Middle Bronze Age to Middle Iron Age


The Museum’s Early and Middle Iron Age collections are substantial, and the material sees a considerable amount of academic interest. Although typically not as high profile as the research into the Early Bronze Age, in terms of the number of research projects and the number of results fed back to the Museum, this period has a larger profile. It is also notable that it receives interest from researchers at a greater variety of stages in their academic career.

Figure 5.1: Dr Richard Madgwick examines animal bone from Potterne

Research into the Pewsey middens drives the lion’s share of interest in this period. In particular, the work of Dr Richard Madgwick and his colleagues and students at Cardiff University into animal bone from these sites has been significant (Figure 5.1). These studies range from more traditional zooarchaeological studies at MSc level (Simms 2019; Figgitt 2019), through to the novel application of macroscopic and microscopic surface analyses (Faillance et al. 2020; Madgwick 2014; 2016; Madgwick and Mullville 2012; 2015) and scientific analyses of isotopic evidence (Madgwick et al. 2012). The substantial animal bone assemblage from Potterne has also been successfully employed in two aDNA analyses: both as a control in a study of goat domestication (Daly et al. 2018), and in a study of the distribution of ancient mice species in Europe (Rodriguez 2019). Waddington et al.’s (2019) recent use of Bayesian modelling on radiocarbon dates obtained using samples of animal bone and ceramic residues from East Chisenbury is particularly significant, and has completely altered our understanding of the site’s development, extending activity at the site far later than was previously thought.

Figure 5.2: Map showing the distribution of key sites mentioned in the text. Image contains Ordnance Survey data, crown copyright 2022.

The artefactual middens from Potterne and the other midden sites have also been accessed, although not to nearly the same extent as the animal remains. The only dedicated study of material from these midden sites has been Brück and Davies’ (2018) study of shale armlets from Potterne, discussing the potential for deliberate breakage as part of the feasting activity on the site.

Other studies to utilise the Museum collections in this period have typically been part of much larger national or international surveys of particular artefact categories, such as metal working debris (Webley et al. 2020), glass beads (Foulds 2014), quoit-headed pins (Lawson 2019) and loomweights (Shaffrey 2017). Adams (2013; forthcoming) has discussed a number of brooches in the collections dating to this period, and has recently been able to use the well recorded assemblage from Battlesbury Bowl in a radiocarbon dating project to help refine their dating. Hermann et al.’s (2020) survey of prehistoric balance arms in Europe has identified a new example from Potterne, previously identified as a bobbin, which is now only the second known in the UK, both reinforcing the importance of the site, as well as demonstrating the variety of activities which took place there.

There has been a small number of projects researching particular categories of metal artefact. Boughton (2015) has examined the socketed axeheads in the collections as part of a national study of Early Iron Age axehead forms. On the basis of the composition of one of the Manton Wier Farm hoards, which she argues contains multiple axeheads form the same mould, she suggests that the group was likely deposited at the cusp of the Early Iron Age, and is an important transitional hoard. In addition, Lee (2014) and Fregni (2014) have examined Bronze Age tools in the collections, investigating what they can tell us about ancient woodworking and metalworking respectively.

Finally, and as with the Early Bronze Age, human remains from a number of sites have been sampled for radiocarbon, isotopic and aDNA analyses, the first results of which are beginning to be published (Patterson et al. 2021). Whilst grand narratives of genetic shifts are undoubtedly attention grabbing, simply having this corpus of up-to-date radiocarbon dates is extremely useful for our understanding of sites, and will undoubtedly inform future research.

Research projects and publications

Adams, S. (2013) The first brooches in Britain: from manufacture to deposition in the Early and Middle Iron Age, Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Leicester.

Adams, S. (in prep.) Setting artefacts free

Boughton, D. (2015) The early Iron Age axes of Britain, Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Central Lancashire.

