The Bronze Age Across Europe
Marked, in general, by the beginning of human metalwork, the Bronze Age in Europe started and ended at different times depending on the region, and many Bronze Age peoples were not clearly divided into cultural, social or ethnic groups. Few Bronze Age peoples possessed any written language, making it all the more difficult to understand Bronze Age art and culture. As a general guide, the period sits between 3200 BC and 600 BC. The production and widespread use of bronze, for which the period is named, shaped the material culture of the period.
Early Bronze Age Artefacts
In the Early Bronze Age, regardless of where they were located, the vast majority of Bronze Age settlements were small farming villages made up of closely related families and the artistic production of most communities was limited to simple, practical items, such as tools, utensils and simple ceramics, where it existed at all.
Burial Customs and Grave Goods
Burial customs and grave goods were of great importance across Bronze Age Europe. It is in graves that many of the most impressive and interesting Bronze Age items have been found, as the Bronze Age saw a rise in individual graves which they filled with precious items. Though bronze was the most widely used metal of the entire period, the discovery of bronze also coincided with discoveries of gold and silver deposits which were also used to make items of jewellery such as torques, bracelets, rings, brooches and buckles.
Late Bronze Age
It was the Late Bronze Age, however, which saw the greatest developments in culture and social organisation, which ultimately led to impressive artistic production. Significant Late Bronze Age communities with impressive artistic production include the Hallstatt culture of Western and Central Europe and the Mycenaean culture of Bronze Age Greece, believed by some to have been the setting of Homer’s epics.
The Celts and the Late Bronze Age
The legacy of Bronze Age art and culture was its influence on the Celtic populations of Europe, which appeared towards the end of the Bronze Age. The motifs and techniques used by Celtic groups, such as the La Tene people (5th -1st century BC), show clear links to the styles and techniques developed during the Late Bronze Age, particularly Halstatt art (1200-450 BC).
Bronze Age Britain
In Britain, the Bronze Age lasted between approximately 2500 BC and 800 BC. The volume of bronze items discovered in Britain is particularly impressive due to the availability of Cornish tin and copper from North Wales which was used in its production. Around 6500 pieces of bronze, including weapons, tools and jewellery have been found in East Cambridgeshire alone. The Bronze Age Britons were also capable goldsmiths, evidenced by the discovery of gold jewellery and gold ‘grooveware’ cups found in barrow graves from the period, which some have argued suggest trade links with Mycenaean Greece.