitability of these techniques to address questions of mobility, diet, and connectivity may be answered
  • Investigation of how the changing nature of the sea and seaways over this period affected Neolithic and EBA communities

Theme 3 1: Coastal change

3.1.1 Characterisation of research

In comparison to Palaeolithic and Mesolithic studies, work on the Neolithic and EBA often pays minimal attention to issues of coastal evolution, other than in the context of conservation, or within very specific geographic areas (eg the Fens, Solent, Severn or Humber regions). In many ways this is understandable, as the rate of sea-level change had slowed considerably by c 4000 BC for much of the British Isles (see Shennan and Horton 2002; Shennan et al 2002, 2006; Shennan and Barlow 2008, Clark et al 2009, and Fig 3.3). Thus, there is a temptation to fall back on quotations, such as that made by McGrail (1983), that by c 4000 BC the coastline of Britain was well established and little has changed since.

Figure 3.3 Palaeogeographic maps of north-west Europe. Top left, at 5800 yr BC; top right, at 4900 yr BC; bottom left, at 3800 yr BC, and bottom right, at 3200 yr BC (after Brooks et al 2011). Basemap data derived from GEBCO 08 (

However, whilst McGrail is broadly correct, reliance on such statements serves to mask the large impact that even small changes in relative sea-level and erosion patterns can have on coastlines. It also serves to hide the fact that the shifting form of coastal configuration through the Holocene is far from well resolved, and remains an active area of research by oceanographic, earth and climate scientists (Clark et al 2009; Clark and Huybers 2009; Lambeck 1990, 1991; 1995a; 1997; Lambeck and Chappell 2001; Lambeck et al 2002; Peltier et al 2002; Pirazzoli 1998; Shennan and Andrews 2000; Shennan and Horton 2002; Shennan et al 2000; Long et al 2002; Brooks et al 2008; Shennan and Barlow 2008; Brooks et al 2011). It is crucial that Neolithic and Bronze Age researchers remain engaged with this field, as variation in outputs from different modelling exercises, and direct observations from sea-level index points and archaeological excavations, mean our understanding of palaeogeography is constantly changing. As will be seen below, this is not a trivial matter and is of crucial importance to a number of key research questions that lie at the heart of Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology in the early 21st century.

3.1.2 Sea-level change

Sea-level change can be seen as the function of four primary factors: eustacy, isostacy, tectonics, and the interplay of these three factors with more localised variables (eg hydrology). All four of these inputs vary through both space and time. This means that the resultant relative sea-level change is non-linear in nature, and thus harder to predict than may be first imagined. From an archaeological perspective this is significant as it means that we have to become familiar with the fact that sea-level change is not constant, and will be expressed differently across a range of scales.

A variety of models for the Holocene inundation of the north-west European continental shelf are currently available. These vary between large-scale glacio-isostatic adjustment (GIA) models (Lambeck et al 2002; Peltier et al 2002) and more localised inte- grated records of subsidence and change (Shennan and Horton 2002, Shennan et al 2002; 2006; Brooks et al 2008; Waller 1994; Waller and Long 2003); no one model is correct. The exact history of inundation is far from clear and will vary considerably at a regional level. For example, work by Shennan et al (2000, 2002) and Barlow and Shennan (2008) indicates submergence of the Brown Bank off Kent by c 5000 BC (shown in Fig 3.3), while the recent North Sea Prehistoric Research and Management Framework (Peeters et al 2009) argues that it may have persisted as a series of low-lying islands well into the Middle Neolithic (c 3000 BC). In addition, large-scale models often have to work from a basis of modern bathymetric data, and thus those areas in which sediment accumulation or erosion has taken place during the Holocene will be subject to greater inaccuracies. A prime example of this is the fenland region, which at 4000 BC would have seen a shoreline far inland of its current position (Waller 1994; Sturt 2006) rather than the shoreline extending out into the current North Sea as indicated in both Lambeck (1995) and Peltier et al’s (2002) GIAs.

Figure 3.4 presents data from Shennan et al (2006) on variable rates of Holocene sea-level change around Britain. Here the general trend of recent rising sea levels in southern England can be compared to one of relative fall for parts of the far north of England. It is important to bear in mind that these records relate to change at specific locations, and that a few kilometres down the coast a different record may be encountered.

Figure 3.4 RSL curves from England’s coast (after Shennan et al 2006); dates are in years BP
(uncalibrated). Basemap data derived from GEBCO 08 (

The variations between models and regional sea- level curves ensure that understanding changing palaeoshorelines must remain a key research question for Neolithic and EBA researchers. As Coles (1998; 1999a; 2000) has cogently argued, this is not simply a matter of marking out the spaces where people could have lived in the past, but of acknowledging the social significance that inundation and changing coastal configuration may have had on populations living at the time. Thus, it is important for us to recognise that the goals and demands of archaeological research do not always mesh directly with those in the earth sciences. Fine-grained questions of landscape perception and societal response require integration of multiple proxy data sets to a degree not always required, or desired, in other disciplines.

To  this  end, archaeology  as the opportunity to drive forward sea-level studies through promoting high-resolution integrated sea-level/palaeohydrological modelling of coastlines. Here, as discussed inthe section on marine geoarchaeology and investigative methodologies, through integrating offshore and terrestrial data we can begin to think beyond artificially stark delineations between land and sea, and move towards an appreciation of the shifting nature of the wet/dry margin and associated environmental changes. In so doing we can begin to address the critique that Van de Noort and O’Sullivan (2006) raise with regard to the inexact nature of sea-level models when compared to archaeological data. No one model is ever correct, but we have the opportunity to move toward iteratively better understandings.

3.1.3 Marine conditions

We must recognise that this variable history of inundation not only tells us about variation in landmass configuration, but also informs us as to potential behavioural changes in the seaways of prehistory. Palaeotidal modelling work (Barlow and Shennan 2008, 39; Shennan et al 2000; Uehara et al 2006) and palaeoclimatological modelling (such as that carried out by Valdez and the BRIDGE group)1  provides the opportunity for archaeologists to move beyond consideration of inundation alone, and to begin to think more directly about the changing conditions of seafaring in the past. Within prehistoric studies this is a feature of the sea that we frequently fail  to engage with. Submerged prehistoric landscapes have, deservedly, become a focus of attention but potentially at the expense of discussion of the characteristics of the sea and seafaring. This need not be the case, as data used for the identification of the former can be used to improve understanding of the latter.