Brück, J., and Davies, A. (2018) The Social Role of Non-metal ‘Valuables’ in Late Bronze Age Britain, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 28, 665-688.

Daly, K., Mullin, V., and others (2018) Ancient goat genomes reveal mosaic domestication in the Fertile Crescent, Science 361, 85-88.

Faillance, K.E., Foody, M.G.B., and Madgwick, R. (2020) Exploring the potential of TEM analysis for understanding cooking at prehistoric feasting sites Scientific Reports 10, 13635.

Figgitt, J. (2019) Black earth sites: an investigation of two late Bronze Age/early Iron Age midden sites, All Cannings Cross and Stanton St. Bernard, Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, Unpublished MSc thesis: University of Cardiff.

Foulds, E. (2014) Glass Beads in Iron Age Britain: A Social Approach, Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Durham.

Fregni, E.G. (2014) The compleat metalsmith: craft and technology in the British Bronze Age, Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Sheffield.

Hambleton, E. (2013) The life of things long dead: A biography of Iron Age animal skulls from Battlesbury Bowl, Wiltshire, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 23, 477-494.

Hermann, R., Steinhoff, J., Schlotzhauer, P., and Vana, P. (2020) Breaking News! Making and testing Bronze Age balance scales Journal of Archaeological Science 32, 1-18.

Lawson, A.J. (2019) Quoit-headed pins: A consideration of the type in the light of Norfolk examples, Norfolk Archaeology 48, 155.

Lawson, A.J., Robinson, P., and Swanton, G. (2011) Bronze Age metalwork from Manton Copse, Preshute, Wiltshire, WANHM 104, 31-43.

Lee, R. (2014) Influences of wood-crafting on technological development in Middle to Late Bronze Age Southern England, Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Southampton.

Madgwick, R. (2014) What makes bones shiny? Investigating trampling as a cause of bone abrasion Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 6, 163-173.

Madgwick, R. (2016) New Light on feasting and deposition: exploring accumulation history through taphonomic analysis at later prehistoric middens in Britain, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 8, 329-341.

Madgwick, R., and Mulville, J. (2012) ‘Investigating Variation in the Prevalence of Weathering in Faunal Assemblages in the UK: A Multivariate Statistical Approach’ International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 22, 509-522.

Madgwick, R., and Mulville, J. (2015) Reconstructing depositional histories through bone taphonomy: extending the potential of faunal data, Journal of Archaeological Science 53, 255-263.

Madgwick, R., Mulville, J., and Stevens, R. (2012) Diversity in foddering strategy and herd management in late Bronze Age Britain: An isotope investigation of pigs and other fauna from two midden sites, Environmental Archaeology 17, 126-140.

Patterson, N., Isakov, M., Booth, T. [and others] (2022) Large-scale migration into Britain during the Middle to Late Bronze Age, Nature 601, 588– 594.

Rodriguez, L. (2019) Comparative phylogeography as an integrative approach to understand human and other mammal distributions in Europe, Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Bournemouth.

Shaffrey, R. (2017) ‘A re-investigation of British stone loomweights’ in Shaffrey, R. (ed) Written in stone: papers on the function, form and provenancing of Prehistoric Stone objects in memory of Fiona Roe, Highfield Press, pp. 229- 248.

Simms, A. (2019) Food for feasts: analysis of animal husbandry regimes and carcass processing at two late Bronze Age/early Iron Age middens in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, Unpublished MSc thesis: University of Cardiff.

Waddington, K., Bayliss, A., Higham, T., Madgwick, R., and Sharples, N. (2019) ‘Histories of deposition: creating chronologies for the Late Bronze Age–Early Iron Age transition in Southern Britain’ Archaeological Journal 176, 84-133.

Webley, L., Adams, S., and Brück, J. (2020) The Social Context of Technology: Non-Ferrous Metalworking in later Prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Prehistoric Society Research paper 11, Oxford: Oxbow.

