April 8, 2011

The Late Bronze Age crisis in Britain, why?

Atlantic Bronze Age
There is a lengthy article today at BBC on what appears to be an economic crisis in Late Bronze Britain, between roughly 800 BCE and 500 BCE, when Iron begins showing up and a recovery seems to take place.

The article is lengthy but inconclusive. However I have my own ideas of why this decline: the Celtic invasion of Western Iberia, which, together with other parts of Atlantic Europe constituted an economic region since the beginnings of Megalithism beyond Portugal, in the fourth millenium BCE.

Hence, when we contemplate this crisis in Britain we are surely contemplating the last, extremely decadent, episode of an international civilization that had some three millennia of unwritten history.

Very briefly (dates may change slightly depending who you read):
  • c. 4800 BCE the first dolmens (chamber tombs) appear in Southern Portugal, with their characteristic "collective" (clannic, sequential) burial style. This type of tomb defines the cultural phenomenon we can well call Domenic Megalithism.
  • c. 3800 BCE Dolmenic Megalithism migrates to Armorica (Brittany, Mid-West France), where it acquires an elitist flavor peculiar of this country. 
  • c. 3500-3000 BCE Dolmenic Megalithism expands through all Atlantic Europe, often hybridizing with other pre-existent of co-arriving traditions and in some cases at least signifying the first or almost first serious Neolithic, with the demographic implications this may have.
  • Further expansion happens then into parts of Central Europe (Danubian area north of the Alps) and, later, into parts of Italy and North Africa.
  • c. 2600 BCE two civilizations appear in Iberia: Los Millares and Zambujal (VNSP), the latter surely central to the Dolmenic Megalithic cultural area
  • c. 2400 BCE Central and Northern European parts of this area (east of the North Sea-Rhine line) are lost to Indoeuropean culture (Corded Ware), however Western France and Belgium are consolidated into it (Artenac culture).
  • For a whole millennium this ethno-cultural divide at the Rhine is stable. Bell Beaker (a secondary mercantile phenomenon) acts as a unifying force probably at between Westerners and Indoeuropeans. 
    • Around 2000 BCE the center of Corded Ware is at Zambujal, which is a thriving civilization.
    • c. 1800 BCE Los Millares is replaced by El Argar, a larger state probably, and one influenced by Mycenean Greece, specially in its last phase. 
  • c. 1250 BCE Indoeuropean tribes (proto-Celts more or less) descend along the right bank of the Rhône river penetrating into Catalonia. It is the Urnfield culture expansion that has reflections in other parts of Europe (but does not affect other parts of the West yet).
  • c. 1200 BCE Zambujal civilization ceases to exist, coincident with a silting of its 10 Km long "marine branch" or canal, which joined it to the Atlantic Ocean (tsunami?) At a similar date El Agar state collapses and its cities become independent (it seems: post-Argarian culture). 
  • Atlantic Europe, not really anymore Megalithic in any intense sense of the word, retains its distinct personality within the Atlantic Bronze trade networks.
  • c. 700 BCE Hallstatt-Urnfield Celts of NE Iberia invade the Northern Plateau and the Atlantic areas. It is likely, judging from the archaeological record, that at this time (or maybe a little earlier) the city of Tartessos was destroyed by the Phoenicians of Gadir (modern Cádiz). The Atlantic Bronze economic (and cultural) area is broken for good.
This last is what I think that caused the apparent economic crisis in Britain and not just the generic concept of technological advance of Iron: the destruction of their main economic partners in the South, with links to the Mediterranean (Sicily, Cyprus) and such. Only later, as new networks were established with continental (Celts of Belgica and Armorica) and naval (Phoenicians) partners, would Britain experience some economic recovery. But that would also be the seeds of their own Celtization a few centuries later (La Téne).

26 comments:

  1. A pretty solid analysis.

    On the big picture issues, with a long lived Atlantic megalithic culture from Iberia to Britain (at least), followed by invasive Indo-European Celtic moves to the West starting with Urnfield that culminates in Indo-European invasion of most of the Atlantic megalithic area sometime after Bronze Age collapse in the Iron Age, after which many centuries pass before the Indo-European Romans displace the Indo-European Celts is far better than the vast majority of accounts before even looking at finer details.

