Skip to main content
×
Home

DEATH BY COMBAT AT THE DAWN OF THE BRONZE AGE? PROFILING THE DAGGER-ACCOMPANIED BURIAL FROM RACTON, WEST SUSSEX

  • Stuart Needham (a1), James Kenny (a2), Garrard Cole (a3), Janet Montgomery (a4), Mandy Jay (a5), Mary Davis (a6) and Peter Marshall (a7)...
Abstract

A previously unresearched Early Bronze Age dagger-grave found in 1989 at Racton, West Sussex, is profiled here through a range of studies. The dagger, the only grave accompaniment, is of the ‘transitional’ Ferry Fryston type, this example being of bronze rather than copper. Bayesian analysis of relevant radiocarbon dates is used to refine the chronology of the earliest bronze in Britain. While the Ferry Fryston type was current in the earlier half of the twenty-second century bc, the first butt-riveted bronze daggers did not emerge until the second half. The Racton dagger is also distinguished by its elaborate rivet-studded hilt, an insular innovation with few parallels.

The excavated skeleton was that of a senior male, buried according to the appropriate rites of the time. Isotopic profiling shows an animal-protein rich diet that is typical for the period, but also the likelihood that he was brought up in a region of older silicate sedimentary rocks well to the west or north west of Racton. He had suffered injury at or close to the time of death; a slice through the distal end of his left humerus would have been caused by a fine-edged blade, probably a dagger. Death as a result of combat-contested leadership is explored in the light of other injuries documented among Early Bronze Age burials. Codified elite-level combat could help to explain the apparent incongruity between the limited efficacy of early dagger forms and their evident weapon-status.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Allen M J, Gardiner J and Sheridan A (eds) 2012. Is there a British Chalcolithic: people, place and polity in the later third millennium, Prehistoric Society Research Paper 4, Oxbow, Oxford
Annable F K and Simpson D D A 1964. Guide Catalogue of the Neolithic and Bronze Age Collections in Devizes Museum, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Devizes
Ashbee P 1957. ‘The great barrow at Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire’, Proc Prehist Soc, 23, 137166
Baker L, Sheridan J A and Cowie T G 2003. ‘An Early Bronze Age “dagger grave” from Rameldry Farm, near Kingskettle, Fife’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 133, 85123
Barclay A and Halpin C 1999. Excavations at Barrow Hills, Radley, Oxfordshire. Vol I: the Neolithic and Bronze Age monument complex, (Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, Thames Valley Landscapes, Vol 11, Oxbow, Oxford
Bell D 2014. ‘A radiocarbon date for an Irish Bronze Age halberd’, PAST, 76, 1516
Beyneix A 2012. ‘Neolithic violence in France: an overview’, in R Schulting and L Fibiger (eds), Sticks, Stone and Broken Bones: Neolithic violence in a European perspective, 207222, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Boston C 2007. ‘The human remains’, in Brown et al, 311325
Boyle A and Harman M 1999. ‘The human remains’, in Barclay and Halpin 1999, 171183
Bray P 2012. ‘Before 29Cu became copper: tracing the recognition and invention of metalleity in Britain and Ireland during the third millennium BC’, in Allen et al 2012, 5670
Brettell R, Evans J, Marzinzik S, Lamb A and Montgomery J 2012. ‘Impious easterners: can oxygen and strontium isotopes serve as indicators of provenance in early medieval European cemetery populations?’, Eur J Archaeol, 15, 117145
Brown F, Howard-Davis C, Brennand M, Boyle A, Evans T, O’Connor S, Spence A, Heawood R and Lupton A 2007. The Archaeology of the A1 (M) Darrington to Dishforth DBFO Road Scheme, Lancaster Imprints (Oxford Archaeology North) 12, Lancaster
