British Archaeology: 10 Innovations Bronze & Iron Age Britain


The end of the Neolithic period in Britain in the second half of the 3rd millennium BC was marked by major social and technological innovations. Collective burial under long barrows was replaced by a single burial under round ones.

Moreover, the first metal artefacts, of pure copper or a copper-arsenic alloy, are found in the burials which were unearthed. Interestingly, a new type of pottery was also discovered in burials and settlements throughout Britain, known as the Bell Beaker.

We list down the 10 significant innovations of that age that were unearthed and now become an important part of British Archaeology.

10. Bell Beakers

Bell Beakers were a unique, distinctive type of pottery introduced into England in the late 3rd millennium BC. It was buried as prestige objects with chieftains.

These beautiful pots were drinking vessels made in a fine hardware with a burnished surface, varying in colour from red to dark brown or black.

Bell Beaker pottery have been found in southern England and was widely distributed in central and western Europe, especially common parts of Spain, Portugal and Southern France.

9. Burial in Barrows

Burial in Barrows was common practice in the late Stone and Bronze Age Britain. The Neolithic people practised collective burial in monumental tombs with wooden or stone chambers under long or round mounds.

This rite continues through the Bronze Age and cemeteries of these barrows, such as these at Windmill Hill, Wiltshire, are common in many parts of Britain.

8. “Rillaton Barrow” Gold Cup

This beautiful gold cup was found at Rillaton, Cornwall is the best-known example of the many goods of rich and rare materials that have found in the round barrows of Southern Britain.

These gold cups were left in the graves of the wealthy aristocrats of the first half of the 2nd millennium BC.

7. Efficient Tools and Weapons

More Efficient tools and weapons were developed during the Bronze age in Britain. In the early bronze age, the chief personal weapon was the dagger – which was later lengthened into the full-length sword – in the Middle Bronze age.

In later bronze age, it was replaced by a slashing sword (intended for slashing or thrusting and is longer than a knife or dagger) with a strong hit and leaf-shaped blade.

6. Dartmoor

Dartmoor was an attractive area for prehistoric settlement and because it has been little exploited since early times. It has many sites available for archaeological exploration.

Stone used as a building material was readily available there – and so the footings of walls of huts and of enclosures are still visible. The huts are circular in shape and vary in diameter significantly – usually from 3m to 12m in some cases.

The buildings were conical in shape – with only footings were of stone; the rest of the building structure was made of timber, thatch, and turf.

5. Chariot Burials

Chariot Burials have been found of some of the warrior aristocrats of the Iron age in Yorkshire. This is a special type of burial in which bodies were buried in a crouched position on the floor of a rectangular grave pit under a round barrow.

No other examples of this type of burial have been found elsewhere in Britain but are well known in continental Europe. There is a possibility that this type of burial was introduced by settlers from France, perhaps from Burgundy, where there are close parallels with the Yorkshire burials.

4. Hill-Forts

Hill-Forts or fortified settlements on hilltops were first used in the later part of the Bronze age. but most belong to the Iron age.

One good example of these fortified settlements were discovered in Bandbury Rings, Dorset. Probably, lasted into the Roman period, the area enclosed is about seven hectares and is surrounded by two substantial banks and ditches.

Hill-Forts that were excavated in Britain – revealed intensive occupation and organized internal planning and craftsmanship. These Hill-Forts can rightly be declared as the first true settlement in Britain.

3. Chalk-Cut Horse

The Chalk-Cut Horse is situated near the Hill-Fort of Uffington Castle, Oxfordshire. It measures 110m in length and is a maximum of 40m in height and has been cut down to the natural chalk in broad terraces.

No accurate date of these figures can be traced, but on stylistic grounds, this horse is usually thought to have been cut in the late pre-Roman Iron age and to have been the first hill figure in Britain. As it resembles a horse – it may have been the symbol of local tribes of that time.

2. Decorated Bronze Mirrors

The decorated bronze Mirrors are among the finest products of the British craftsmen in the Early Iron Age.

This example of the decorated bronze mirror, dating from the early 1st century AD, was found at Desborough, Northamptonshire. Its reflecting surface was made of polished bronze and its back was decorated with intricate patterns.

Most probably worn by aristocratic women of that time – the handle on the bronze mirror suggest that the mirror was suspended when it was not being used.

1. Oppida

As Iron age communities were gradually developing an urban way of life during the second half of the first millennium BC, the Belgae Tribe (living in northern Gaul, between the English Channel, the west bank of the Rhine, and northern bank of the river Seine) at that time introduce a more organized urbanism – known as the Oppida.

The Oppida were regarded as true towns and they were organized on a tribal basis and society was highly stratified, with a wealthy aristocracy at the top and slaves at the bottom, separated by middle-class craftsmen, and were engaged in the primary production at that time.