    All too often, Celts are wrongly conflated with their pre-Indo-European predecessors of the megalithic Atlantic.

    I'll admit to being a bit fuzzy (1) on the timing of Iron Age Celtic displacement in particular areas, although the dates you suggest seem generally accurate, (2) on whether there is a Neolithic strata pre-Atlantic megalithic culture that is not in continuity with Atlantic megalithic culture, and (3) on the extent of continuity from Epipaleolithic forager/fisher societies to the Atlantic Neolithic societies that followed.

    In Bronze Age Britain, it is a bit hard to tell how much of the crisis is due to disruption of trade partners (and perhaps refugees from those conflicts) and how much is due to actual Celtic invasion starting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "... a long lived Atlantic megalithic culture from Iberia to Britain (at least)"...

    Together with most of France (all but the North), this is the longest lived area of Dolmenic Megalithism and hence its core. Shared cultural elements that have unclear roots, such as the bagpipe are probably from that period.

    "All too often, Celts are wrongly conflated with their pre-Indo-European predecessors of the megalithic Atlantic".

    Sure, that is a common misconception.

    "I'll admit to being a bit fuzzy (1) on the timing of Iron Age Celtic displacement in particular areas"...

    I'm also fuzzy sometimes. Often prehistory is described in terms of isolated anecdotes that are hard to put together, this is a particularly common vice in British archaeology. However we can be pretty certain that the advance of Indoeuropeans (essentially Celts but maybe also other related groups) West of the Rhine can be tracked to the following cultures:

    1. Urnfield culture (since c. 1300), as mentioned it follows the right bank of the Rhône to Languedoc and Catalonia, then penetrating to the interior, specially along the Ebro (Iron Age Urnfields specially, c. 1000 BCE). Besides Celts or proto-Celts it may have included other related Western IE ethnicities.

    2. Hallstatt culture (since c. 800 BCE) surely including Celts (Celtiberians and other Iberian Celts, Arverni) and Illyrians, and maybe also other pre-Celtic or quasi-Celtic ethnicities like the Lusitani.

    3. La Tène culture (since c. 400 BCE): fully Celtic and the proto-historical apogee of Celticity. Notice that Iberian Celts had been cut from the mainland before this phase and hence never really had any La Tène cultural influence, including the famous druids (an import from pre-Celtic Britain by all accounts).

    "(2) on whether there is a Neolithic strata pre-Atlantic megalithic culture that is not in continuity with Atlantic megalithic culture"...

    Not sure if I can clarify this. In most places Megalithism appears soon after Neolithic or even as the first manifestation of Neolithic altogether. Neolithic without Megalithism, where it exists, takes at best a few centuries.

    "In Bronze Age Britain, it is a bit hard to tell how much of the crisis is due to disruption of trade partners (and perhaps refugees from those conflicts) and how much is due to actual Celtic invasion starting".

    If you mean Celtic invasion of Britain, this is obviously not the case. Because Celts would have brought iron tech and this is not what we seen in the Britain in crisis of the centuries described. Besides Celts would have brought their own cultural elements (Hallstatt, later La Tène) and these are not present (as far as I know) in Britain before c. 300 BCE. Correct me if I am wrong.

    In any case, in order to conquer or otherwise influence Britain, the Celts (not any sailor people originally) needed first to control NW France and Belgium and that only happened (AFAIK) around the beginning of the La Tène period.

    Some people have speculated on sailing Celts arriving from Iberia but that does not make sense nor is documented at all (besides: iron tech is lacking). The window for Celtic arrival to Britain is 550-300 BCE and, for what I know, it is rather towards the latter dates.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This needs an space on its own:

    ... "(3) on the extent of continuity from Epipaleolithic forager/fisher societies to the Atlantic Neolithic societies that followed".

    I have often wondered about this myself.

    The main key is genetic and is Portugal (or SW Iberia). If there was a single origin wave of expansion of Neolithic with Megalithism, this should have begun not in Anatolia, Greece or Central Europe but in Portugal, where the first dolmen burials are attested (a thousand years before the rest).