Recent years have seen increased availability of digital data that archaeologists can use to better understand the marine environment. Whilst outputs from palaeotidal, environmental and climate modelling research are increasing (eg the work of the PMIP and BRIDGE projects), modern data on tide, wind, and wave conditions can be used to attune researchers to the broader character of English waters before considering palaeoclimate reconstructions. Figure 3.5 presents the modern wind, wave, and tide data made available by BERR (2009). As noted above, this cannot be used as a direct correlate for past marine conditions. What it does allow for is a greater appreciation of how bodies of water behave within the major marine basins surrounding England. Such images are clearly powerful interpretative aids and point to the need for more widely accessible, and archaeologically attuned, palaeo-oceanographic models of past maritime conditions. Development of such models will not be easy, and requires careful integration of extant paleogeographic data. As a discipline, however, we do need to look at moving beyond reconstructions of past conditions that are driven by modern bathymetry rather than palaeodata.

Figure 3.5 Charts showing modern marine conditions data available from BERR (2009) [NB pixilation reflects quality of data capture]. Basemap data derived from GEBCO 08 (

Connected to this, there has been recent research into the varying nature of storm frequency and coastal climate over the Holocene (Tipping 2010). Here, work on dune mobilisation has been used to reconstruct regional variation in storminess. Tipping (2010) draws on a variety of published sources to argue for increased storminess between 4150 and 3400 BC. Such high-resolution work is crucial if we wish to consider reasons for variations in seafaring activities and connectivity between groups. It also points in the direction of much-needed future research.

3.1.4 Key research questions for coastal

A number of important research questions emerge from the theme of coastal evolution. These incorporate a range of issues relating to relative sea-level change: progradation  and  inundation,  variation in marine conditions, and the need for integrated sea-level, palaeohydrological and environmental modelling work.

Progradation, inundation and RSL change

Shennan and Barlow (2008, 21) note, there are now over 12,000 sea-level index points for the British Isles. Whilst in many ways this represents a sub- stantial data set, it is also one which benefits from continued expansion in terms of resolving regional- scale records of changing coastal configuration. This leads to the following three research questions:

  • How did regional variations in sea-level change, erosion, and deposition reconfigure the coastline of England during the Neolithic and EBA?
  • How did past communities engage with this changing coastal configuration?
  • Which areas are most in need of additional sea- level index points?

Sea level and environment

Variations in sea level not only impact on the altitude at which sea joins land, but result in changes to associated hydrological regimes and environments. As such, archaeological understandings of the impacts of sea-level change need to move beyond palaeoshoreline reconstruction and towards integrated palaeoenvironmental and palaeohydrological modelling.

  • What are the broader impacts of RSL change on coastal environments and hydrological regimes during the Neolithic and EBA?
  • What can we learn of regional variation in weather conditions and climate through detailed investigation of coastal deposits?
  • How did people engage with these changes?
  • How can we best integrate data from multiple sources to create higher-resolution, more precise models of environmental change?

Sea level and seafaring

As noted above, variations in sea level combined with broader changes in climate will have altered the texture of past seaways. As such, the following question is of interest to researchers into the Neolithic and EBA of England.

  • To what extent (if any) did changes in sea level and climate through the Neolithic and EBA change the nature of prehistoric seaways?

Theme 3 2: Maritime settlement and marine exploitation

The nature of Neolithic and EBA regional settlement patterns and use of marine resources are hotly debated topics. Consideration within this document is further complicated by the fact that inundation, progradation, and erosion mean that a maritime and marine research framework must also engage with the following: sites that were coastal in the past but are now located inland (eg sites within the East Anglian Fens), sites which were further inland but now lie on the coast and are threatened by coastal erosion, and the problems of identifying exploitation of marine resources in prehistory. In order to ease this discussion, the following sub-sections first explore broad themes for England as a whole, before offering more detailed regional analyses.

3.2.1 The nature of the record

In an attempt to offer an insight into the extent of the Neolithic and EBA record, a search of the National Monuments Record (NMR) was undertaken. This search extended to the limits of English territorial waters and moved up to 20km inland of the current coastline. As discussed below, whilst this gives a broad sense of the known record around our current shoreline, it does not provide a direct insight into the nature of coastal activity in the past, and should not be interpreted as such. The use of a 20km inland search limit reflects a deliberate desire to establish strong links between current coastal records and the inland record. It could be argued that a maritime research framework should focus more strongly on the sea and coastline. However, given the shifting nature of this boundary, our present inability to resolve the degree of mobility in both periods, and the place of maritime activity within Neolithic and Bronze Age society, a broader rather than narrower search area was favoured. In addition, the Rapid Coastal Zone Assessments (RCZAs)2 conducted for English Heritage represent a significant resource documenting the narrower coastal strip. As such, this resource assessment offered the opportunity to place the record within its broader context. Figure 3.6 shows the search area and displays the results for the Neolithic and EBA at a national level.

Figure 3.6 Map showing the distribution of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age records held in the NMR for the search area

As Table 3.1 indicates, significantly larger numbers of records were recovered for the Neolithic than the EBA. In part this illustrates a problem inherent within this chapter, in that it draws together data for over 2000 years of activity. Whilst today we are happier to see this data as representing a continuum of change over time, in the past the trend has been to divide material more markedly between the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Frequently, these two broad classificatory units represent as much detail as can be extracted from records held in the NMR, HERs or SMRs. As such, attempts to engage with the chronological finitude of change can be stymied. For this reason, regional resource assessments are critical in that they offer the opportunity for localised knowledge to be disseminated at a national level.

A further problem lies with recognising the importance of coastal resources beyond those used for subsistence. For example, both jet and shale were utilised within the Neolithic and EBA, but identifying evidence for the extraction sites of these materials is not straightforward. As such, continued mapping and archaeological investigation is required.

Period/Data Type          Point         Polyline     Polygon

Neolithic                           2649              26             2252

EBA                                     229                6               304

Table  3.1    Results from the search of NMR records for the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age for the areas given in Figure 3.6

3.2.2 Settlement and subsistence

Understanding settlement and subsistence in the Neolithic and EBA is complicated by the nature of the record. For the Neolithic, occupation is most frequently attested to through the presence of  lithic scatters and pit sites (Garrow 2010). This ephemeral signature is often hard to interpret in terms of what it means with regard to permanence or mobility. As such, it seems prudent to be open to both possibilities: the presence of permanent settlement and a continuation of more mobile ways of life. As discussed in the regional studies below, evidence for both forms of existence appear to emerge from the record, particularly as we move from the earlier Neolithic into later periods.