Research priorities

Research into the osseous assemblages of this period are consistently producing extremely interesting results, be it recent research into human aDNA, or the ongoing research into the animal bone assemblages of midden sites led by Dr Richard Madgwick and the FeastNet project. Beyond noting that it is hoped that some of the smaller-scale pilot studies will be applied to larger samples (e.g. Madgwick 2015; Faillance et al. 2020), this document has little to add. What is clear, however, is the obvious benefits of the successful working relationship the museum has been able to build with Dr Madgwick in terms of driving long term research interest. This has included both post-doctoral research, but also research at a PhD and MSc level, and building similar such relationships with other researchers and institutions should be seen as a priority.

The museum would also like to encourage research projects which utilise the wider assemblages from Potterne and other midden sites. As Brück and Davies (2018), and Hermann et al.’s (2020) research demonstrate, varied avenues are left to be explored. In particular, there has been very little use of the substantial ceramic collections associated with this period identified in this study. Waddington et al. (2019) have sampled preserved residues on ceramic sherds from East Chisenbury, whilst prior to this Copley et al. (2005) had sampled ceramics from Potterne for lipid analysis. Whilst further scientific analyses would be welcomed, it is especially felt that in light of the recent redating of East Chisenbury a study of the chronology of the All Cannings Cross Ware ceramic industry is now long overdue (Tubb 2011: 195). Whilst the Danebury excavations provide an excellent type series for regional Early Iron Age ceramics (Cunliffe 1984), it has now been over 40 years since Barrett’s (1980) review of Late Bronze Age ceramics. Both were completed prior to the publication of Gingell’s (1992) Marlborough Downs Project and the excavations of either Potterne (Lawson 2000), or East Chisenbury (McOmish 1996; McOmish et al. 2010). Barrett noted the apparent lack of an initial ‘plain’ series of Post-Deverill-Rimbury fabrics bridging the gap between Middle Bronze Age Deverill-Rimbury Wares and Early Iron Age All Cannings Cross-type fabrics in the region. Similarly, the unexpectedly late sequence of radiocarbon dates at East Chisenbury (Waddington et al. 2019) asks questions of our understanding of their later currency, and raises the possibility of a longer chronology at Potterne than has previously been assumed. The absence of Scratch-cordoned bowls at these sites cannot be seen as a reliable chronological indicator in light of Waddington et al.’s (2019) work, as is indeed also suggested by their relative scarcity on a number of sites known to have been occupied in this period, for instance at Cow Down, Longbridge Deverill, where they are noted as being almost totally absent (Brown 2012), as well as others (Cunliffe 1984: 254). Unexpectedly late radiocarbon dates were also encountered at Battlesbury Bowl, where the final phase of burials was much later than was implied by the Middle Iron Age ceramics in their grave fills and the site more generally (Ellis and Powell 2008: 40-42). Together this suggests there continue to be gaps in our understanding of the local ceramic sequence.

The increasing evidence for later occupation at the midden sites around the Vale of Pewsey also now increases the range of contemporary overlap with a number of the Early to Middle Iron Age settlements excavated during the twentieth century. Unfortunately, these site archives have seen little to no use in recent research. The result of this is that for display purposes the museum holds a number of interesting site assemblages dating to this period, but only a very crude understanding of both the development of the sites from which they were excavated, but also a largely non- existent holistic understanding of how all of these sites interacted on a landscape scale. As such the Museum would like to encourage research projects which can further develop our understanding of these sites, and whilst in some cases fieldwork may be beneficial, for example Foulds et al.’s (2014) geophysical survey on Swallowcliffe Down, as Guido and Smith’s (1981) identification of Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ceramics amongst the finds assemblage from Figsbury Rings demonstrates, there will be value in simply returning to the surviving material archives. Similarly, unpublished archives such as that from Scratchbury Camp, and the field walked assemblage from the probable midden at Bishop’s Cannings both also await analysis and publication.

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