    So we should see a clear signal of genetic expansion from SW Iberia into the rest of Atlantic Europe. While there is still room (lack of precise knowledge) for Y-DNA R1b1b2a1a2 to have greatest diversity in SW Iberia (instead of the sub-Pyrenean area, what so far suggests a Paleolithic origin instead), the key is in other West Iberian markers, for example E1b1b1b1 (M81), which is very strong in all West Iberia.

    This lineage for example probably confirms a South to North Neolithic expansion into NW Iberia and is also found to some extent in parts of Britain but is scattered and rare. In France, it's not concentrated in the Atlantic West but in other areas like Auvergne or Paris.

    So, besides NW Iberia and some scattered colonies or minor influences, I do not think that there was a "Neolithic colonization" from Portugal of Atlantic Europe.

    In Britain specifically we know that there was at least some colonization from NW France and a corresponding cultural hybridization between Armorican (and maybe other) Megalithism and Danubian Neolithic culture (henges), however it is not easy to discern on genetic grounds what is Late Paleolithic and what is Neolithic (my personal impression is that the high frequency of "Neolithic" mtDNA lineages, such as J, in the islands is because of Danubian Neolithic influence - not really from Megalithic one).

    I have to find yet a clear discourse, based on genetics or archaeology or both, on why Scandinavian (Danish-Scanian basically) Neolithic would be of immigrant origin. There is really nothing (apart of Megalithism) supporting that. However the local Epipaleolithic origin model is not too firm either.

    But what we have to understand in any case is that even if migrations did happen with Neolithic flows, these did not need to originate in any single point for any large area (often local Neolithic cultures look hybrid and eclectic suggesting several sources for any putative migration), much less in Anatolia of all places on Earth (a usual ill-justified fetish). The process of Neolithic diffusion was gradual (took several millennia from Greece to the Atlantic), diverse (had several disconnected routes) and with many intermediate stages (where cultural and genetic components were blended in new combos).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maju : Some people have speculated on sailing Celts arriving from Iberia but that does not make sense nor is documented at all (besides: iron tech is lacking)

    AFAIK it's only for the Goidelic ones (Ireland), i.e. Q-Celtic language, not the P-celtic one.

    "Celtic arrival to Britain is 550-300 BCE and, for what I know, it is rather towards the latter dates"

    The earliest chariots in Great Britain (almost all of them in East Yorkshire) dates back to ~500 BCE. I would link them to the Celts.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Are the chariots (isolated prestige element) associated to cultural remains that we may identify as Celtic, such as Hallstatt culture? This is important if we want to ascertain their meaning and not just speculate in a vacuum.

    I'd dare propose that those Chariots are Orientalist (not Celtic) elements, possibly arrived via Iberia (i.e. via Phoenicians at that stage) where they are part of the native (non-Celtic with pre-Celtic roots) Tartessian-Orientalizing culture of the Iron Age. I am not aware of Celts using chariots except because of Oriental influence (for example the Galatians).

    In any case cultural context is everything if we do not want to fall into pointless anecdotalism.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "A pretty solid analysis".

    I agree. Well done.

    "All too often, Celts are wrongly conflated with their pre-Indo-European predecessors of the megalithic Atlantic".

    Again I agree. I've seen it many times. Even that the 'Celts' built Stonehenge.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I wouldn't dismiss the impact of climate, but I also agree on the control/collapse of trade routes and also on the initial control of iron manufacturing.

    There is a very, very similar event in northern Germany (from around the "Mittelgebirge" north; Jastorf culture) at exactly the same time. With lower temperatures but higher rainfalls, the South profits, the North becomes poorer. The South consolidates power, initially gains sole iron manufacturing capability, and control of trade:

    - During the bronze age and early Hallstatt, there is continuity and extensive trade between the South and the North - something highly required for the production of bronze

    - This stops abruptly during late Hallstatt, i.e., when a common Celtic culture (not language!) can start to be identified in the south

    - From then on, the north between roughly the lower Rhine to the Oder river begins to isolate itself, stagnates culturally and economically, and trade diminishes vastly

    - The entire region remains poor, with little social stratification, and emphasis on local subsidence and no important cultural/trade regional centers

    - During La Tene, the Celtic culture becomes aggressively expansive in the south, and at the same time, trade with the North resumes.