For both periods, monumental architecture has often been taken as the first port of call in attempts to interpret past activity. Again, along the coastal strip many of the cases discussed below appear to indicate a relationship between coastal and terrestrial landscapes with regard to site location. Taken on its own, the arguments that derive from monument location analysis can seem insubstantial. However, when tied to the broader lithic scatter and settlement site location data more robust analyses are forthcoming (Cummings 2009).

As contentious as the nature of settlement may be (permanent or mobile), the discussion that surrounds it pales in contrast to the debate on the topic of marine inputs into diet and subsistence strategies. Ever since Richards and Hedges (1999) isotopic analysis indicated a dramatic move away from marine resources in the Neolithic, the role of fish and shellfish in diet has been a point of contention (Milner et al 2004; Richards and Schulting 2006). Arguments have varied between interpretations that fish and marine resources became taboo (Thomas 2003) and that the material record for consumption of marine foods has been undervalued (Milner et al 2004). The existence of this debate is important as it ensures that a key maritime research question must be what role did marine resources play in the diet of Neolithic and EBA people? It is only through doing further work that we can understand this variability in the record.

At present it seems likely that just as the ‘start’ of the Neolithic appears regionally  variable,  so too might be dietary practices. Importantly, work has begun on drawing dietary data together at  both regional and national levels. Murphy (2001a) provides a review of the limited evidence for shellfish exploitation within eastern England. Here a tantalising glimpse into the complex relationship between coastal communities and marine resources in the Neolithic and Bronze Age is laid bare. Importantly it demonstrates that although evidence for use of shellfish within subsistence strategies is limited, there is a potential symbolic role as shown by the deliberate deposition of shells (Murphy 2001a, 40).

3.2.3 The north-east of England

Both Petts and Gerrard (2006) and Tolan-Smith (2008) have offered comprehensive reviews of the Neolithic and EBA of north-east England. Within these documents a stress is placed upon the role of estuarine as opposed to open-coast locations with regard to prehistoric settlement and subsistence activity (Tolan-Smith 2008, 65). From a maritime perspective this is significant as it forces us to recognise that evidence gained from coastal and marine locations can only be understood properly when integrated with that from more traditional terrestrial environments. As discussed above, prehistoric land use is likely to have included the exploitation of a range of different ecotones and, as such, sites cannot, and should not, be understood in isolation. Figure 3.7 makes this apparent, as records stretch inland from the coast up valleys and estuaries.

Figure 3.7 Map showing the location of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age records from the NMR in the northeast of England. Basemap data derived from GEBCO 08 (

Within the context of north-east England it is worth noting the relatively rare occurrence of a potential Mesolithic through to EBA midden site at Cowpen Marsh in the Tees Estuary, and a possible preserved Neolithic fish trap (Tolan-Smith 2008, 65) in a stretch of submerged forest off Hartlepool. Both sites represent relatively fortuitous but important finds, and help to indicate the need for increased survey within inter-tidal and sub-tidal regions.  The submerged forest and peat deposits offer valuable palaeoenvironmental data in and of themselves, while physical preservation of structures such as fish traps and middens provides crucial counter evidence to discussion of diet and society in Neolithic and EBA Britain. Furthermore, as Petts and Gerrard (2006, 22) note, the vast of majority of data that we do have for the Neolithic and EBA of the north-east of England lie inland at elevations near 100m OD. This tends to create a narrative of land use and society which focuses on these more elevated regions. Thus, the site of Cowpen Marsh and the submerged forests of Hartlepool increase in significance in that they help to flesh out a picture which is potentially flawed and imbalanced.

In addition to the sites mentioned above, extensive work in the Humber wetlands (Van de Noort and Davies 1993; Van de Noort and Ellis 1995; 1997) and on the submerged peat beds of Cleethorpes (Clapham 1999), has revealed what in-depth investigation of coastal and wetland deposits can offer. Importantly, this stretches beyond traditional archaeological   understandings of past activity and into improving how we model environmental change. Furthermore, work by Van de Noort (2003), Chapman and Gearey (2004) and Chapman and Chapman (2005) on seafaring on the margins of the Humber Estuary during the Bronze Age shows how we can integrate extant terrestrial data to inform interpretations of maritime activity. This is particularly significant if we acknowledge that north-east England is not known for significant quantities of prehistoric coastal sites (Tolan-Smith 2008).

3.2.4 The south-east of England

The broad area defined here as the south-east of England incorporates a varied record for prehistoric activity, from intense fen edge settlements to the less-well investigated coastal strip north of the Wash. Buglass and Brigham (2007) note that the stretch of coastline from Cleethorpes through to the Wash has little evidence for Neolithic and Bronze Age activity, but that this is largely due to a lack of systematic survey. However, there is a presence of submerged forest remnants at Mablethorpe and Sutton on the Sea (Tann 2004, 17), indicating the potential for preservation of sites and palaeoenvironmental deposits (see Hazel 2008 for further discussion of the distribution of submerged peats in English waters). Figure 3.10 provides an inaccurate picture of the record for Neolithic and EBA coastal activity, as the 20km coastal buffer used to extract data from the NMR did not operate from palaeogeographical models. As such, the evidence from the fenland region is not represented.

Figure 3.10 Map showing the location of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age records from the NMR in the south-east of England. Basemap data derived from GEBCO 08 (

During the Neolithic and Bronze Age (Waller 1994; Sturt 2006), the fenland basin would have inundated to differing degrees, creating an extension of the North Sea into East Anglia. As the work of the Fenland Survey demonstrated (Hall 1996) the palaeoshoreline of the fens is littered with lithic  scatters and evidence for Neolithic and  Bronze  Age activity. This serves as a stark reminder that   a maritime research framework needs to engage with those areas which are no longer directly associated with the coast, as well as those that still are or have been inundated. In fact, it can be argued, that the submerged deposits of the fens, Severn, and Humber regions offer us some of our best chances to explore the process of inundation and societal response. Here, at the fen margins, we do not encounter the same problems that we see offshore in the exploration of submerged landscapes, but do gain the opportunity of well-preserved environmental and organic sequences. As such, continued work within the fenland landscape emerges as of central importance for understanding Neolithic and EBA maritime activity in eastern England. Recent work by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit demonstrates the fine-grained nature of the sequence recoverable and the importance of the interpretations that can be made.

