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Neolithic and Bronze Age Scotland

Neolithic and Bronze Age Scotland...


The Bronze Age

It is significant that the three figures which represent the Bronze Age in the Portrait Gallery Processional Frieze are all male, obviously warriors, bearing metal weapons, and wear garments made from woven cloth and personal ornaments.

The craft of metalworking spread across Europe around 2000 BC and the first evidence of its use is of bronze and copper objects amongst the Beaker peoples who colonised the eastern parts of Scotland. How far these people brought the craft with them as they migrated in successive waves, or whether metal weapons, tools and jewellery arrived initially by trade is not clear.

Metalworking is associated very closely with the Celtic peoples who spread out from Central Europe to migrate to all parts of the British Isles. They are generally described as a flamboyant, warlike people. At least their leaders were so, a warrior aristocracy, who were fond of wearing elaborate jewellery as a symbol of status and wealth, and who produced and used efficient deadly weapons of bronze, a durable alloy of copper and tin.

Such a culture was conducive to the creation of fine objects of craftsmanship in the new medium and to the development of technology to enable processing of even higher quality metals. Out of these skills eventually came the working of iron.

However, it seems likely that the population expansions which took place had causes more closely related to agricultural concerns. The climate of Europe was becoming colder and wetter and land less easily cultivable. For this reason not only would there have been greater conflict over existing land, but colonisation of new areas would have become more necessary. Improved metal tools aided the processes of clearing land of forest, of tilling and of harvesting better crops.

In Scotland, the early Bronze Age was a time when settlements were established further up into the straths and glens and away from original settlements on the coastal plains. Some social habits changed too. The great stone circles continued into the early part of the Bronze Age, but new burial customs came to exist alongside the chambered cairns. These were almost certainly linked to new forms of religion brought by the Celtic immigrants.

Cremation became the norm, at least in Eastern Scotland. Cemeteries of cinerary urns, pottery vessels differently shaped from the beakers, and used to hold the ashes of the dead, have been discovered in the Lothians, Fife, Perthshire and Aberdeenshire, dating from about 1600 BC.

From the later Bronze Age also date some of the great defensive structures of Scotland, the hill forts which appear in a variety forms, the duns and vitrified forts. Almost every part of the country has some examples of these.

Another feature of archaeology from this period is the existence of the rare phenomenon of the rock-carvings called cup and ring marks. Like the stone henges, their purpose is uncertain but is almost certain to have had a religious significance. Certainly the availability of metal tools would have made the fine carving more possible

From around 300 BC peoples who used the new metal, iron, reached Scotland. Bronze was a hard metal able to be tempered easily but the copper and tin from which it was made were rare and therefore expensive. Iron, though softer, was abundant, especially in the British Isles. Once technological advances had allowed it to be smelted to a sufficient strength not to bend under use, it superseded bronze as the medium par excellence for weapons and tools, although bronze, with gold, remained popular for jewellery and other ornamental uses.

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