1.2.4 21st century

In a note to the 2001 reprint of The Age of Stonehenge Burgess admitted that the broader periods he used had not found acceptance, but his industrial stages (now called metalwork assemblages) have endured as the backbone of the relative chronology of the British Bronze Age.  The prevailing versions are set out in full only in chapter 6 of a volume on lead isotope analysis published in 1998, the work of Stuart Needham, for some thirty years Bronze Age curator in the British Museum. These metalwork assemblages reflect absolute chronology published in Needham’s contribution to the 1995 Verona conference (Acta Archaeologica 1996) where he divided the British Bronze Age into seven periods (plus the Early Iron Age which includes the last metalwork assemblage).  Further radiocarbon dates for Middle and Late Bronze Age metalwork were published by Needham and colleagues in the Archaeological Journal in 1997, but none of those dates was from Scotland (apart from one Early Bronze Age date from the Migdale hoard).  A summary version of Needham’s chronology for the Early and Middle Bronze Ages in southern Britain appeared in June 2010 and a simplified version including the Late Bronze Age is attached as Table 1.


Metalwork assemblage from Rohl and Needham 1998, 122. (Figure 23). These assemblages provide the basis for the sequence and chronology of the Scottish Bronze Age.

Needham has also reviewed the first phase of bronze-working in Scotland - the Migdale-Marnoch tradition formulated by Dennis Britton in 1963 - in the proceedings of the Society’s Scotland in ancient Europe conference (published in 2004, which also included contributions on pre-Migdale metalwork (O’Connor), deposition of Early Bronze Age metalwork (Cowie), and faience (Sheridan and Shortland)) and provided the latest overview of the Beaker sequence (PPS 2005). Needham’s 2011 Rhind Lectures on the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age are available online.

Corpora of rapiers, swords and axes published in the Prähistorische Bronzefunde series and covering Scotland have already been mentioned. Scotland has been well-served by this series, in which published volumes also cover daggers, razors and sheet-metal vessels with volumes on Early/Middle Bronze Age spearheads and shields in preparation.  The corpora of rapiers and swords have both subsequently been updated. These metalwork finds are normally included in the Royal Commission’s online database, CANMORE. New finds, including those by metal detector, are normally reported to the National Museum under Treasure Trove procedure then recorded in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. This facilitates full publication of important finds and updating of corpora.

The possibilities of radiocarbon-dating cremated bone have been fully exploited in Scotland by Sheridan in a series of papers on Cinerary Urns (2003), Food Vessels (2004) and Beakers (2007b), whose value is amplified by similar work on Irish urns (Brindley The dating of Food Vessels and Urns in Ireland 2007), which has greatly improved the absolute chronology of the Early Bronze Age. Dating of daggers graves has also contributed to Early Bronze Age absolute chronology (Rameldry; Baker et al 2003); Lockerbie Academy Kirby 2011; Forteviot in course of study, all building on the corpus of Henshall (1968)). New radiocarbon dates for Bronze Age finds are published annually in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland; these have recently included many dates for Early Bronze Age burials as part of the Beaker People and the Beakers and Bodies Projects.

More recent excavations at the site of Kintore in Aberdeenshire provide a wealth of new information on ring‐ditch structures (Cook and Dunbar 2008), and recent developer‐funded excavations continue apace including new and important sites in the west such as Aird Quarry and The Carrick, as well as Upper Forth Crossing in the east. Mike Parker Pearson’s work at Cladh Hallan, South Uist (Parker Pearson et al. 2005) has produced not only evidence of remarkable treatment of the dead, but through the excavation and sampling approach undertaken has permitted a detailed interpeataion of house architecture and use.