Away from the Wash, south-east England  has played host to some of the most significant coastal finds. Within the remit of this chapter the site of Seahenge (Brennand and Taylor 2003; Pryor 2002) is particularly worthy of note. Here, at Holme-next- the-Sea, a significant Bronze Age monument in  the form a timber circle with central inverted tree trunk was uncovered in 1998. More recent work by Norfolk Environment and Archaeology within the vicinity of the Seahenge site has uncovered a series of tracks and post groups have been identified. Whilst enigmatic individually, such sites serve as another reminder of the potential of coastal deposits for revealing types of activity not frequently encountered within terrestrial contexts.

However, as Wilkinson and Murphy (1995) have documented for Essex, and the RCZAs for Kent, there is substantial evidence for more quotidian Neolithic and EBA activity to be found along the eastern English coast. This represents an important shift in our knowledge base, as these ephemeral sites help to fill in the gaps between a well-investigated inland record and a relatively unknown lowland/ coastal zone. The forthcoming publication of the Stumble project (Wilkinson et al) will prove critical to our re-evaluation of what we gain from study of these sites. Preliminary reports hint at the low level of evidence for the exploitation of marine resources, but are illustrative of a community’s complex relationship with/use of the sea.

Thus, while few Neolithic or EBA settlement sites have been found, investigated and published along the eastern coastal margin to date, there is little doubt that the expansive coastal marshes along the Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent coasts are of high archaeological importance. The presence of large coastal barrow cemeteries (such as that at Salthouse on the north Norfolk coast) and numerous coastal flint scatters (Robertson and Crawley 2005) add to the sense of the importance of the coastal landscape to Neolithic and EBA groups. However, the work of Everett et al (2003) in the rapid field survey of the Suffolk coast and intertidal zone urges caution in our assessment of potential. They point to the difficulties of working in the coastal zone and the large impacts that recent anthropogenic activities have had on this landscape.

3.2.5 The central south of England

Given the significant role of the River Thames and the Solent on past activity in the south of England, considerable detailed discussion has already been given to the archaeological record of this region, with the Solent and Thames Research Framework being of particular significance (Gardiner forthcoming). Here, the research agenda focuses on issues developed in the discussion above; in particular, the problems of identifying and characterising Neolithic and EBA settlement sites are drawn out. As Figure 3.13 makes clear, there is a substantial record for both Neolithic and EBA activity along the southern coast, but much of it relates to lithic scatter evidence which is difficult to date and interpret definitively.

Figure 3.13 Map showing the location of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age records from the NMR in the south central region. Basemap data derived from GEBCO 08 (

The central southern region does, however, play host to areas of previously noted high potential, whilst also featuring in key debates as to the nature of prehistoric contact with the Continent (Bradley forthcoming; Garrow and Sturt 2011). First, Wootton-Quarr on the Isle of Wight has been noted for the presence of Neolithic and EBA post- built structures in the inter-tidal zone, associated with surviving peat deposits (Tomalin et al forthcoming). As Bradley (forthcoming) notes, these are most likely associated with specialist activity in the coastal zone rather than settlement, but this does not reduce their significance. They certainly point to a Neolithic desire to access wetland resources, maintain access to the sea, and continue activity within a region undergoing submergence.

Important lessons can be learnt from the 12-year English Heritage-funded inter-disciplinary Wootton- Quarr project.  There is no doubt that the dating of the Neolithic trackways (one at 4040–3710 BC and three others ranging between 3790 and 334 BC) and a late Neolithic/EBA structure (2910–2040 BC) is significant, as too is the work that has been done on the environmental record. However, the time invested in this research also needs to be noted. The material remains at Wootton-Quarr represent some of our best-recorded inter-tidal Neolithic finds, yet they are hard to access, only being reachable twice a year at equinoxal spring tides. Similarly, for eastern England the long-running Stumble project has added immeasurably to our knowledge of the region. Thus, whilst ‘rapid’ coastal assessments may give us a broad understanding of the potential of the coast, to understand prehistoric activity we need to engage in longer-term, more substantive projects. Without the Wootton-Quarr coastal project, dating of Neolithic activity on the Isle of Wight relied on standing stone morphology and analysis of ephemeral lithic scatter data.

Second, and venturing outside the strict chronological conventions of this chapter, the Langdon Bay, Moor Sands, and Erme Estuary Middle Bronze Age (MBA) wreck sites indicate the potential for discovery of evidence for prehistoric activity beyond inter-tidal and submerged settlements alone. This, when added to the plethora of barrows and lithic scatters, points to the complexity of investigating prehistoric use of the south-central coastal region. What does emerge is the prominence of activity inareas which command striking views of the sea (eg Portland) or mark the point of connection between substantial rivers and the open coast. The proximity of the Continent also deserves mention, as there is a continued need to consider movement across the channel and southern North Sea region and how this might relate to settlement, monument and scatter evidence.

3.2.6 The south-west of England and the
Isles of Scilly

As Pollard and Healy (2008, 75) note, the south- west of England is host to a wealth of Neolithic and EBA archaeology. In addition, Wilkinson and Straker (2008, 63) observe that within this region significant coastal change will have occurred, leading to a skewing of the record. This history of inundation is once again visible in the submerged forest and peat deposits of the region, such as those of the Steart Flats, and the better-known deposits of the Somerset Levels  (Bell  2001). With  regard to the terrestrial record, it is again a mix of lithic scatters, ephemeral pit sites, funerary monuments and individual find spots, but with the addition of more substantial midden deposits (particularly on Scilly). From a maritime perspective it is the distribution and character of these finds in relation   to the associated marine landscape which is of interest. As Crowther and Dickson (2008, 133) note, even within the Severn Estuary, an area known for its prehistoric record, little evidence for Neolithic activity can be seen on the coastal fringe, beyond intermittent artefact scatters in the inter-tidal zone (eg at Oldbury-on-Severn and Blackstone Rocks). The story is similar for the Bronze Age, with the most frequent sites relating to round barrows in proximity to the coastal strip. However, as noted in the discussion of the record from the Isle of Wight, this may in part be due to the difficulty in locating, identifying, and dating material in the inter-tidal zone.

