1.2.1 19th and early 20th centuries

The Three-Age system was adopted more readily in Scotland than in other parts of Britain or in Ireland so the Bronze Age has been an integral part of discussions of Scottish archaeology since Sir Daniel Wilson’s account published in 1851 (The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, first edition). In this he explicitly acknowledges C J Thomsen’s (1788-1867) classification in 1816 of the prehistoric collections of the Royal Museum of Northern Antiquities in the Christiansborg Palace, into Stone, Bronze and Iron Periods as ‘now universally adopted in the nomenclature of archaeological science’.

Wilson was the author of the first catalogue of the Society’s museum, published in 1849 (Synopsis of the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland), in which material identified as pre-Roman was dated to the Stone or Bronze Periods (iron, he considered, replaced bronze only under the Romans) both classified as Celtic. In later editions pre-Roman objects were simply classified by material.  However, the presumed author of these later versions of the catalogue, Joseph Anderson (1832-1916), keeper of the museum from 1869 to 1913, used the ‘Age of Bronze’ in his Rhind Lectures, published in 1886, in which he gave ‘a general review of the existing materials for the Archaeology of Scotland’.  Anderson devoted three lectures to the Bronze Age, covering burials, with associated pottery metalwork and other grave-goods, stone circles and bronze objects, settlements being at that time unknown.

In The ancient bronze implements, weapons, and ornaments, of Great Britain and Ireland (1881), Sir John Evans (1823-1908) - an Honorary Fellow of the Society - generally treated Scottish finds in separate sections of his respective chapters on the main bronze types. Evans sometimes noted where Scottish forms differed from those elsewhere in Britain but did not otherwise consider separate typology or chronology for Scotland.

Evans never devoted much attention to chronology and his tripartite division of the material, though accurate in sequence, can now be seen as distinctly unequal in that he separated what is now defined as the Arreton assemblage (Needham’s Period 4; see Table 1) from the preceding phases of the Early Bronze Age on the one hand and the whole of the Middle and Late Bronze Age on the other.  It was left to the great Swedish scholar Oscar Montelius (1843-1921) to set out the chronology of the British Bronze Age in greater detail in an article published in Archaeologia in 1908. Montelius’s absolute chronology in particular – a Copper Age starting around 2500 BC and the end of the Late Bronze Age around 800 BC - was so far ahead of its time that his contribution was rejected by British scholars (Piggott described it as ‘curious’ fifty years later) and has now been largely forgotten. Like Evans, Montelius listed Scottish finds separately but his chronology covered the whole of Britain.

John Abercromby (1841-1924) (A study of the Bronze Age pottery of Great Britain and Ireland…1912) divided Bronze Age pottery into Beakers, Food Vessels and Cinerary Urns, the last comprising in Scotland Collared Urns, Pygmy Cups, Cordoned Urns, Encrusted Urns and Enlarged Food Vessels.  Urns occurred throughout his five periods, which lasted from 2000 to beyond 400 BC.  ‘With the best will in the world’ he found Montelius’s absolute chronology unacceptable.

In 1923 J G Callander (    -1938), Director of the Museum, read the Society a paper on Bronze Age hoards.  He acknowledged Montelius’s scheme but judged it unsuitable for Scotland (Graham, 1981, recalls the antagonism that Callander felt for anything foreign) because certain types were lacking here.  Callander divided hoards among four periods:  I, flat copper axes; II, flat bronze axes; III, flanged axes and palstaves; IV, socketed axes.  Beakers and Food Vessels were assigned to Period II, cinerary urns to Period III. Gold ornaments were assigned to the three later periods.

Following Alexander Curle’s hut‐circle excavations at Bonchester Hill (Scottish Borders) and Loch Asgaig and Kinbrace in Sutherland (Curle 1909‐10; 1910‐11), Curle and Cree used similar techniques in their excavations at Traprain Law. By 1922, Curle and Cree were responsible for discovering the first circular structure using area excavation. Unfortunately, the decision to dig to four pre‐established levels, meant that they failed to identify anything but the most obvious of features and, despite numerous hearths, areas of paving and at least two stone‐founded circular structures, no cut features were discovered


Thanks to David Clarke we now have J G Callander's dates: 1873-1938