Brudevold F and Söremark R 1967. ‘Chemistry of the mineral phase of enamel’, in A E W Miles (ed), Structural and Chemical Organization of Teeth, vol 2, 247278, Academic Press, London
Burrow S 2012. ‘A date with the Chalcolithic in Wales: a review of radiocarbon measurements for 2450–2100 cal bc’, in Allen et al 2012, 172192
Butler C 1991. ‘The excavation of a Beaker bowl barrow at Pyecombe, West Sussex’, Sussex Archaeol Coll, 129, 128
Case H J 1966. ‘Were Beaker people the first metallurgists in Ireland?Palaeohistoria, 12, 141177
Chenery C A and Evans J A 2011. ‘A summary of the strontium and oxygen isotope evidence for the origins of Bell Beaker individuals found near Stonehenge’, in Fitzpatrick 2011, 185190
Chenery C A, Pashley V, Lamb A L, Sloane H J and Evans J A 2012. ‘The oxygen isotope relationship between the phosphate and structural carbonate fractions of human bioapatite’, Rapid Commun Mass Sp, 26, 309319
Clarke D L 1970. Beaker Pottery of Britain and Ireland, 2 vols, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Corfield M 2012. ‘The decoration of Bronze Age dagger handles with gold studs’, in J R Trigg (ed) Of Things Gone but not Forgotten: essays in archaeology for Joan Taylor, 7593, BAR Int Ser 2434, Oxford
Cunnington E 1857. ‘Account of a barrow on Roundway Hill near Devizes, opened in April 1855’, Wiltshire Archaeol Natur Hist Mag, 3, 185188
Darling W G, Bath A H and Talbot J C 2003. ‘The O and H stable isotopic composition of fresh waters in the British Isles. 2: surface waters and groundwater’, Hydrolog Earth Syst Sc, 7 (2),183195
Daux V, Lécuyer C, Héran M-A, Amiot R, Simon L, Fourel F, Martineau F, Lynnerup N, Reychler H and Escarguel G 2008. ‘Oxygen isotope fractionation between human phosphate and water revisited’, J Hum Evol, 55 (6),11381147
Duday H 2009. The Archaeology of the Dead: lectures in archaeothanatology, Oxbow, Oxford
Elliott T A and Grime G W 1993. ‘Examining the diagenetic alteration of human bone material from a range of archaeological burial sites using nuclear microscopy’, Nucl Instrum Meth B, 77, 537547
Evans J A and Chenery C A 2011. ‘Isotope studies’, in Fitzpatrick 2011, 32
Evans J A, Chenery C A and Montgomery J 2012. ‘A summary of strontium and oxygen isotope variation in archaeological tooth enamel excavated from Britain’, J Anal Atom Spectrom, 27, 754764
Evans J G, Atkinson R J C, O’Connor T and Green H S 1983. ‘Stonehenge: the environment in the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age and a Beaker-Age burial’, Wiltshire Archaeol Natur Hist Mag, 78, 730
Fahy E M 1954. ‘Bronze Age cemetery at Ballyenahan North, Co. Cork’, J Cork Hist Archaeol Soc, 59, 4249
Fitzpatrick A P 2011. The Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowmen: Bell Beaker burials on Boscombe Down, Amesbury, Wiltshire, Great Britain. Excavations at Boscombe Down, Vol I, Wessex Archaeology Report 27, Salisbury
Fox C and Grimes W F 1928. ‘Corston Beacon: an Early Bronze Age cairn in south Pembrokeshire’, Archaeol Cambr, 83, 137174
Gardiner J, Allen M J, Powell A, Harding P, Lawson A, Loader E, McKinley J, Sheridan A and Stevens C 2007. ‘A matter of life or death: Late Neolithic, Beaker and Early Bronze Age settlement and cemeteries at Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester’, Proc Dorset Natur Hist Archaeol Soc, 128, 1752
Garwood P 2003. ‘Round barrows and funerary traditions in Late Neolithic and Bronze Age Sussex’, in D Rudling (ed), Archaeology of Sussex to AD 2000, 4768, University of Sussex, Heritage Publications, Brighton
Gerloff S 1975. The Early Bronze Age Daggers in Great Britain, and a reconsideration of the Wessex Culture, Prähistorische Bronzefunde, VI/2, Munich
Gerloff S 2004. ‘The dagger from grave 4013/12’, in Lambrick and Allen 2004, 8286