Figure 3.14 Map showing the distribution of records from the NMR for the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in the south-west region. Basemap data derived from GEBCO 08 (

The Isles of Scilly stand as an important reminder as to the seafaring abilities of Neolithic and EBA people within this region. Here we  see  evidence for ephemeral settlement activity (Wilkinson and Straker 2008, 72) in the form of lithic scatters, pits, and changes in pollen profile (Johns et al 2004, 67). The nature of settlement is unclear, with one possibility being periodic visitation from the mainland.

The strong association with the mainland is reinforced by the presence of Carn Brea pottery at Neolithic sites. Work being carried out by Mulville is currently examining the nature of submergence within the islands and its potential impact on our understanding of the Neolithic of the islands. It is significant to note that Johns et al (2004, 67) make a strong case that further Neolithic evidence is likely to be found if additional survey and excavation is carried out.

Within the context of a maritime research framework, the record of Scilly is of clear significance. The journey from the mainland to the Isles is c 40km, at a point where the shelter provided   by Ireland and continental Europe diminishes. As such, this is an island group whose contact sees  negotiation of more pronounced wind and wave regimes than in the more sheltered coastal waters of mainland England.

With regard to subsistence, the south-west of England provides evidence for sea fishing in the Bronze Age from material excavated at Brean Down in Somerset (Levitan in Bell 1990, 244; Murphy 2009, 84). Interestingly, similar evidence has not been reported from Neolithic excavations within this region.

3.2.7 The north-west of England and the Isle
of Man

The record for Neolithic and EBA activity from coastal north-west England up to the region around Morecambe Bay appears ephemeral (see Fig 3.15). As Johnson (2009, 72) notes, there is little evidence for monumental activity, with the majority of the record relating to lithic scatters. These sparse data should not be seen as insignificant, as they tie into discussions of how and when the Neolithic transition occurred. While the evidence points to transitory or mobile activity, the pollen record clearly indicates forest clearance and cereal agriculture during the period 4000–3000 BC (Cowell and Innes 1994). There is also strong evidence for continued hunting practices at the site of Leaslowe Bay, with auroch, red deer, dog, and horse remains recovered from a 3rd millennium midden (Griffiths 2004; Johnson 2009; Kenna 1986). Also of interest is the fact the same ephemeral record for coastal activity extends into the EBA.

Figure 3.15 Map showing the records from the NMR for Neolithic and Early Bronze Age material in the north-west region. Basemap data derived from GEBCO 08 (

However, as recent work has documented (Cummings 2009), this ephemeral record of lithic scatters does not hold for the entirety of the north- west region. Further to the north, from Morecambe Bay upwards, there is a pronounced monumental record in the form of Clyde Cairns. Interestingly, similar monumental activity is  apparent  further to the south along the Welsh coast. This leads to questions as to whether part of the reason for this variable distribution of monuments relates to the quality of the sea routes used for communication, with a dialogue existing between northern England/ Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland across the Irish Sea, and Ireland and Wales across the southern Irish Sea and Celtic seas.

Again, there appears to be a mixed story of ephemeral coastal settlement, a potentially meaningful relationship between sea and monuments, alongside pronounced evidence for mixed subsistence practices. In addition, the RCZA of the north-west region (Johnson 2009) makes clear that while little evidence has been found for coastal and maritime activity for much of this region, this does not mean that further work will not help to explain what this record means in terms of histories of occupation and activity.

3.2.8 Key research questions for maritime
settlement and marine exploitation

As the above discussion has made clear, there are many questions relating to settlement and subsistence which would benefit from further research.

In particular the following issues emerge as of paramount importance for all regions.

  • What role did seafaring and maritime aspects of culture play in the development of the Neolithic in England?
  • What role did marine resources play in the diet of Neolithic and EBA people?
  • What evidence is there for coastal visitation/ habitation and how does this relate to potential communication via sea routes and use of marine resources? How does this relate to evidence for activity further inland?
  • How effective has rapid coastal assessment proved in identifying activity from this period in the inter- tidal zone?
  • What use was made of non-dietary coastal resources (jet, shale, amber, and beach flint) within Neolithic and EBA communities?
  • Has best use been made of the resources created through the Waterlands and Submerged Peat record projects? If not, how can access be widened and data improved?

The general trend is one of a frustrating lack of information for activity and settlement in the coastal zone, and for the nature of offshore deposits and finds. Thus although there is a perceptible backdrop of increasing permanence of settlement through the Neolithic and into the Bronze Age, along with a growing sense of division of space, the record from the coastal zone lags behind the rich data now being gleaned from terrestrial commercial archaeology. As such, it would appear that the role of maritime research within the context of this theme must be to flesh out how the coast and sea were used, and how inland and riverine areas relate to marine and coastal zones. Similarly, we need to expand our thoughts beyond settlement and subsistence alone and begin to think about other resources within these areas. How heavily were saltmarshes used for grazing? What was the extent of jet, shale, and amber procurement and circulation? Importantly, the work from Wootton-Quarr and the Stumble demonstrates that generating  this understanding may not be easy or quick, but will most likely require a long-term investment in survey and monitoring, matched with increased marine research and closer integration of commercial and academic activities.

Theme 3 3: Seafaring

3.3.1 Characterisation of research

For the Neolithic and EBA period, two types of boats are known from England: logboats and sewn-plank boats (albeit the archaeological evidence to dates relate exclusively to the EBA period).

Logboats, or monoxylous craft, are made from hollowed-out tree trunks. The ends of these craft are usually rounded, but sometimes the stern included a fitted transom. McGrail’s (1979) study of the logboats from England remains the most important contribution to this topic through its thoroughness and comprehensiveness. McGrail lists 179 logboats, with dated craft ranging from 2030–1740 cal BC for the Branthwaite logboat to the medieval period. His analyses are primarily focused on aspects of boatbuilding technology and innovation and on the reconstruction of the capacity of logboats.

More recent research has been predominantly focused on individual finds. For example, the claim for the oldest logboat from England is for a Neolithic burial near St Albans in Hertforshire. This, it has been argued, involved a logboat which had been burnt in situ (Niblett 2000, 159). Nevertheless, there is insufficient detail for a positive identification of the burnt wooden vessel as a logboat. Moreover, the charcoal from the vessel was radiocarbon dated to  c 3950 cal BC, some 1500 years before the oldest positively identified logboat in England (Lanting 1997/98, 630).

