Early Britain: Bronze Age

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13296

Who were the Beakers? No, they weren't an early rock group. Rock was too Stone Age for them. They were into heavy metal! Find out who the Beakers were and what they brought to early Britain!

categories

People and Their Environment, World

subject
History
learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

In 2002, in Amesbury, England, archaeologists made a great discovery. It was the grave of a man who had lived during the Bronze Age.

They called him the Amesbury Archer, and he was buried with some interesting stuff, including pots from a distant culture called the Beakers.

  • What else was in the Archer's grave, and why is it important?

From 2100 BC to 650 BC, Britain was in the Bronze Age.

This means that, instead of making all their tools out of stones, the people learned how to work with metal. This was a huge discovery, and a big leap forward for the early British people!

Bronze, however, was not the first metal they discovered. Bronze is actually a mixture of copper and tin. The discovery that these two metals could be mixed together came later.

The first metal people worked with was copper.

Watch a segment of the BBC Documentary below to learn more about how people in early Britain discovered copper, with a little help from their friends!

Episode 4: Age Of Bronze | The World of Stonehenge | BBC Documentary:

The discovery of copper had a great impact on the people of the time. Metal is much more durable than stone because stone can break apart if it's hit hard enough. Also, metal can be sharpened into a finer point for knives, arrowheads, and axes.

Think about how much easier it made their work to have metal instead of stone tools!

  • So, who were the foreign people who brought this great new technology to Britain?

The Beaker People

Around 2500 BC, a new people arrived in Britain. They brought with them the technology to make copper, some new cultural ideas, and some interesting pottery.

These bell-shaped pots, called Bell Beakers, are where the people get their name.

One of the cultural ideas the Beaker people brought to Britain was the concept of burying people as individuals. Before this, people were buried together in mass graves and never with their possessions.

The Beakers liked to bury their dead with a lot of stuff. Historians are not sure why, but here are some possibilities:

  • They thought they might need these things in the afterlife.
  • They wanted to honor the dead by showing how rich and important they were.
  • They believed that their things should go into the earth with them and not be used by anyone else.

Which idea seems most likely to you?

Amesbury Archer

  • How do we know how the Beakers buried their dead?

Our understanding of the Beakers' burial rituals is based mainly on the Amesbury Archer's grave, which contained around 100 things!

Watch a second segment of the BBC Documentary to see what archaeologists found buried with him:

So, what were some of the things found in the Archer's grave?

  • some of the oldest metal objects found in Britain
  • the earliest gold jewelry
  • tools for working metal
  • Beaker pots
  • arrowheads and archer's wrist guards (Now you know why he's called the Archer!)

Bronze

While learning to make and use copper tools was a great discovery, an even greater one came a bit later.

  • Can you guess what it was?

Of course! How to mix copper and tin to make bronze!

Bronze was much stronger than copper, and it was easier to work with. However, tin was hard to find. So when it was found in Britain, the early British people were propelled into a world of trade, wealth, and status like they had never known before.

Watch a third segment of the Age Of Bronze documentary:

Metal workers, traders, and those who controlled trade routes were able to build great wealth for themselves.

Boats and Trade

  • How did these early people travel to trade all over Britain and the rest of the world?

They made strong and durable boats from wooden planks that were sewn together with ropes made from branches.

  • Would you like to see the oldest sea-going boat ever found in Britain?

The Dover Boat dates from around 2000 BC. Watch this segment of Time Team Special The Boats That Made Britain from Reijer Zaaijer:

Roundhouses

As the people of Britain began living a new kind of life centered around agriculture, craftsmanship, and trade, they also began to live in settled communities for the first time.

In Dartmoor, England, there are relics of these first permanent settlements.

Let's return to our BBC Documentary to watch a final segment:

As you learned in the video, the Bronze Age people lived in circular houses called roundhouses. They had stone or wooden posts, with a lattice (weaving) of wooden strips in between, and a mixture of twigs, clay, and soil spread onto the weave.

This building method is called wattle and daub. The lattice is the wattle, and the earthen mixture is daubed (coated) onto it. Then a thatched roof was put on top.

The following images are more models of what historians think their houses may have looked like:

End of the Bronze Age

The Bronze Age ended when another metal started to replace it: iron. It was harder than bronze and did not have to be sharpened as often, though it was a little harder to work with.

Now, sharpen your Bronze Age knowledge with the challenges on the Got It? page!

You'll describe and analyze some of the things found with the Amesbury Archer and decide if you could have survived in a Bronze Age village!

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