British Collections by Archaeological Period:

Iron Age (800 BC-AD 43)

The Iron Age is the last period of prehistory in Europe before the Roman Period and lasted about 800 years. In this period iron gradually replaces bronze as the main metal used. Bronze was still used for many items, though iron was the choice for blades like swords, sickles and knives.

The European Iron Age is divided by archaeologists into two periods: an early Hallstatt period c750-450BC, named after a cemetery in Austria, and the later La Tène period, c450BC to the Roman period. These classifications are on the basis of changing fashions in metalwork.

However in Britain, because we have few imports from mainland Europe, the Iron Age is divided into Early (800- 400 BC), Middle (400-120 BC) and Late (120 BC-AD 43). The successful invasion of Britain by the Romans under the Emperor Claudius in AD 43 is taken as the official end of the Iron Age in Britain.

People in the Iron Age lived in small settlements and farms. They constructed large enclosures known as hillforts, which were defended with banks and ditches. No-one is quite sure what these were for - possibly defended sites in times of conflict, or just sites for large gatherings, religious or otherwise. Communities were self-sufficient, growing their own food such as grains for porridge and bread and raising sheep, cattle and a few pigs.

Animals were kept not only for milk and meat, but had other uses as well: oxen (castrated male cattle) were used to pull ploughs; cloth was made from wool; leather from hides; and bone turned into tools. Horses must have been particularly regarded because they were used only for riding or pulling light carts. Warriors would each have a horse and weapons such as a sword, dagger and spear. The fact that weapons are rarely found suggests that few men (and even fewer women) carried them. Pottery was also produced locally in the settlements, but by the end of the Iron Age it was mass produced by specialist potters. Trade around Europe was extensive, with goods such as amber and salt travelling especially long distances. Goods were exchanged and bartered rather than being bought and sold, until the late Iron Age when coins were introduced. As a result of all these contacts, designs in art and ornament were similar across Europe, although each area had its variations.

rein ring
Cast bronze rein ring (terret) inlaid with red and blue glass. Terrets were attached to the yoke of a chariot and the reins passed through them. From Suffolk (AN1927.4615)

two gold torcs
Two gold torcs from Ulceby, Lincolnshire made from electrum, a mix of gold and silver (AN1927.6659 & AN1927.6660)

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January 2012