For the Bronze Age, several log-coffins share similarities with logboats in their appearance. The most important examples are the burials at Loose Howe and Gristhorpe in Yorkshire, and Shap in Cumbria. One of the three wooden vessels found within the burial mound of Loose Howe includes particular boat-like details, notably a stem carved from solid wood and a triangular shaped-keel (Elgee and Elgee 1949). However, Bronze Age logboats have neither a keel nor a stem, and if the log-coffin was modelled on a known boat, it certainly was not a logboat (cf McGrail 2001, 193). Boat-shaped coffins should, instead, be understood as an incorporation of symbols of travel in funerary behaviour (Grinsell 1940).

Lanting’s (1997/98) meta-analysis of the absolute dates of logboats from Europe, involving a total of over 600 radiocarbon and dendrochronologically dated specimens, has provided some remarkable insights into the origin of these craft around the North Sea. His conclusions for Ireland and Britain, based on 135 dated logboats, are that the earliest dated logboats are early Neolithic for Ireland, and EBA for Britain, implying that the British logboats developed from Irish precedents, rather than from continental Europe where logboats were in use from at least the 8th millennium BC. In support of this argument, it should be noted that the oldest logboats from Britain, such as the Locharbriggs logboat from Dumfries in Scotland (2600–1750 cal BC) and the Branthwaite logboat from Cumbria (2030–1740 cal BC), are to be found on the Irish Sea side of the British mainland. The oldest British logboats from rivers that drain into the North Sea, such as the Chapel Flat Dyke logboat from the River Don near Rotherham (2020–1690 cal BC)  and the Appleby logboat from the River Ancholme (1500–1300 cal BC), are somewhat younger. Logboats would have been paddled. These craft are suitable for travelling along the North Sea coast and deltas under favourable circumstances, and for visiting fish weirs which needed daily emptying. The notion that logboats were unsuited for the open sea is implicit in most discussions of these craft, but interestingly is not borne out by contemporary ethnographic evidence.

The second type of craft known archaeologically is the sewn-plank boat. To date, the remains of ten such craft have been discovered in England and Wales, with five examples from the English EBA. Sewn-plank boats are constructed from large oak timbers with bevelled edges; planks are sewn or stitched together using twine or withies made of fibres from the yew tree. The planked hull was made more or less watertight by caulking any gaps between the planks with moss. A system of cleats, which were integral to the keel- and side-strake planks, or isle planks, through which transverse timbers were passed, provided rigidity to the hull.

The sewn-plank boats from the English  EBA  are, in chronological order, three boats from North Ferriby in the Humber Estuary (F-3: 2030–1780 calBC; F-2: 1940–1720 cal BC; F-1: 1880–1680 cal BC; Wright 1990; Wright et al 2001), one from Kilnsea in the Humber Estuary (1750–1620 cal BC; Van de Noort et al 1999), and one from Dover (1575–1520 cal BC; Clark 2004). The preponderance of finds from the River Humber is, at least in part, the result of exposure of Bronze Age alluvial sediments at spring low tides under favourable weather conditions. The Dover Bronze Age boat was discovered during construction works. Additional sewn-plank boats are known from the Welsh side of the Severn Estuary, and for the Middle and Late Bronze Age.

Figure 3.16 Number of dated logboats from Ireland and Great Britain (n-135) by century, after Lanting (1997/98); the six new logboats discovered at Must Farm by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit are not included in this tally as dates had not been released by the time of publication

Sewn-plank boats were paddled, with two paddles found at North Ferriby. These craft are likely to have been used for seafaring journeys, although it has to be said that discussion of their suitability for such journeys is ongoing, focusing on such aspects as the rocker or the curve of the keel, and the degree to which these craft were watertight. Sewn-plank boats were large boats, up to 18m in length and with room for a crew of twenty or more, and with   a greater freeboard than logboats. Overall they are likely to have been capable of successful seafaring journeys. The location of the finds of sewn-plank boats, exclusively on the coast or in estuarine situations, supports the argument that this type of craft was used for coastal journeys and sea crossings (Van de Noort 2006).

3.3.2 Key research questions for seafaring

The research base  for  Neolithic  and  EBA  craft  is limited and any increase in  the  number  of  craft available will offer important expansion of knowledge. The Ferriby and Kilnsea sewn-plank boats were discovered as part of research projects, but more recently, craft of this period have been found as part of developer-led activities. Research questions that emerge from this are:

  • Can we predict areas of high potential for the presence of Neolithic and EBA craft?
  • What are the  most  effective  research  methods  to record and contextualise Neolithic and EBA craft?

The debate on the Neolithic boats that enabled contacts  to  be  established  between  England   and continental Europe and Ireland is ongoing. Importantly, the craft that introduced (aspects of) Neolithic practices, tools, monuments, domesticates, and possibly people to the British Isles, long after farming had become established on the continental side of the North Sea and Channel, remain unknown to us. Debates on the nature of the introduction of Neolithic customs, and reasons for the ‘standstill’ on the Continent, are hampered by a lack of knowledge of maritime activity in this period. Three alternative explanations have been put forward to date. First, it has been suggested by several commentators that boats made from hide- or skin-covered frames were the most important craft during the Neolithic, and possibly before and after this period as well. However, no such craft have been discovered, nor is it likely that such craft survive anywhere in coastal England, as the acidic burial environment required for the long-term preservation of hide and skin does not exist along England’s coastline.  Second,  not all logboats have been dated through radiocarbon assay, and it is possible that the tradition of logboat construction has a longer heritage  than  implied by the currently available dates. Third, the oldest sewn-plank boat, Ferriby-3, includes several technological solutions, such as the protection of the yew withies from damage when landing the craft on a beach, which suggest that sewn-plank boats had evolved over a considerable period of time. Research questions that emerge from this are:

  • What were the craft of the Neolithic period, where were these made and what role did they play in the introduction of Neolithic practices to the British Isles?
  • What is the origin of logboats in England? Did logboat design diffuse from the Continent or Ireland, or did logboats evolve in more than one location?
  • Were hide- or skin-covered frame boats the predecessors of the sewn-plank boats?

Consensus amongst maritime archaeologists is that logboats were used on England’s inland waters from c 2000 cal BC onwards. However, is this because of modern perceptions and could these craft, in fact, have played a role in coastal transport, and possibly seafaring as well?