Green C and Rollo-Smith S 1984. ‘The excavation of eighteen round barrows near Shrewton, Wiltshire’, Proc Prehist Soc, 50, 255318
Greenwell W and Rolleston G 1877. British Barrows: a record of the examination of sepulchral mounds in various parts of England, Clarendon Press, Oxford
Guilaine J and Zammit J 2005. The Origins of War, Blackwell, Oxford
Hadman J and Coombs D 1973. ‘An Early Bronze Age burial at Perio’, Durobrivae, 1, 2426
Hancock R G V, Grynpas M D and Pritzker K P H 1989. ‘The abuse of bone analyses for archaeological dietary studies’, Archaeometry, 31 (2),169179
Harbison P 1969. The Daggers and the Halberds of the Early Bronze Age in Ireland, Prähistorische Bronzefunde, VI/1, Munich
Harman M 2004. ‘The human remains’, in Lambrick and Allen 2004, 457463
Hawley W 1909–10. ‘Note of barrows in South Wilts’, Wiltshire Archaeol Natur Hist Mag, 36, 615628
Henderson D 2003. ‘The human bone’, in Baker et al 2003, 89
Henshall A S 1963–4. ‘A dagger grave and other cist burials at Ashgrove, Methilhill, Fife’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 97, 166179
Henshall A S 1968. ‘Scottish dagger graves’, in J M Coles and D D A Simpson (eds), Studies in Ancient Europe: essays presented to Stuart Piggott, 173195, Leicester University Press, Leicester
Hoare R C 1812. The Ancient History of South Wiltshire, William Miller, London
Jay M, Parker Pearson M, Richards M P, Nehlich O, Montgomery J, Chamberlain A and Sheridan A 2012. ‘The Beaker People Project: an interim report on the progress of the isotopic analysis of the organic skeletal material’, in Allen et al 2012, 226236
Kellner C M and Schoeninger M J 2007. ‘A simple carbon isotope model for reconstructing prehistoric human diet’, Am J Phys Anthropol, 133, 11121127
Kenny J 1989. ‘Westbourne: Racton Park Farm’, Archaeol Chichester District, for 1989, 4243
Kinnes I A 1985. Beaker and Early Bronze Age Grave Groups, British Bronze Age Metalwork, Associated Finds Series, A716, British Museum Publications, London
Kinnes I A 1994. Beaker and Early Bronze Age Grave Groups, British Bronze Age Metalwork, Associated Finds Series, A17A30, British Museum Press, London
Kinnes I A and Longworth I H 1985. Catalogue of the Excavated Prehistoric and Romano-British Material in the Greenwell Collection, British Museum Publications, London
Kirk W and McKenzie J 1953–5. ‘Three Bronze Age cist burials in NE Scotland’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 88, 114
Knüsel C J, Wastling V, Ogden A R and Lynnerup N 2013. ‘The physical analysis of Gristhorpe Man: a Bronze Age osteobiography’, in Melton et al 2013, 96123
Lambrick G and Allen T 2004. Gravelly Guy, Stanton Harcourt: the development of a prehistoric and Romano-British community, Thames Valley Landscapes Monograph 21, Oxford Archaeology, Oxford
Leeds E T 1938. ‘Beakers of the Upper Thames district’, Oxoniensia, 3, 730
Martin E, Pendleton C and Plouvier J 1993. ‘Archaeology in Suffolk 1992’, Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol Hist, 38, 79101
McKinley J I 2011. ‘Human remains’, in Fitzpatrick 2011, 7787
Mercer R 2006. ‘By other means? The development of warfare in the British Isles 3000–500 BC’, J Conflict Archaeol, 2, 119151
Melton N D, Montgomery J and Knüsel CJ (eds) 2013. Gristhorpe Man: a life and death in the Bronze Age, Oxbow, Oxford
Millard A R, Roberts C and Hughes S S 2005. ‘Isotopic evidence for migration in Medieval England: the potential for tracking the introduction of disease’, Soc Biol & Hum Aff, 70, 1516
Mortimer J R 1905. Forty Years’ Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire, Brown & Sons, London
Needham S P 1996. ‘Chronology and periodisation in the British Bronze Age’, in K Randsborg (ed), Absolute Chronology: archaeological Europe 2500–500 BC, 121140, Acta Archaeologica 67, Munksgaard, Copenhagen