    - With the extended trade, from ~300BC, the north now adopts Celtic objects and artistic influence, and blossoms artistically, but the majority of objects are locally made and show clear local continuity, so that traded Celtic objects can be clearly distinguished from (the now much richer) locally-produced objects. "Fortifications" (but in reality, multi-functional "Burgen") are built long before Celtic oppidae appear anywhere remotely near and are evidently of local origin - but are often destroyed later, concomitant with very late La Tene expansion, perhaps indicating the attempt of eradicating a combined structural (local power) and belief system, but with unsuccessful hegemony.

    - Iron is both produced locally in the north and, to a larger extent, imported from the south. Local production of iron is notoriously difficult to time - but is documented from the Berlin area from ~400BC, i.e., outside of any (cultural) Celtic context. The (culturally) Celtic oppidae likely profited from the trade of iron and cultural objects against agricultural products. However, just a couple of centuries later, iron could be produced almost anywhere, easily, locally - and, incidentally, the Celtic culture saw its demise at the same time.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What you say is very interesting, Eurologist, notably because you seem to know better than I do about some details of Northern European Iron Age.

    For example, I was not paryial to the climatic oscillations, which naturally should have an impact on agricultural societies.

    However the time-frames for Northern Germany and Britain seem quite different: in the British case, the "depression" is said to be in relation with early Hallstatt (c. 800-550 BCE), while in the North German case you say late Hallstatt (and La Tène) instead.

    So it would seem that the two processes are unrelated and therefore climate is not the determining factor (as it should affect both areas in a similar way). Instead we should think of different causes: even if both are somehow related to Hallstatt and the role of Celtic (and related) peoples, they'd seem to be in different ways.

    Also, you mention that Jastorf culture stems from the "Mittelgebirge" (high hill country), what is an ambiguous term. I imagine you mean Saxony (Middle Elbe) but the Wikipedia article instead claims that this culture (at the origin of continental Germanic, it seems) originated in the lowlands: Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. Can you clarify?

    ""Fortifications" (but in reality, multi-functional "Burgen") are built long before Celtic oppidae appear anywhere remotely near and are evidently of local origin - but are often destroyed later, concomitant with very late La Tene expansion"...

    This is interesting because, following Krutas, it was the demise of the fortified towns what also caused the demise of the Celtic civilization (I believe it deserves this name, only lacking literacy) of La Tène. In his model, Germanic tribes pushed southwards razing these towns ('oppidae') and therefore destroying the locally-centralized late La Tène society, its hierarchies and economical networks.

    From what you say, it seems that this process may have begun in Germanic lands themselves: by destroying their own incipient civilization, mainland Germanics adopted an expansionist tribal drive instead that paid off in the short and long run (conquest of Middle and High Germania, as well as Britain, plus the Germanic-led post-Roman realms of SW Europe, etc.)

    "The (culturally) Celtic oppidae likely profited from the trade of iron and cultural objects against agricultural products. However, just a couple of centuries later, iron could be produced almost anywhere, easily, locally - and, incidentally, the Celtic culture saw its demise at the same time".

    That looks like another key factor indeed: the generalization of steel metallurgy as partial cause of the demise of the Celtic (plus) civilization that once expanded thanks to it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. kaixo. Now, this is really interesting, but could just 1000 years of indo-europeization in Nw Iberia, and namelly in Galicia, turn 99% river names into IE river names? I am not being retorical.

    ReplyDelete
  10. It's more like 3000 years (2700 or so) now. Anyhow, would I'd be you I'd consider carefully the evidence of indoeuropeanness of each such toponym (way too often the evidence is circumstantial or plainly wishful-thinking). There are without doubt still quite a bunch of Vascoid or otherwise odd-looking toponyms in Galicia (and Portugal, Castile-Leon, etc.), I have seen them myself often: you just need to travel by the roads and read the names of places.

    ReplyDelete
  11. A reader (waggg) could not access Blogger (again!) these days and just sent me the following comment for publication:

    It's waggg, I can't post on blogspot for three days (some bug I guess) so I post my answer to you for the thread http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/2011/04/late-bronze-age-crisis-in-britain-why.html

    Maju : "Are the chariots (isolated prestige element) associated to cultural remains that we may identify as Celtic, such as Hallstatt culture?"