  • Could logboats have played a role in coastal transport?
  • What was the seafaring capability of logboats?

Looking at the sewn-plank boats as a type of craft beyond the EBA, it is noted that increasingly wider boats are constructed, that is linking more ‘keel- planks’ together. Thus, Ferriby-1 and -2  (1850 cal BC) have a single keel-plank; Dover (c 1500 cal BC) has two keel-planks, and the Brigg ‘Raft’ sewn- plank boat (c 850 cal BC) has possibly five keel- or bottom-planks.

  • What were the reasons for building wider (and larger) sewn-plank boats during the Bronze Age? Is this a reflection of changing functions, developing boatbuilding skills or does it reflect a scarcity of very large oak trees?

The discovery of two paddles at North Ferriby appears to confirm that the Bronze Age logboats and sewn-plank boats used paddling for propulsion. In view of the absence of mast-steps, logboats and sewn-plank boats are presumed not to have carried sail, although it has been shown, experimentally, that sewn-plank boats could have been sailed (Gifford and Gifford 2004) and, ethnographically, that logboats can also be sailed. The emerging research question here is:

  • How is the use of wind and sail shown in the archaeology of Neolithic and EBA ships in the absence of mast-steps?

Only exceptionally have craft been found with evidence of their cargoes, but where this has been the case, such as the Bronze Age logboat from Shardlow on the River Trent with its sandstone blocks (Pryor 2004), it provides valuable insights in the use of early craft.

  • What was the cargo of Neolithic and EBA craft?
  • What are the most effective research methods to uncover evidence of cargo in boat finds?

Archaeologically, we know very little about the navigational skills and devices used for seafaring in the Neolithic and the EBA. The discovery of the Himmelscheibe from Nebra in Germany (Meller 2002) has been hailed by some as evidence for the ability to read the stars for navigational purposes, and the possibility that sea crossings could have been made at night. Research questions emerging in this area include:

  • What is the evidence from the Neolithic and EBA material culture and monuments of the British Isles for the ability to read the stars and interpret the trajectories of sun and moon, and what are the implications for seafaring in this period?

The use of boat-shaped log-coffins in Bronze Age funerary behaviour is not without its controversy as, for example, shown in the discussion on details of the boat-shaped log-coffin from Loose Howe. Research question emerging here are:

  • Were log-coffins shaped in the form of boats and, if so, why?
  • How accurate and relevant are the presumed maritime architectural details on log-coffins for maritime archaeology?
  • What is the symbolic significance of burials in boat-shaped log-coffins?

Theme 3 4: Maritime networks

3.4.1 Characterisation of research

Despite the long-standing acceptance that elements of the British Neolithic, most notably the domesticated animals and cereals (Case 1969), and concepts of the early monuments (and possibly the earliest farmers themselves), came from the Continent, most studies of Neolithic long-distance trade and exchange in Britain over the last decades have paid little attention to maritime networks. Instead, research into long-distance exchange in the Neolithic has been focused on stone and flint tools with geologically determinable provenances. The distribution of these stone tools at the point of deposition has emphasised the operation of overland networks for much of the Neolithic, with a near absence of imports from across the seas surrounding Britain (eg Clough and Cummins 1979; Bradley and Edmonds 1993; Edmonds 1995).

A handful of polished stone axes of Neolithic date have been found in the North Sea by trawling fishermen. These include two early Neolithic polished axes from the Brown Bank. Both are typologically part of the Michelsberg culture and dated to c 4300–3700 cal BC (Maarleveld 1984). From the Dogger Bank come two small polished axes, both of volcanic tuff and currently held in Craven Museum in Skipton (Van de Noort 2011). These finds have previously been understood as lost cargo from ships that travelled across the North Sea (Louwe Kooijmans 1985), but it has recently been suggested that these axes may have been deposited on the islands or possibly tidal islands (Gaffney et al 2009). Both alternative suggestions have far-reaching implications for the nature of maritime networks that existed in the early Neolithic.

More recent research has served to strengthen this perception of a period of frequent contact between Britain and continental Europe, at the onset of the Neolithic period c 4000 cal BC and in the following centuries. Examples of this include the resemblance between the first megalithic monuments  on Britain’s Atlantic coast with the monuments of northern and western France and Ireland (Sheridan 2003a and b); the placing of the origin of the British Carinated Bowls in Brittany (Herne 1988) and the links between the earliest pottery in Britain with ceramic traditions in northern France, Belgium, and the southern Netherlands (Louwe Kooijmans 1976); the introduction of modern cattle into Britain (Edwards et al 2007); and, the similarities in ‘long barrow’ and causewayed enclosure-type monuments in Britain and continental Europe (Bradley 1998). With the notable exception of jade axes, little artefactual evidence for maritime networks that involved Britain and the Continent has been found for the first half of the 4th millennium BC (Petrequin et  al 2002; 2006). Importantly, towards the end of the 4th millennium BC and through the first half of the 3rd millennium BC, archaeological evidence for maritime networks connecting Britain with continental Europe is minimal (Bradley 2007, 88). This is the case for long-distance traded materials and the sharing of new concepts and monuments. However, in contrast there is strong evidence for links across the Irish Sea.

This situation changes again some time around 2500 BC. The operation of maritime networks linking Britain across the North Sea, the Channel and the Irish Sea are shown in the long-distance exchange of exotic objects and artefacts, in particular Beaker pottery found frequently in single graves beneath barrows alongside jewellery, or other adornments of gold, amber, faience, jet, and tin, but also copper and bronze weapons and tools, and flint daggers, arrowheads, and wrist guards (eg Butler 1963; D Clarke 1970; 1976b; Lanting and Van der Waals 1972; O’Connor 1980; Harrison 1980, 176–80; Bradley 1984; Clarke et al 1985; Needham 2005). This evidence has formed the basis for extensive discussions amongst terrestrial archaeologists about the significance of exotic or ‘prestige goods’ in the emergence of social differentiation in the later Neolithic and EBA (eg Rowlands 1980; Shennan 1982, 1988; Bradley  1984; Barrett  1994;   Harding

2000; Needham 2000; 2009; Van der Linden 2004), and the maritime networks of the late Neolithic and EBA were undoubtedly networks that connected elite groups across Europe.