Needham S P 2002. ‘Analytical implications for Beaker metallurgy in north-west Europe’, in M Bartelheim, E Pernicka and R Krause (eds), Die Anfänge der Metallurgie in der Alten Welt, 99133, Forschungen zur Archäometrie und Altertumswissenschaf 1, Freiberg
Needham S P 2004. ‘Migdale-Marnoch: sunburst of Scottish metallurgy’, in I A Shepherd and G J Barclay (eds), Scotland in Ancient Europe: the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of Scotland in their European context, 217245, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh
Needham S 2007. ‘The dagger blade and hilt furnishings from Site D (Ferry Fryston), burial 2245’, in Brown et al 2007, 279289
Needham S 2012. ‘Case and place for the British Chalcolithic’, in Allen et al 2012, 126
Needham S 2013. ‘Low-flanged Early Bronze Age axe’, in S Willis (ed), The Roman Roadside Settlement and Multi-Period Ritual Complex at Nettleton and Rothwell, Linconshire, Volume 1, 162167, University of Kent, Canterbury
Needham S 2015a. ‘A revised classification and chronology for daggers and knives’, in Woodward and Hunter 2015, appendix I (CD)
Needham S 2015b. ‘Items of personal adornment II: gold and the regalia from Bush Barrow’, in Woodward and Hunter 2015, 209260
Needham S 2015c. ‘Typo-chronology [of pommels]’, in Woodward and Hunter 2015, 4546
Needham S P, Lawson A J and Green H S 1985. Early Bronze Age Hoards, British Bronze Age Metalwork, Associated Finds Series A1–6, British Museum Publications, London
Needham S P, Parfitt K and Varndell G (eds) 2006. The Ringlemere Cup: precious cups and the beginning of the Channel Bronze Age, British Museum Research Publication 163, London
Needham S, Lawson A J and Woodward A 2010. ‘A noble group of barrows: Bush Barrow and the Normanton Down Early Bronze Age cemetery two centuries on’, Antiq J, 90, 139
Needham S, Davis M, Gwilt A, Lodwick M, Parkes P and Reavill P 2015. ‘A hafted halberd excavated at Trecastell, Powys: from undercurrent to uptake – the emergence and contextualisation of halberds in Wales and north-west Europe’, Proc Prehist Soc, 81, 141
Newall R S 1930–2. ‘Barrow 85 Amesbury (Goddard’s list)’, Wiltshire Archaeol Natur Hist Mag, 45, 432458
Northover J P 1982. ‘The exploration of the long-distance movement of bronze in Bronze and Early Iron Age Europe’, Bull London Inst Archaeol, 19, 4572
Northover P 2004. ‘The Early Bronze Age metalwork’, in Lambrick and Allen 2004, 8890
O’Brien W 2004. Ross Island: mining, metal and society in Early Ireland, Bronze Age Studies 6, National University of Ireland, Galway
Pare C 2000. ‘Bronze and the Bronze Age’, in C F E Pare (ed), Metals Make the World go Round: the supply and circulation of metals in Europe, 138, Oxbow, Oxford
Parker Pearson M, Sheridan A and Needham S 2013. ‘Bronze Age tree-trunk coffin graves in Britain’, in Melton et al 2013, 2966
Penhallurick R D 1986. Tin in Antiquity, The Institute of Metals, London
Piggott S 1963. ‘Abercromby and after: the Beaker cultures of Britain re-examined’, in I L Foster and L Alcock (eds), Culture and Environment: essays in honour of Sir Cyril Fox, 5391, Routledge, London
Pollard A M, Pellegrini M and Lee-Thorp J A 2011. ‘Technical note: some observations on the conversion of dental enamel d18Op values to d18Ow to determine human mobility’, Am J Phys Anthropol, 145 (3),499504
Rohl B and Needham S P 1998. The Circulation of Metal in the British Bronze Age: the application of lead isotope analysis, Occasional Paper 102, British Museum, London
Rynne E 1972. ‘Tanged dagger from Derrynamanagh, Co. Galway’, J Roy Soc Antiq Ireland, 102, 240243
Sanderson E M 1991. ‘The inhumation’, in Butler 1991, 1820
Schmidt P K and Burgess C B 1981. The Axes of Scotland and Northern England, Prähistorische Bronzefunde IX/7, Munich