    I don't really know the archaeological context but given the dates and the fact that chariots * are famously linked to the ancient Britons **, I assumed it had to be linked (the dates are pretty coincidental, right?).

    * (the name itself (from "carrum") is supposed to have been borrowed by the Romans to the Gauls, probably implying a specific Celtic link recognized by the Romans)

    ** Not so isolated BTW, Julius Caesar told us about the war tactics of the Britons. It seems on the contrary pretty integrated in the usual insular iron age Celtic warfare tradition.

    Besides, the oriental nature of the Iron age western European chariot is not that obvious.
    You may know about the Trundholm sun chariot (~1,400 BC).
    Interestingly there are also petroglyphs with two-wheeled chariots in northern Europe dated 1,000 BC.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chariot#Europe

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ok, you may be right about the origins of the Chariot in the West. But this says nothing about those Chariots being ridden by Celts or what: we'd need a more clear connection of other cultural elements. For example in Iberia you see stuff like the famous torques and other items that place the cultural connection clearly within Hallstatt (even if peripheral). I see nothing of that in the British case - or at least you have failed so far to provide such evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Well, taking in consideration only the Galician rivers that were mentioned by Roman and Greek geographers, most of them bear names that are clearly Celtic / IE: Navia (today Navia), Tamaris (Tambre), Sars (Sar), Ulia (Ulla), Minio (Minho/Miño), Limia (Lamia)... Although J. J. Moralejo have proposed that an alias of the Miño, Bainis, could be related to Basque ibai. If you add here the rivers which current names could not be explained through Latin or Galician language (this implying that they have preserved more or less their names as they were 2000 year ago), then the whole picture is mostly IE: Eo < Euue, As Anzas < Alesantia, Masma < Masoma, Sor < Saure, Mera, Eume, Mero, Mendo < Meneuti, Mandeo, Lambre < Lambris, Landro, Bendimón, Barcala < Barcalla, A Baña < Avania, Dubra < Dubria, Nantón, Samo, Barbanza < *Barbantia, Bermaña < *Bermania, Vea < Velegia, Deza < Decia, Arnego < Arneco, Iso < Isso, Umia, Lérez < Lerice, Tamuxe < Tamusia, Tea < Tena, Deva, Avia, Asma, Neira < Naria, Narla < Nalare, Parga < Parreca, Ladra < Laetera, Támoga < Tamica, Azúmara, Sarria, O Mao < Umano, Sil, Cabe, Arnoia, Ser, Bibei, Ambía, Támega, etc.

    On other toponyms, of course Galicia have plenty of odd names, but most of them are a) Celtic/Para-Celtic/IE toponyms (Céltigos < Celticos, Lemos < Lemavos, Canzobre < Caranzobre, Trevonzos, O Grove < Ogrobre, Ardaña, Bendaña, Cadarnoxo...), b) Germanic/Latin/Greek anthroponyms expressed as genitives and turned into place names during the Suebi period and Early Middle Ages (5-10th centuries): Gondomar < Gundemarii, Mondaríz < Munderici, Vilasantar < villa Sentarii, Gontalde < Guntoaldi, Sisalde < Sisualdi, Guntín < Guntini, Caboi < Calabogii < *Calapodii, Amarante < Amarantii, Vilarcai < villa Arcadi, Amandi < Amandii, Chorente < Florentii … Other “odd names” are simply Galician words which look as other things, like Rabal (meaning 'Radish patch' < Latin raphanalem), which frequently are interpreted as the Spanish rabal < Arab rabad 'suburb'. In the same way, toponyms ending in -alde are frequently proposed as possibly Basque toponyms, but in fact they are Latin genitives of Germanic names ended in -waldaz ('ruler', but really don't meaning much inside a name), names which are abundantly documented and used in Galicia during the Middle Ages. It's not that I am implying that there are no Basconic elements in Galicia, but that these elements are either very old (and as so, very few), or very “new” (early medieval, as the several places named Báscuas < Báscones, or later, as several A Biscaia, where it is not easy to tell if they are named as this after the Basque territory, or after the Basque appellative).

