British Collection Highlights:

Bronze Age Cauldron from Shipton-on-Cherwell

This large bronze cauldron was found in the bed of the River Cherwell at Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire, by bathers in 1928. It is one of the earliest Late Bronze Age cauldrons known in Britain, and dates to about 1100-1000 BC.

It is of a type known as ‘Atlantic cauldrons’ that are found in areas along the Atlantic coasts of Europe: Britain, Ireland, France and Iberia. It is thought that the earliest forms, such as the one from Shipton, were made in England, but that the majority of later examples were made in Ireland and traded along the sea coasts. The first major study of Atlantic cauldrons was conducted by Edward Thurlow Leeds of the Ashmolean as a result of the discovery of the Shipton-on-Cherwell cauldron.

The cauldron shows a high level of metalworking skill in its manufacture. It has been made from three sheets of bronze: two rectangular pieces that are joined together in a ring to form the body, with an additional bowl-shaped circular piece riveted to one side to form the base and the other side reinforced to form the rim and neck. Two cast handles were attached to the neck above the vertical seams in the body to provide extra strength to the vessel as well as a means of carrying or suspension.

Click to enlarge

Cauldron from SHipton-on-Cherwell  (Click to enlarge)

Bronze Cauldron from Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire.

An additional bronze sheet has been riveted over the base in antiquity to repair it. Both repair-sheet and rivets differ from those of the original cauldron, and the repair does not show the same level of craftsmanship. Cauldrons are often found repaired in this way and their bases must have been vulnerable to damage - perhaps due to the manner in which they were used or heated. There are similar poor quality repairs to the body and the cauldron appears to have been kept in use over an extended time.

These cauldrons are assumed to have been ceremonial cooking vessels, probably used for communal feasting. Such events would have been of great importance for both unifying communities and for providing prestige to those holding the feast. It is likely that individuals also gained status and power through the control of the making and distributing of such large and impressive sheet metal objects.

The cauldron is on display in the 'European Prehistory' gallery on the ground floor

Further Information

Leeds, E.T., 'A bronze cauldron from the river Cherwell, Oxfordshire, with notes on cauldrons and other bronze vessels of allied types', Archaeologia 80 (1930), 1-36

Hawkes, C.F.C. and Smith, M.A., 'On some buckets and cauldrons of the Bronze and Early Iron Ages', The Antiquaries Journal 37 (1957), 131-98

Gerloff, S., 'Bronze Age Class A Cauldrons: Typology, Origins and Chronology', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 116 (1986), 84-115.

Find out more about:

Alison Roberts
January 2012