Water within an Archaeology context

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Water within an Archaeology context


The function of metalwork deposits recovered from the environment within water locations from the past. All suggests they played an important purpose within Bronze Age communities who deposited them. However what that role was, could be intellectually deduced through the evidence recovered. This is achieved by various questions, which may be asked concerning its meaning and function. This paper will be taking a European perspective, and its archaeological record from various regions will be considered. The type of deposit will also be identified as being different from it counter part, referred to as a hoard. Therefore, watery deposits stand out and pertain to a function that suggests it is unique. It too is governed by alternative relationship of exchange of metalwork and diffusion. The process affected by movement of metal work with transference of knowledge, from one region to another. Inclusively when used in display, prestige and social regional authority is gained and again marked through its metal disposal.  All of which suggest they have been intricately tied into the respective regional understanding of the worldview in which Bronze Age societies held. Therefore, it is anticipated that the purpose of such metal deposits, it's functional could be ascertained intellectually.

The metal deposit has interested archaeologist both through its artefact and through its functional reason for its deposition. Curiosity has been aroused for at least a hundred and twenty years. Specifically when its been pointed out that a Mr Worsease suggested they were votive and the function was 'an offering to gods' (Evans 1881, 457). If indeed it took this form, its cognitive expression of meaning could only be speculated. Such abstract ideas could be current then as indeed they could be now in the 21st century., The last forty years these deposits has raised academic interest in there function where its meaning has been interpreted in a variety of ways.

The watery deposits of metalwork is not restricted to any particular area within Europe, and become a human endeavour practiced throughout to some degree. Varieties of artefacts have been recovered, some of which form specific artefact assemblages. Alternatively individual types have also been recovered in a multiple deposits were they are nevertheless all present. The deposit of swords within this context is a practice that was undertaken throughout NW and central Europe (Bradley 1988, 101, Chapman 2000).

The function of the sword within a water deposits appears to play an important part, within the cognitive mindset of the Bronze Age society. It too could indicate a widespread European social significance is being displayed. Specifically in the use of its choice of disposal medium within the landscape, and the type of metalwork deposited (Chapman 2000, 113).  In turn a phenomenon recognised and practised throughout Europe. The function is probably held within its own specific region, with its specific meaning. On the other hand it could alternatively have a universal significance within European Bronze Age beliefs.  Such a function in our era can only be intellectually deduced and theorised through the artefacts recovered.  Assistance from ethno-graphical spatial arrangements, the synthesis of information, creates new theoretical model arising with alternative functions of deposition of metal work in watery places.

Janet Levy classified find types in 1982 into "ritual hoards" and "non-ritual hoards" (Bradley 1998, 14).  Metalwork deposits fall into the first category when deposits are recovered from a watery context. Hence, its location has been suggested to have a special significance. The water element geographically in the landscape would involve springs, rivers, and wells inclusive of the peat bogs of today. Deposits uncovered are both have a restricted and multiple artefact assemblage.

These items include weapons, ornaments and objects of ritual significance. Those recorded at Flag Fen are located within multiple deposits suggested a ritual or ceremonial significance. The spatial arrangement indicate each metalwork object deposited had a significant place allocated to it deposit. Swords were thrown from a timber causeway essential towards the southwest. Ornaments took the axis along the east to west culminating at the southern side of the causeway. Further tool deposits become prominent and restricted to the southern point but also spread towards the west quadrant.  **

Alternatively Bradley points out that these deposits 'were separated' (Bradley 2001, 51-55). The metalwork is also damaged; alternative it is pointed out that some of the metal work had been made with the specific intent of using it as a deposit (Harding 2000, 331). While to the north of the causeway food or animal deposits is being revealed showing no evidence of butchering on the bones for meat? There is a dividing line is drawn between dry land and wet areas that the causeway covers. It would indeed suggest that it was at one time completely a wet area. As indeed those within the later period show on the Glastonbury levels. Yet, it is of Bradley argument that regardless of the deposit there appears to be suggesting clear marked areas in which metalwork or other deposit votive categories could be placed. Therefore, it too tends to suggest that some form of control is present, in respects to where such deposits were made.

The content of any metal work excavated within the archaeological record whether in a water content or other wise has been suggested to hold a wealth of information. Alternatively, links have been assessed by Peace to have associations with early forms of agriculture (Peace 1983, 184). It tends to express itself both in the symbolic and social role and in a form of exchange. Therefore, it tends to offer a cognitive bargain to the metaphor. Yet it too could display the social standing held when a votive metal deposit is undertaken within a communal setting.