    While Galician archaeologist speak of very important changes taking place in 1100-800 BCE, with Galicia loosing its (old) connexions with the rest of Atlantic Europe, at the same time that the old open space settlements of the Bronze Age turned into the hill-fort Iron Age model (further http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castro_culture, and its references), they don't usually admit any invasion taking place at that time or later, until Rome. I suspect that more Galician linguists would ask for an earlier than 700 BCE Indo-Europeanization of ultra-peripheral Galicia to explain the virtual absence of non-IE elements in Roman Galician onomastics (ethnic, personal, river, place, and divinity names) and epigraphy. Well, that's it. It can looks otherwise, but I'm not really arguing, I really found very interesting your proposition. Agur (or abur, as we say here).

    ReplyDelete
  14. Another issue that is tricky is the extent to which similarities in early Western European Indo-European cultures are a product of common substrate influences.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I see Ulia as clearly pre-IE (it makes reference to a city: uli/uri/ili/iri in Basque, Iberian and other fossil manifestations specially in the Mediterranean and beyond up to Dravidian India).

    As for Minho, I would consider it comes from min (Basque for pain, feeling, passion) but guess it's open for interpretation.

    "Although J. J. Moralejo have proposed that an alias of the Miño, Bainis, could be related to Basque ibai".

    Naturally, specially as it dies at Bayona, exactly as the Adur dies at Baiona (Bayonne), typically translated as Ibai-Ondo (by the river) or even Ibai-Ona (good river).

    "Barcala" sounds totally like Barakaldo < Ibarrakalde (ibarra+-ko+alde=part of the river bank).

    "Vea < Velegia"

    AFAIK Veleia (attested in North Italy and the Basque Country) is not IE, though the etymology is mysterious.

    "Arnego < Arneco"

    A typical Vascoid toponym in arn- (cf. Vennemann), the proposed original ending in -ko makes it even more Basque-sounding (ancient diminutive -(s)ko, widely attested from Aquitaine to La Rioja).

    "Azúmara"

    Al Zumara right? What is that Zumara? Isn't that eu zumar (a tree, Ulmus sp.)?

    "Sarria"

    Sarri(-a) a type of wild goat Capra pyrenaica, known as ibex in English. There's a host of Sarria, Sarriko, Pagasarri, etc. in the Basque Country, all making reference to wild goats.


    "Arnoia"

    Another super-clear arn- Vascoid term.

    "Bibei"

    Could even be "bi behi" (two cows in Basque) but most probably from Ibai (river) or Bi Ibai (two rivers, also Ibai Bi).

    I could speculate on the rest but what is most important is to underline how everything is by default described by some "linguists" as IE when it is even so clearly not. It's a "normal" bias (as most such linguists are Indoeuropean speakers) but not a desirable one.

    (cont.)

    ReplyDelete
  16. "Gontalde < Guntoaldi"

    Ahem. First thing you should see here as wannabe linguist is Basque suffix -alde (part, side, zone). Not sure what Gont- stands for but I'm thinking in similar toponym Rontegi (loc. suffix here is -egi, indicating a plurality, many) or Rontealde, where the initial vowel has been lost (would be errontegi, errontealde), so similar to Roncal (Erronkari).

    "Sisalde"

    Again Basque suffix -alde (zone, part). Ziza (possible origin of Sis-) are thorn bushes.

    "Amarante"

    Amara = swamp (for example S. Sebastian's central district, now dessicated).

    "While Galician archaeologist speak of very important changes taking place in 1100-800 BCE, with Galicia loosing its (old) connexions with the rest of Atlantic Europe, at the same time that the old open space settlements of the Bronze Age turned into the hill-fort Iron Age model (further http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castro_culture, and its references)".

    The Castro culture begins c. 600-500 BCE, not 1000 BCE! Maybe you could push it 100 or so years backwards (my reference is from the late 1980s) but that's about it. This happens in agreement (somewhat after) the Lusitanian Castro culture of further South.

    You are probably right that there is much greater continuity in Gallaecia (north of the Douro) than south of it but there is a change and a change that implies celtization (or otherwise Indoeuropeization, as some do not consider the Lusitani to be true Celts but related anyhow - pre-Q proto-Celts, I'd say).

    As for toponimy, I have already explained above why I strongly disagree with that ultra-IE nonsense. It's just a list of wrong etymologies in most cases, assuming IE where it's unclear or even where it's clearly pre-IE Vascoid.

