Middle Bronze Age to Middle Iron Age


In contrast to the extremely rich Early Bronze Age collections, the Museum holds relatively little material for the Middle Bronze Age and initial phase of the Late Bronze Age (1,600- c. 1,000 BC). This, in part, probably reflects a change in focus away from the Stourhead Collection’s emphasis on the Stonehenge landscape, and towards the Vale of Pewsey and North Wiltshire Downs. Extensive wetlands in the Vale appear to have acted as a barrier to settlement prior to the Late Bronze Age (Tubb 2011), and the only sites on which Deverell- Rimbury period ceramics have been found were both excavated during the Marlborough Downs project, at Dean Bottom and Bishops Cannings Down (Gingell 1980; 1992). These settlements also produced a small amount of Middle Bronze Age metalwork and other material culture, including a fragmentary dirk and palstave at Bishops Cannings Down.

The Museum holds just 31 palstave axeheads, mostly historic chance finds with imprecise provenances, whilst the number of Middle Bronze Age dirks and rapiers is negligible. A large proportion of the Middle Bronze Age metalwork held by the museum also appears to have been deposited much later in the period. For instance, eight palstave axeheads were deposited as part of the Late Bronze Age hoard of socketed axeheads at Manton Weir Farm (Lawson 2011), whilst the Middle Bronze Age blade deposited with the Melksham hoard of phalerae and spearheads in the Earliest Iron Age was presumably already centuries old (Gingell 1979; Osgood 1995). An exception to this is a hoard of metalwork from Heywood, in the west of the county, which was recently acquired through the treasure process (2019T488). This hoard comprised of Taunton phase material (c. 1,400-1,200 BC), and included a palstave, quoit- headed pin and liss-style bracelet more commonly seen in Hampshire or Northern France.

The collections are similarly limited in relation to the Ewart Park phase (c. 1100-800) metalwork, contemporary with the Late Bronze Age. The Museum holds just 42 socketed axeheads attributable to this phase, most with similar issues of provenance to the palstaves held in the collections. Almost half of these axeheads come from two hoards deposited at Manton Weir Farm (Lawson 2011), although it has been argued that one of these hoards was deposited at the transition to the Llyn Fawr metalworking phase (c. 800-600), contemporary with the Early Iron Age (see Boughton 2015, 5.2).

By far the most significant assemblages held in the collections dating to this period derive from the excavations of a number of ‘midden’ sites, especially around the Vale of Pewsey. These sites include Potterne (Lawson 2000), East Chisenbury (McOmish et al. 2010), All Cannings Cross (Cunnington 1923), and more limited excavations at Stanton St. Bernard (Barrett and McOmish 2009). An unpublished assemblage of contemporary pottery from Roughridge Hill, Bishops Cannings, potentially suggests a further midden at this site (Robinson and Swanton 1993). These sites are characterised by colossal build-ups of artefact- rich dark earth, often large enough to be mistaken for topographical features (e.g. McOmish et al. 2010). Ewart Park metalwork was found at both Potterne (Lawson 2000) and All Cannings Cross (Cunnington 1923) implying that activity had began by the tenth century BC. The midden sites are typically understood as the result of periodic feasting events, which cumulatively created extensive deposits rich in ceramics and animal bone, as well as metalwork and other material culture.

In particular, the sites are known for a distinctive form of decorated Post-Deverell- Rimbury ceramics often referred to as All Cannings Cross type wares, and which is characteristic of the Earliest Iron Age in the region (Barrett 1980) and it is on the basis of the absence of later scratch-cordoned wares that it is assumed the middens were out of use by sixth or fifth century BC (Morris 2000; Raymond 2010, Tubb 2011). The exception has previously been All Cannings Cross, where the presence of La Tene I and II brooches suggests that activity at that site may have continued into the Middle Iron Age (Cunnington 1923; Adams 2013; Waddington et al. 2019), however, recent radiocarbon dating has shown that the lives of middens may have been much longer than previously thought (see Waddington et al. 2019, 5.2). Notwithstanding a lack of clarity in terms of stratigraphy in Cunnington’s original publication of All Cannings Cross (Cunnington 1923), these sites, represent a nationally important group which are vitally important in our understanding of the Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age transition in Southern Britain. It is little surprise that they have been the focus of significant academic attention (McOmish 1996; Bradley and McOmish 2006; Serjeantson 2007; Tullet 2008; 2010; Tullet and Harrison 2008; Tubb 2011; Waddington 2010).

The above are not the only assemblages dating to this period in the collections, and the Museum holds a substantial number of site assemblages dating to the Early and Middle Iron Age (c. 800-100 BC), although most derives from historic excavations. The settlement at Battlesbury Bowl, Warminster, is an exception, and the only site to have been excavated since 1990. The ceramic sequence at the site dates occupation to c. 800-300 BC (Ellis and Powell 2008), and in addition to the ceramics, a well stratified assemblage of animal bone and other material culture also survives from the site. In particular, the animal bone assemblage from Battlesbury Bowl represents one of the largest of this period in the country (Hambleton and Maltby 2004), further complementing the substantial assemblages from Potterne and East Chisenbury.

Cow Down, Longbridge Deverill, in the west of the county, is another useful assemblage as although the excavation was undertaken in the mid twentieth century, its publication has occurred only relatively recently (Brown 2012). Excavations identified a series of roundhouses associated with All Cannings Cross-type vessels, which were then superseded by a series of pits containing ceramics datable to Middle Iron Age transition (Brown 2012). Despite the relatively early date of the excavations, substantial quantities of animal bone are held by the Museum from this site, along with the substantial ceramic and smaller metalwork assemblages. The other sites dating to this period in the Museum collections were excavated in the early 20th century, and whilst lacking the stratigraphic detail of more recent excavations, they nonetheless collectively represent an excellent resource for the study of this period: these include Swallowcliffe Down (Clay 1927), Fifield Bavant Down (Clay 1924), Chisenbury Trendle (Cunnington 1932b), Lidbury Camp (Cunnington 1919) and Figsbury Rings (Cunnington 1927), as well as the earliest phases of occupation at Casterley Camp (Cunnington and Cunnington 1913).

Other assemblages within the Museum collections still await full publication, such as a small assemblage from Upton Cow Down, Westbury, and the material from Grimes’ excavation of Scratchbury Camp. Finally, an important, if poorly understood, assemblage of early iron age material, including a rare iron socketed axehead, was excavated by Nan Kivell at Cold Kitchen Hill (Nan Kivell 1926; 1926). Unfortunately, the publication of this site is well known for being extremely lacking in detail, and no original records survive.

Human remains

In addition to the material discussed above, the Museum also holds a small, but still significant, collection of human remains. Most notably among these are the human remains from Potterne, which were mostly disarticulated, and Battlesbury Bowl. The Museum also holds human remains from All Cannings Cross, East Chisenbury, Lidbury Camp and Cow Down.

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