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The Late Bronze Age Chronology of Central Europe: Some Reflections

  • J. D. Cowen

At a classic meeting of the Prehistoric Society, held during April 1948 in the old home of the Institute of Archaeology of London University, V. G. Childe and C. F. C. Hawkes presented two papers, each complementary to the other, on the chronology of the Late Bronze Age in Europe. This joint approach was focussed on the relative and absolute dating of the Urnfields of the North Alpine foreland, whence Hawkes applied the results to the West, and pre-eminently to Britain; but, by arrangement, Childe approached the crucial area from Hither Asia by way of the Danube corridor, and from Greece through the Balkans, while Hawkes worked his way forward from the Aegean up the length of Italy, and so northwards over the Alps.

It is worth recollecting that this was the first time that British archaeologists had formally addressed themselves to this most difficult set of problems in detail, and on Central European territory. Furthermore both papers suffered, one feels, from being among the first essays in archaeological synthesis to be attempted in this country after the war, with all that is implied in that. At all events within a year of publication Childe was saying that he no longer had any confidence in his derivation of the flange-hilted bronze sword from Hither Asia; and he had also by then become less assured of some of his other Asiatic derivations. While in the course of the international discussion which followed, Hawkes felt obliged to revise a number of his dates, chiefly in the direction of a longer chronology. Nevertheless, both essays commanded a splendid range of material, and were fortified by a sufficient exposition of the history of research in this field to give a sound sense of perspective. If today they have been outmoded in many particulars by the work of a small army of scholars working in half a dozen countries, they remain for English-speaking students an indispensable starting-point, and an admirable introduction to their subject.

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1 PPS, XIV (1948), 177-95; and 196-218.

2 His argument as published was attacked, and in my opinion successfully demolished, some years later by H. W. Catling: PPS, XXII (1956), 102-25.

3 Reinecke’s Hallstatt A.

4 JSGU, 40 (1949-50), 309-31.

5 H. Müller-Karpe, Beiträge zur Chronologie der Urnenfelderzeit nördlich und südlich der Alpen, 2 vols., 1959. Review by Audrey Ozanne, ANTIQUITY (1960), 306.

6 With Mühlau grave 1 falling in the new Ha AI (loc. cit., 136), one is left wondering how far Miiller-Karpe’s Br D and Ha AI may not after all be a revival in a new dress of Childe’s D1 and D2 of the 1948 paper (supra, p. 40, note 1). To the extent that that is the case Ha A2 would equal old Ha A, coinciding (as in Müller-Karpe) with the appearance of leaf-shaped swords. But discussion of a point like this lies outside the scope of the present article.

7 Op. cit., passim.

8 Zephyrus, VIII-2 (1957), 195-240.

9 More precisely defined his method is that broadly imposed by the circumstances on all students of the subject; that is, his first and last periods—Br D and Ha B3—are tied in by a series of synchronisms to the 13th and 8th centuries respectively, the first being dependent on Late Mycenaean dates ultimately resting on the written history of Egypt, and the last on South Italian and Sicilian dates ultimately resting on the written history of Greece. Working inwards from these two extremes the periods next after Br D and last before Ha B3—i.e. Ha A1 and Ha B2—are with some show of probability assigned respectively to the 12th and 9th centuries. Thereafter two centuries remain in the centre to accommodate the periods Ha A2 and Ha Bi, which are accordingly assigned to the 11th and 10th centuries. The whole process is in fact indistinguishable from Hawkes’s ‘stretching the elastic across a nasty gap’ (PPS, XIV (1948), 205, 207); both authors, oddly enough, found the elastic just nicely sufficient to do the job, but with very different results for the absolute chronology of the North Alpine Urnfields.

10 The outstanding study here is that of Dr A. Mozsolics, Acta Arch. Hung., 8(1958), 119-56; supplemented for finds of gold by the same author, ibid., 9 (1958), 253-63. A revised view by I. Bona, ibid., 9 (1958), 211, is not so acceptable.

11 The Late Bronze Age in Hungary is currently subdivided into B IV, V, and VI, very roughly corresponding to Reinecke’s Br C/D, Ha A, and Ha B. The ceramic cultures associated with these stages are those of Egyek/Piliny, Val I and Val II respectively, while in Slovakia the Piliny, Velatice, and Podoli groups seem to cover the equivalent time-span. The study by A. Mozsolics just quoted (supra, footnote10) deals fully with bronze hoards of the transition B III/IV. A recent review by the same author of openwork bronze cart- or chariot-fittings covers the periods B IV and V, but is strictly limited in scope: Acta Arch. Hung., 7 (1958), 1-14.

Cremation cemeteries with a ceramic typical of the Val culture are steadily coming to light in northern Pannonia, either from new excavations or from re-examination of old material; but the distinction between I and II (Ha A and B) is often blurred. Cemetery of Tököl, E. Patek, Budapest Regiségei, XVIII (1958), 385-424; Neszmély, publication forthcoming; Mezöczát (to the north-east in Co. Borsod), ultimate Ha B, with large iron beads and other ornaments—the first appearance of iron in Hungary.

This note and the two next are intended as a short supplement to the account of recent work in Eastern Europe given by Professor S. Piggott in ANTIQUITY (1960), 285-94, bringing the story down to the end of the Late Bronze Age. The material available does not, unhappily, suffice to support a general synthesis such as he has presented from the Neolithic to the close of the Middle Bronze Age.

12 Slovenia: S. Gabrovec, Najstarejša Zgodovina Dolenjske (The earliest history of Lower Carniola), Novo Mesto, 1956. Croatia: Z. and Ks. Vinski, Opuscula Archaeologica, Zagreb, 1 (1956), 57-109 (bronze hoards). Serbia: D. Garašanin, Katalog der vorgeschichtlichen Metalle, Nat. Mus. Beograd, 1954.

13 I. Nestor, Marburger Studien, 1938, 192; M. Petrescu-Dîmboviţa, Armar. Inst. Stud. Clasice, Cluj, v (1944/48), 273 and notes, 280-81; cf. idem, Dacia, N.S. 11 (1958), 63. Key hoards: Uriul (Felör), M. Roska, Thesaurus, Cluj, 1942, 86-7, figs. 106-7; Domaneşti (Domahida), J. Hampel, Bronzkor 1, 1886, pls. CXXII-CXXIV; Tauteu, V. Dumitrescu, Dacia, V-VI (1935/36), 225-34, figs. 1-7; Guruslău, M. Moga, Dacia, XI-XII (1948), 257-64, figs; Fizeşul Gherlei (Ördöngösfüzes), Hampel, Arch. Ért., XV (1895), 196-201, figs.; Sîngeorgiu de Pădure (Erdöszentgyörgy), A. Mozsolics, Közlemények, Cluj, 1 (1941), 100-108, figs., and Roska, Thesaurus, 75, fig. 90.

Mr Cowen was one of the members of an archaeological delegation, sponsored by the British Academy, which visited Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria in April–May 1960 (See Stuart Piggott, ‘Neolithic and Bronze Age in East Europe’, ANTIQUITY , 1960, 285). He here writes of some aspects of Late Bronze Age chronology in Central Europe with special reference to Müller-Karpe's book reviewed by Dr Audrey Ozanne recently (ANTIQUITY , 1960, 306).

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