    ReplyDelete
  17. How about this? By 1000 BC, the Middle East's population had grown to the point that mining for Bronze hit a ceiling, the price went up until it became economical to obtain it from far away regions such as Europe. That's why we see a flurry of colonial outposts being established in Europe in this period, such as Phoenicians, Etruscans, etc. This new demand left the rest of Europe dry, that's why Britain would have experienced the anomaly of bronze disappearing for several centuries but without any other metal to replace it. The rise of iron, in the Middle East and Europe, would then have been a natural result of the new reality of high prices for bronze.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Climate is a much more plausible case for bronze age collapse (closer to 1200 BCE) than a bronze shortage.

    An easier scenario is that miners can only mine when someone else produces food. This works when farming is good, but when crops collapse the food supply to miners collapses too so the miners stop being miners and become farmers and foragers and soldiers extorting food from other people instead, thus reducing the supply of bronze.

    The mines couldn't have been played out because production resumed later.

    ReplyDelete
  19. There's no such thing as "mining for bronze": bronze is an alloy of (normally) 90% copper and 10% tin. In the Bronze Age it was also common a "pseudo-bronze" that had arsenic instead of tin (totally or partly), the percentages of tin or arsenic also varied from item to item.

    For "military grade" bronze anyhow, a good dose of tin was needed indeed and the only really abundant sources in all West Eurasia and North Africa were by the Atlantic: in NW Iberia and SW Britain.

    That's probably why we see Mycenaean influence in Iberia (El Argar) since c. 1500 BCE (probably earlier too but it's not so clear). However c. 1200 BCE it's probable that the Greek "colonial" enterprise (reflected in legends such as Herakles and the Hesperides/against Geriones or Plato's Atlantis) collapsed: Zambujal civilization disappeared after what could well have been a huge tsunami (canal silted), El Argar disintegrated into many small city-states (post-Argarian culture), we are told of the mysterious Sea Peoples going in rampage, and the destruction of Troy and Ugarit, among other cities, probably by the Greeks themselves (who were surely the core of this Sea Peoples' phenomenon).

    Then Greece itself collapsed (Dark Ages), but we are already in the Iron Age. Why the Iron Age began precisely then? I think that because tin was not anymore available in the amounts needed for the many and aggressive warlords of that time. Hence the already known but way too brittle iron was refined into an alloy that could be of some use: steel.

    After that the Phoenicians take the place of Greeks in the long distance trade with the Hesperides (the Far West). Bronze was not anymore so critical for war but was still valuable, and so was tin (and the many other mineral riches of Ancient Iberia, such as gold, copper, silver...). Surely Phoenicians first traded with Tartessos, then destroyed and replaced it, and eventually reached out to Britain as you suggest.

    "... that's why Britain would have experienced the anomaly of bronze disappearing for several centuries but without any other metal to replace it".

    This sounds more like the copper flow (from Iberia) being cut off by the Celtic conquest of West Iberia (and later made up by Phoenician sailors, who would have exchanged it for tin and maybe other merchandises).

    However I am not sure that there is no (historical) copper in Britain. Anyone? But I know that Iberia, specially the SW (Tartessos) produced a lot until very recent times. Rio Tinto may be a British mining company but takes the name from the main river of Huelva province, Andalusia, a mining hub since Chalcolithic and one of the proposed locations of the semi-mythical Tartessos.

    ReplyDelete
  20. But after the Celtic conquest, you can't have 300 years of cutting off the supplies. If there's money to be had, soon enough the new rulers of Iberia would have resumed trade with Britain. This is what calls my attention, that for a 300 year period Britain would have regressed from metal to nothing. Are there other regions in Europe that had a similar intermediate period of neither bronze nor iron?

    ReplyDelete
  21. We do not know the exact circumstances of the conquest (we only have pots and junk) but what is clear is that a land that once had been one of the centers of civilization in the Eurasian Far West became by the times Romans arrived a barbaric land.

    There was no money then anyhow but, in any case, I understand that the country, specially would-be Lusitania, was mostly plundered and feudalized. It would seem like the new Celtic warlords had no interest in trade or that the knowledge of long-distance sailing was not accessible to them anymore as it had been before to the natives (ethnic links broken).

