April 17, 2014

British Chalcolithic? Indeed!

As you may know, in the continent we don't even bother anymore about copper or basic metallurgy to define the Chalcolithic (Copper and Stone Age). Much as happened with the concept of Neolithic, which initially meant polished stone tools, but ended up being all about farming and herding, the term Chalcolithic has evolved to mean an advanced and rather sophisticated form of Neolithic with long distance trade and growing social stratification, occasionally even the first civilizations. Not always copper is present and nobody really cares. 

But Britain is different: there they call the Chalcolithic "Late Neolithic". Why? Apparently because no copper artifacts have been found and they see no reason to establish correlation with continental Europe. So what in the mainland is Copper Age (with or without metallurgy) in the islands it is just more "Neolithic", no matter it is about the same thing.

However now thanks to the effort of an archaeological team led by Dr. George Nash, Britain may end up finally having to mold to the continental way. Because there is at least some copper in the "Late Neolithic" of the big island. 

This tiny piece of copper may change the name of an era

It is tiny, it is of unknown function (part of a bead?) but it is from a British (specifically Welsh) Chalcolithic ("Late Neolithic") site. And crucially it is copper, wow!

The site was described by Dr. Nash as the least known Neolithic chambered tomb, maybe just until now, and goes by the name of Perthi Duon (Anglesey).

The British confusion with all these categories is astonishing. Our source "explains" to their readers:
The Copper Age followed the Neolithic Era and is considered a part of  the Bronze Age. The period is  defined as a phase of the Bronze Age  in which metallurgists had not yet  discovered that bronze could be  made by adding tin to copper.

Well, no: the Chalcolithic or Copper Age is not part of the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age begins with bronze, what implies quite a greater mastery of metallurgic techniques, techniques that allow for the first time to replace stone tools and weapons with something else. Copper Age is about fashion (shiny but rather useless things) and not just about copper but also gold and silver metallurgy - among other quite more interesting things, like the first international trade networks, megaliths, fortified towns and almost certainly the first states worth that name. 

Copper Age is about the beginnings of civilization. The Incas for example were in the Copper Age when Pizarro ruined their day with steel, gunpowder and treachery. 

Bronze is about swords, spears and axes, much like Iron after it. 

Not that there was no conflict in the Chalcolithic but it was fought with stone weapons, regardless that they made shiny copper (or semi-precious stone) imitations for some burials.

That clarified, they continue with more meaningful stuff:
While a Copper Age has long been recognised in Europe, the question of whether Britain experienced such  a period is still debated by archaeologists.

Dr Nash said: “The big question in  archaeology at the moment is  whether there was a Copper Age in  Britain.

“Did copper come to Britain before bronze?

“This discovery helps to suggest  that we did have a Copper Age.”

The question, as I see it, is not if there was a Copper Age but if there was copper in that Copper and Stone Age, what is not really that important in itself.

For me there is certainly a British Chalcolithic largely defined by the erection of Stonehenge and many other similar monuments and all what they imply in the wider context of European Megalithism and later the Bell Beaker phenomenon. Of course it is not a clear cut definition but it is not either dependent on the mere presence of copper. Similarly, for contextual and continuity reasons, it is not likely that the Balcanic Chalcolithic will be redefined as Bronze Age any time soon just because widespread bronze metallurgy (tin bronze not that arsenic ersatz thing!) has been recently discovered.

Context does matter and Britain is not outside the wider European context at all. 

Source: Daily Post.


  1. It's definitely convoluted; the age system being almost more of an obstacle in communication.
    British Beakers are equated with the Bronze Age, whereas on the Continent Beakers are Chalcolithic. I always thought this was bizarre, but I guess the Copper Age arrived very late to the Isles and the Beakers developing into the Bronze Age very early. Everything is kind of condensed. Well, maybe...

    1. AFAIK there's no bronze in the isles before 2000 BCE (and is Irish). This rare early bronze finding (just one or two centuries before the continent) should not justify your notion of "eveloping into the Bronze Age very early". The real problem is that in Britain traditionally copper presence is claimed to be Bronze Age. But try telling the Brits they are wrong...

      Just read again the completely confused and confusing concept outlined by the otherwise correct newspaper article:

      "The Copper Age followed the Neolithic Era and is considered a part of the Bronze Age".

      Nobody anywhere else says "Bronze Age" just because there is some copper or gold mixed with the flint. There must be true bronze (tin bronze) or at the very least arsenical bronze.

      But... splendid isolation, splendid autism.

      The Bell Beaker period is certainly Chalcolithic in Britain as in everywhere. It's only afterwards when the Bronze begins.

  2. Why did I never discover this before? Ho hum. Not very good at looking. Thankyou for opening my eyes to this, Maju, if three years late. It's the piece of evidence I think I was looking for.

    On the other point. yes. We Brits are probably autistic (recent events certainly suggest so). As for our archaeologists (only us Brits don't need to add British to qualify 'archaeologists', like our stamps), the world stops at Dover as any fool noe.

    It actually gets worse. There's Scottish archaeology too. That's even more parochial.

    1. Today it's probably lower in Google rankings (because I just can't seem to be able to write anymore) but not so long ago you'd find this blog if searching for a lot of paleo-stuff ranking very high indeed.


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