However, such a practice was not just restricted to Britain. Neither were those instances that present animal bones or even residues of food. Yet, any single or combination of assembled metal items, located and recovered from a watery context within the archaeological record, would function as a ritual hoard. Whereas the non-ritual metalwork hoards are buried and hidden within the soil for later recovery. An observation that has been current since 1881

Moreover, the metalwork in a ritual hoards raise the questions as to its function. Such a query has been raised by Hubert and Mauss in 1964 and cited by Bradley (Bradley 1998, 37). They define the purpose of sacrificial material, where it's suggested that if metalwork is a sacrifice, it becomes an inert object. Alternatively, if it were a living organic material, then that matter would transcend into the worlds of their gods. This would probably be relevant to the food deposits.  However, within this natural environment of water like land hoards, suggest that they were intentionally deposited. Recovery from watery places then does not suggest being the originators purpose. Therefore, similarities presented over a century ago by Worsease could become plausible. Yet is does not answer there its meaning if indeed that was its function.

Its meaning could alternatively imply a different interpretation. One of which has been suggested by Harding when reflecting on this issue.  A suggested meaning is hinted at, yet it tends to reflect the regional culture meaning. They are the reflection of a thought that is subjective and emotional. The only trace available for interpretation is the object that becomes located within the archaeological context. Alternatively they have a specific or special purpose (Harding 2000, 308, 354). If this indeed is the meaning then alternative methodology need to be incorporated will eventually intellectually release, the imputes of its original meaning, when undertaking the evaluation of votive deposits. This tends to contrast that offers a different argument for interpretation of votive deposits that is removed from material culture and socio-economic perspectives (Bradley 2001, 47-64).  Although the arguments, present a suggestion those localities in the landscape play an important role in the function of water sited metal deposits. Yet, the purpose of, which is likely to be held as Bradley, has suggested through different meanings contributed by society group cognitive frameworks.

It too conflicts when Chapman points out that artefact type moved across the whole of Europe. From the Ukraine to West Hungary and towards the west there is a suggestion of wider overlapping social networks, Alternatively its coupled with the spread in the way in which such objects of metal become utilised (Chapman 2000, 133-114). It certainly seems to indicate that there are various arguments are available. They attempt to explain the meaning of watery deposits all are valid and need to be synthesised. Yet, the importance considered by Bradley cannot be shaken off too easily, as it would also suggest a connection to Harding's argument. Yet, the diffusion of trade links through exchange does not necessarily imply that the practice was simply introduced because metal work became the current object of material desire.

However, when metalwork is taken out of social circulation. In itself, it could suggest to have economic repercussions on its society. Its value of ownership increased as well as the status of the individual who chose to have it deposited in a ritual content. Yet, is the economic aspect, in turn a twentieth century interpretation that is being placed on the Bronze Age societies of the past?  However, its interesting to note that watery deposit has also been reported to be located outside the main metal models of production.

Alternatively, ritual hoards recovered from watery contexts in Central Europe specifically around the areas of Bulgaria and Austria. Indicate specific items such as swords have been identified in watery contexts. Such metal work deposits has been associated by Torbrugge to have connections with burial where the deceased weaponry have been suggested to be deposited away from the internment site. Such a suggestion in this particular example seems to suggest within this region at least. The economic reasons attributed to its function of deposition in this case could be invalid. Comparing the pins recovered from the Swiss lakes. Is likely to also suggest that there is a gender association connected to metal deposits. Alternative the recovery of artefacts within the Rhine has been reported to present specific challenges. Although Harding cites Wegner, the dredging of metal work although important when it occurs; there is lack of opportunity to record whether is just was an isolated act, or an intended watery deposit. Alternatively arguments concerning metalwork finds located in rivers such as the Rhine or the Thames; suggest they be due to transport losses and therefore not votive (Harding 200, 326-330).

In respects of Denmark, three different functions have been suggested regarding deposits. The first deals with the production and transportation of metalwork from the Crapathian Basin situated around central Europe. Therefore, deposits away from the source of production area become an exotic item and held specific meaning; such functions suggest a prestige item that bestows status; alternatively, its deposition could function in both an economic and ritual and status content. However the deposition throughout the various periods of the Bronze Age have been suggest by both Brian Cunliffe and Helen Vandkidle to have some correlation linked to a gradual supply networks and consumption (Cunliffe 1998, 73, Vandkilde 1993, 149). Yet, apart from the economic impact on the society Vandkilde interprets the water metal deposits within a social and ritual setting. Such social activity would suggest a reinforcement of cohesion of the group undertaking the metal deposition (Vandkilde 1993, 148). There is convincing evidence presented that metal deposit in watery contexts, and indeed associated to supply through exchange networks coming from the central Europe. Alternatively, Cunliffe views the watery deposits occur over a long period, evident not only of ritual activity of water deposits, but also illustrate the extent exchange link had reached (Cunliffe 1998, 85). Yet the rock art displayed in southern Sweden tends to suggest a ritual importance attributed to metal work especially when the lures are considered.