Sheridan A and Northover P 1993. ‘A Beaker period copper dagger from the Sillees River near Ross Lough, Co. Fermanagh’, Ulster J Archaeol, 56, 6169
Smith I F 1991. ‘Round barrows Wilsford cum Lake G51–G54: excavations by Ernest Greenfield in 1958’, Wiltshire Archaeol Natur Hist Mag, 84, 1139
Standish C D, Dhuime B, Hawkesworth C J and Pike A W G 2014. ‘New insights into the source of Irish Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age gold through lead isotope analysis’, in H Meller, R Risch and E Pernicka (eds), Metalle der Macht: Frühes Godl und Silber, 209222, Tagungen des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte 11, Halle (Saale)
Stirland A 1990. ‘Human remains’, in A D Russel, ‘Two Beaker burials from Chilbolton, Hampshire’, Proc Prehist Soc, 56, 153172
Stockhammer P W, Massy K, Knipper C, Friedrich R, Kromer B, Lindauer S, Radosavljević J, Wittenborn F and Krause J 2015. ‘Rewriting the central European Early Bronze Age chronology: evidence from large-scale radiocarbon dating’, PLoS ONE 10 (10): e0139705 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139705
Thorne A 2015. ‘Secrets of the high woods: airborne laser scanning in the South Downs National Park’, Sussex Past and Present, December, 45
Thorpe I J N 2006. ‘Fighting and feuding in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland’, in T Otto, H Thrane and H Vandkilde (eds), Warfare and Society: archaeological and social anthropological perspectives, 141165, Aarhus University Press, Aarhus
Thorpe N 2013. ‘Warfare in the European Bronze Age’, in H Fokkens and A Harding (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the European Bronze Age, 234247, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Underwood E J 1977. Trace Elements in Human and Animal Nutrition, Academic Press, London
Vaquer J and Remcourt M 2012. ‘Les poignards en cuivre et les poignards en silex dans les dotations funéraires chalcolithiques du midi de la France’, in M Sohn and J Vaquer (eds), Sépultures collectives et mobiliers funéraires de la fi n du Néolithique en Europe occidentale, 239271, Archives d’Écologie Préhistorique, Toulouse
Vine P M 1982. The Neolithic and Bronze Age Culture of the Middle and Upper Trent Basin, BAR Brit Ser 105, Oxford
Wainwright G J 1962. ‘The excavation of an earthwork at Castell Bryn-Gwyn, Llanidan parish, Anglesey’, Archaeol Cambr, 111, 2558
Wang Q, Roberts B W, Wilkin N and Strekopytov S 2016. ‘Tin ingots from a probable Bronze Age shipwreck off the coast of Salcombe, Devon: composition and microstructure’, J Archaeol Sci, 67, 8092
Wells C 1977. ‘The human bones’, in P Donaldson, ‘The excavation of a multiple round barrow at Barnack, Cambridgeshire, 1974–1976’, Antiq J, 57, 197231
Whittle A, Atkinson R J C, Chambers R and Thomas N 1992. ‘Excavations in the Neolithic and Bronze Age complex at Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, 1947–1952 and 1981’, Proc Prehist Soc, 58, 143201
Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes, ‘Cunnington Letters Book IX’
Woodward A and Hunter J 2015. Ritual in Early Bronze Age Grave Goods: an examination of ritual and dress equipment from Beaker Age and Early Bronze Age graves in Britain, Oxbow, Oxford
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Antiquaries Journal
  • ISSN: 0003-5815
  • EISSN: 1758-5309
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquaries-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×
Type Description Title
WORD
Supplementary Materials

Needham supplementary material
Needham supplementary material

 Word (6.5 MB)
6.5 MB

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 9
Total number of PDF views: 52 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 382 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 20th July 2017 - 18th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.