The recent discovery of the ‘Amesbury Archer’, dated to 2500–2300  BC,  shows  the  existence  of  a group of people who had travelled widely and    for whom seafaring was part of their itinerary. Alongside the five Bell Beakers, the  Archer’s  grave goods included artefacts from other parts of Europe, such as the copper used to make the knives which came from Atlantic Europe, northern Spain or western France (Fitzpatrick 2009, 183). It also included a ‘cushion stone’ used in metal working, and the implication is that the Archer was an early metalworker. It is the importance of metal, initially gold and copper and later tin and bronze (Northover 1999), and its geographically restricted availability, that has been given as the principal reason for the emergence of trade networks in the 3rd millennium BC (eg Parre 2000). Britain and Ireland are relatively late entrants into these exchange networks. The earliest evidence for metal working is of a high quality, suggesting that the techniques used were not developed locally, and this is also true for the earliest copper mining (O’Brien 2004 for Ross Island in Ireland). The maritime networks of the EBA also play an active role in the transport   of finished bronze artefacts, and a long history of research exists for this, commencing with Butler’s (1963) Bronze Age Connections across the North Sea These elite networks were not stable througout the period 2500–1500 BC, and detailed studies have shown both supra-regional (eg the entry of the Scandinavian elite into the European network after 1700 cal BC (Kristiansen 2004)) as well as regional changes (eg the shifting regional production and exchange of bronzes in the British Isles (Northover 1982a)). That maritime networks evolved during the EBA is undoubted, and in a recent paper summarising the dynamics of Britain and Ireland’s maritime network, Needham (2009, 32) offers a high-resolution summary of intensity of contacts and direction of geographical linkage.

Towards the end of the EBA, by c 1500 BC, the long-distance network appears to be replaced by a high-intensity, but shorter-range exchange of metal artefacts. Parre (2000), in a review of the evidence for the circulation of bronze, concludes that during the EBA metal was a scarce commodity in Britain, relative to later periods, and that the trade in bronze, copper and tin was of a high-level and long- distance nature. However, by the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, these metals had become more generally available and were exchanged in larger amounts between neighbouring groups. This clearly included exchange between Britain and its near- neighbours across the seas in Ireland, Armorica, and the Lower Rhine regions.

3.4.2 Key research questions for maritime

Evidence from archaeological science, including DNA analyses, has provided important contributions to the debate on the origin of a range of domesticated animals and plants. Research questions emerging from this include:

  • What is the potential for extending DNA techniques to other domesticates?
  • What is the potential for extending DNA techniques to people?
  • What more can be learnt about population movement from stable isotope analysis?

Much evidence on early maritime networks comes from similarities in the early Neolithic monuments found in Britain and Ireland and continental Europe. Research questions emerging from this include:

  • Are similarities in monuments limited to their construction, or do they extend to their long-term use?
  • How much connectedness is required to retain similarity in monument use and development?

The polished axes from the Brown and Dogger Banks in the North Sea could potentially change our understanding of maritime networks significantly. Research questions emerging from this include:

  • What other material of possible Neolithic (and EBA) date has been landed by trawler men, but may have been overlooked?
  • Is there other material held in collections from the North Sea that is not well known?
  • What artefacts from the North Sea have yet to be dated?
  • The survival of islands would have greatly benefited early seafarers, but when did the last islands in the North Sea disappear?

After c 3500 BC, Britain and Ireland appear to have lost connections with continental Europe. Is this largely a matter of absence of evidence or a genuine situation? Research questions emerging from this include:

  • Why did the connectedness disappear in the second half of the 4th millennium BC?

The application of electron probe microanalysis coupled with lead isotope analysis of bronze alloys has offered us an opportunity to date the most important insights into the distances travelled by raw material, scrap metal and finished products in the 2nd millennium BC (Northover 1982b; Rohl and Needham 1998). These studies have identified Irish copper-arsenic alloys as the first metals in Britain, alongside a gradually increasing importation of metal from the Continent. Research questions emerging from this include:

  • What is the full potential of applying electron probe microanalysis coupled with lead isotope analysis to bronze-tin alloy bronzes?
  • What are the opportunities to determine the provenance other types of material through scientific analysis?

Theme 3 5: Maritime identities and perceptions of maritime space: concluding thoughts

The issue of determining maritime identities within the Neolithic and EBA is clearly problematic. As discussed above, evidence for settlement and sub- sistence is variable, and appears to indicate a  range of strategies. However, in line with Van de Noort (2006), we can begin to think more clearly about what the evidence we do have for maritime activity may tell us about society. At this point, the degree of maritimity becomes an issue that needs to emerge on a case by case basis, rather than taking a presumed base-line level for all coastal and island locations in both periods. This should not be read as a call for blinkered, small-scale regional accounts alone. Rather, it is meant to highlight the need for a continued commitment to both long-term, detailed regional studies, and large-scale synthesis.

There are qualities to the archaeological record of the Neolithic and EBA of England that Crawford (1912, 36), Fleure (1915), Fox (1932) and Childe (1946) all picked up on. Similarities in pottery, monuments, and the origin of domesticates all point to the connection between Britain and the Continent during this period. Recently there has been renewed interest in the maritime activities associated with these connections (Callaghan and Scarre 2009; Garrow and Sturt 2011). Callaghan and Scarre (2009) present models of seafaring activity illustrating how long journeys between the Continent and different points along the British coast may have taken place. Garrow and Sturt (2011)  offer an analysis of both the material culture and the changing nature of the seaways themselves over the same period, pointing to the potential importance of frequent short journeys. In particular it is argued that we can begin to conceptualise different interaction spheres broadly in line with variability in sea conditions. Maritime space and identity might thus become bound together.

This is a theme which has already emerged within the published literature, with concepts of the Irish Sea interaction zone being well established (Cummings 2009). The important point to make is that this represents on-going research, the results of which are likely to suggest that there  are local zones of interaction, but that they are cross cut with less-frequent long-distance journeying. The challenge set before us is identifying (if possible) the relative importance of these different activities when it comes to establishing identity.

Sadly, the Neolithic and EBA are not knowable, and there are no research questions which we could frame to provide immediate answers to what are complex issues of cultural interaction and identity. However, marine and maritime archaeological research has a crucial role to play in addressing these issues. The sea and maritime activity demand that we engage with complex issues of connectivity and change which are all too easy to avoid within terrestrial contexts. Here, at sea, we are forced to confront an entity that is often viewed as a barrier, but the evidence continues to indicate was a medium through which people, ideas, and material flowed freely.

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