In contrast, Jensen paper on "Metal Deposits" shows a different argument when referring to deposits of metal work in Denmark. As the reason that they occurred are not always known. Yet, there appears to be an underlining importance of its symbolic function in the previous cases discussed. At either Fleg Fen or the swords in the Rhine, it's generally argued that some form of ideology was common in Denmark (Jensen 1993, p153-155).  This is illustrated through the finds that pertain not just to male orientated deposits but also those which concentrate of female jewellery form Vognserup (Jensen 1993, 154). However this also indicates that the deposition of metal were in no ways restricted to any particular gender within the society.

Secondly, Studies from Denmark concerning ritual metalwork hoards, similar to those of Flag Fen, removed from possible orientations, have been deposited in areas pertaining to specific metal artefacts. Watery deposit sites become restricted to various types of weaponry alternatively to those of ornaments. The function of the deposition has been interpreted through their specific artefacts type to have a gender role. Such a hypothesis has been suggested by Janet Levy cited by Bradley (Bradley 2001, 60). Suggests a theoretical model of female members of society could also be responsibel for the deposited the ornaments. When comparisons are made with, the pins within the Swiss lakes there could indeed be a probability that there is a case. Therefore, the items of weaponry become deposited by the male members. While other deposits such as multiple deposits and those of chariots have been undertaken by, what is termed as ritual specialist. As would be the case in the with the Sun chariot of Trundholm (Jensen 1993, 152).  Such a hypothesis tends to suggest that there is social constraints becoming socially upheld within Bronze Age society. In respects to metal work deposits and the functions that they could have had. These have been indicated to have social implications as well as those relating to ritual significance. However, it too suggest it becomes a cognitive comfort factor to the living within there understanding of the world they reside in.

Thirdly, removed from material culture and socio-economic perspectives Bradley has suggested another model. The location of the deposit site within the landscape has been alternatively suggested to have a special relationship for the living. Such a hypothesis is given that each locality that received a watery deposit over time also changes within the meaning that its depositor places on it (Bradley 1998, 36). The deposits at Flag Fen indicate a continual function and use through time. Where deposition occur over extensive periods cover many generations. Jensen alternatively shows the same practice over the complete period covering the Bronze Age in Denmark where deposition occurred.

The relationships scholars have suggested with gods appear to be similar to those previously given by Worsease over a hundred years ago. Nevertheless, in this instance they have been associated with different places within the landscape. In turn such places could have both individual gender and joint community associations producing social specific localities within a region for its depositor. Therefore, such places become both limited and unlimited through access and its watery function.

Overall the context of water in archaeology through the various examples and interpretations raises several suggestive probabilities. The possible function of metalwork deposits, recovered from watery contexts in the Bronze Age, appear to indicate regional variations, held within each community or by its society. Whether they are indeed a result of the economic supply or the prestige of ownership, the restriction of use, relating to the swords suggested in Central Europe. Whereas individual gender and joint community ritual deposits within the landscape pertaining to special significance to specific place. Often the deposit locations are held outside on the periphery of normal settlements patterns, or whether these were indeed tributes to an abstract metaphor remains elusive. This is probably only known to the depositor who cast the metal work to its watery depths. A mental cognitive concept which governed Bronze Age people, their understanding and relationship too the material produced, and the landscape in which they inhabited suggests its all becomes interlinked. Alternatively, twenty first-century scholars slowly unravel its function through similar cognitive intellectual disciplinary enquiry.


Bradley R, 1998, Passage of Arms: An archaeological analysis of prehistoric hoards and votive deposits, Oxford: Oxbow p. 5-140

Bradley R, 2001, An Archaeology of Natural Places, London: Routledge p. 47-64

Chapman J, 2000, Fragmentation in Archaeology, London: Routledge p.112-131

Cuncliffe B, 1998, Prehistoric Europe: an Illustrated History, Oxford: University Press p. 63-123

Evans J, 1881, Ancient Bronze Implements: Weapons and Ornaments of Great Britain and Ireland, London: Longmans p. 239, 308, 457

Harding A, 2000, European Societies in the Bronze Age, Cambridge: Uni. Press p. 308, 326-33

Jensen J, 1993, 'Metal Deposits', in Steen Hrass and Birger Storgaard (ed) Digging into the Past 25 years of Archaeology in Denmark, Aarhus: Royal Society of Northern Antiquities pp. 152-158

Pearce S, 1983, The Bronze Age Metalwork of South West Britain, B.A.R. 120(1) Oxford pp. 182-184

Vandkiilde H, 1993, 'The Earliest Metalwork' in Steen Hrass and Birger Storgaard (ed) Digging into the Past 25 years of Archaeology in Denmark, Aarhus: Royal Society of Northern Antiquities pp. 145-150

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