    The conquest of Western Iberia was probably contemporary with the destruction of Tartessos by the Phoenicians, so two ills came together and the disruption of trade might well have been pretty much total.

    At that time, the newly arrived Phoenicians were surely satisfied with trading with Iberia and North Africa and Britain was yet a journey too far for them. More so as tin could be obtained from NW Iberia.

    I imagine that as tin became scarcer in Iberia and as amber trade with Denmark baited them, they (Phoenicians) decided to went a bit farther, as it is known they did. But these trade routes were not at any moment in the hands of land-dwelling Celts.

    "Are there other regions in Europe that had a similar intermediate period of neither bronze nor iron?"

    Not that I know.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Notice please that I do not just blame Celts or Phoenicians: they seem to be rather the proverbial last nail into the coffin of a long-decaying civilization. The Atlantic Bronze Age is itself decadent in comparison with the Chalcolithic: a residual stage. As soon as the civilizations of the Far West (rather isolated, no matter what) made contact with those of the Eastern Mediterranean (central in the West Eurasian oecumene), their fate was probably sealed, because they could never develop faster from such a peripheral position.

    Only the the development of transoceanic navigation in the 15th century CE allowed Western Europe to break that "curse" of geography and become a center itself by means of the Ocean.

    ReplyDelete
  23. "There's no such thing as "mining for bronze": bronze is an alloy of (normally) 90% copper and 10% tin. In the Bronze Age it was also common a "pseudo-bronze" that had arsenic instead of tin (totally or partly), the percentages of tin or arsenic also varied from item to item."

    Fair enough. To be technically correct, it would be copper, tin and arsenic mining that would be discontinued, rather than "bronze" mining.

    This doesn't change the thrust of the argument, however, that reduced food production due to poor climate could impede mining activity and produce a temporary shortage.

    I agree that learning how to make steel from iron is something that made it much more attractive. (Steel, by the way, is iron admixed with carbon at high temperatures and tempered with sucessive heating and cooling cycles). But, one good explanation for the timing of the iron age which made sense because the steel making process became much more widely known, is that prior to the collapse of the Hittite empire, the steel making process was known only to the Hittites, techniques for finding mineral iron deposits to mine were also closely guarded by them, and was a closely guarded military trade secret that it appears was mostly successfully kept. The collapse of the Hittite empire ended this technology embargo and allowed steel making technology and iron mining technology to spread rapidly.

    But, to shift from bronze to steel, you still need a domestic mining industry that knows how to mine (mining copper, tin and iron are all pretty similar processes, I have no idea how one goes about getting arsenic), one needs to know where to mine (something that wasn't known about iron until long after the tricks to finding tin and copper deposits were known) and one needs smiths who know the steel making process. Britain, it appears, because of its distance from the centers of these kinds of production, lacked any of these from 800 BCE to 500 BCE until the Celts arrived, so in the absence of trade, it had to do without.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Problem is that Britain, specifically Cornwall, specifically Scilly Is. are the best known historical (ancient) source of tin in West Eurasia. Earlier, probably Galicia was more important, even if only because it was closer to the markets.

    So I'm wondering about copper. But copper is very common (and I recall something about being mined in Ireland, vaguely).

    Forget about arsenic, it's also a mineral but it's a sucedaneous in bronce-making and not the right stuff.

    I'd think that the economic disruption would also decrease the demand of crafted bronze objects (more so, when steel was the latest continental fashion). And if anything it would have disrupted the metallurgic guilds and networks rather than mere mining as such. Mining in those times was often done in highly individualistic form: that is attested for Cornwall for example from historical records (and also here in Biscay with iron before industrialization or recently in Afghanistan with precious stones too), there's not much of a technique to be lost or gained, I figure.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Maju, just a heads up, I've sent you an email (unrelated to this topic).

    ReplyDelete
  26. Cossue: Just detected that a post of yours was flagged as spam. I read it by email and replied to it (see above) without noticing that it was automatically dumped to "Spam". My apologies about that, the post is now restored.

    ReplyDelete

Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. Personal attacks, manipulation and trolling are also very much unwelcome here.The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Preliminary comment moderation is... ON (sorry, too many trolls).