The Bronze Age (2000 - 750 BC).
Cremation seems to have become the most widespread form of burial during the Early Bronze Age. These cremations were often accompanied by highly distinctive pots known as Collared Urns, like this fine example from Paglesham. A highly fragmentary example from Rochford was accompanied by a string of amber beads some covered with gold leaf. Many of these burials are associated with ring-ditches, the ploughed out remains of round burial mounds or barrows.
The Bronze Age is the first period from which there is clear evidence of the construction of barrows. The way in which land was divided up seems to have been closely connected to the construction of ritual/burial monuments. Some of the best evidence comes from the site at Mucking. Here a number of ring-ditches seemed to be arranged in linear patterns which were subsequently used to lay out a rectilinear pattern of field boundaries
For instance ring-ditches 1,2 and 5 seem to mark the main north-east to south-west axis of the fieldsystem, and another ring-ditch (3) was incorporated into the corner of a field. These fields and ring-ditches are of Middle Bronze Age date. The large circular enclosures, the North and South Rings, are Late Bronze Age.
The pottery of the Middle Bronze Age consists of large straight sided pots known as bucket urns, and finer vessels known as globular urns, because of their rounded rather bulbous form. Pottery of these kinds was recovered from the field ditches and ring-ditches excavated at Mucking, and at many other sites examined in advance of mineral extraction throughout south Essex.
These fragments are pieces of bucket urn excavated prior to gravel extraction at Barling. The whitish lumps you can see are pieces of crushed burnt flint added to the clay to prevent shrinkage and cracking during drying and firing. The row of holes below you can see just below the rim were probably intended to allow a fabric or leather lid to be tied on.
Drawings of Middle Bronze Age pottery excavated at North Shoebury give a good idea of the size and shape of pottery in use at this time. Very characteristic of pottery from around the Thames estuary are fine globular bowls decorated with horizontal grooved lines and stamped circles, which may be copies of metal bowls. One of the best examples (shown above) is from across the estuary at Birchington in Kent. There are often close similarities between south Essex and north Kent during prehistory, at that time water transport was quicker and easier than movement by land, so that the estuary formed a unifying rather than a dividing factor. The pot from Birchington contained a hoard of Bronze axeheads known as palstaves.
Typical of the Late Bronze Age (c.1000-750BC) in south Essex are a series of circular enclosures. A number are known as cropmarks and three examples have been extensively excavated, two at Mucking, the South Rings (so called because unusually it was provided with a pair of concentric ditches) and the North ring and one at South Hornchurch. These enclosures were all surrounded by deep circular ditches, which were originally accompanied by a substantial internal bank.
Large postholes at the entrances indicate the presence of timber gate structures. The enclosures contained one or more roundhouses their positions marked by the locations of postholes which once held timber uprights, which supported the roof and walls. Despite the similarities between these circular enclosures the internal layouts varied. At South Hornchurch, a central roundhouse was provided with a large porch directly aligned on the enclosure entrance. By contrast at Mucking North Ring two roundhouses were placed behind a timber screen or fence, which blocked direct access between the gate and roundhouse.
Pottery in use at this time shows some dramatic developments the relatively restricted range of pots in use during the Middle Bronze Age, was replaced by a wider variety of cooking and storage pots together with fine jars, bowls and cups suitable for the service of food and drink. These changes reflect very different social attitudes to eating and drinking.
Fragments of pottery from the excavations at South Hornchurch.
This painting shows how some of this pottery may have looked when in use.
What is this? These pottery objects known, for obvious reasons, as perforated clay slabs, are very common finds on Late Bronze Age sites in south east England. There are probably more fragments of these objects from sites in south Essex, particularly Mucking and North Shoebury, than from anywhere else. Many different uses have been suggested involving cooking, ventilation and oven/kiln furniture. However their precise function remains unknown.
South Essex, and indeed the Thames estuary generally has one of the largest concentrations of Bronze Age metalwork in England. Many of the finds are hoards of broken objects probably intended for melting down and recasting. These hoards are composed of fragments of many different types of object, knives, axes, adzes, hammers, swords, spears, harness fittings and occasionally jewellery.
Fragments of clay moulds for casting moulds have been recovered from excavations at many of the Late Bronze Age circular enclosures. Occasionally the hoards themselves have direct evidence of metal production like this, the highly decorated exterior of a metal mould used for casting axes.
Essex of course does not have the sources of copper and tin needed to make bronze. All the raw material had to be imported from elsewhere. Ultimately the metal used for casting bronze in south Essex derived from continental Europe.
The many creeks and estuaries of the Essex coast provided easy access for local transport and as routeways to continental Europe.
Dramatic evidence of this has been recovered from the Crouch estuary, archaeological survey work in the 1980s revealed this complete wooden paddle which has been radio carbon dated to the later Bronze Age.
The middle and late Bronze Age is the first period during which there is evidence for salt production from seawater. Pottery vessels associated with salt production have been found at a number of Late Bronze Age sites in south Essex notably Mucking. Whilst at Fenn Creek in the Crouch estuary the remains of a Middle Bronze Age saltern have been excavated, the hearth used to evaporate the brine is shown in the above picture.
Bronze Age wooden trackways, like this example (photographed by Mark Beasley) preserved in waterlogged conditions deeply buried in the alluvium deposited by the Thames at Beckton, were built out into the marshland. The marshland would have been useful for fishing, fowling, salt production and probably, as in later periods, grazing for sheep and/or cattle.
Loomweights and spindle whorls, like these examples from Southend Museum's collection, are characteristic finds from later Bronze Age sites in south Essex. These objects were used in spinning and weaving indicating the importance of cloth production.
These fine bone tools recovered during the excavation of a Late Bronze Age site at North Shoebury might also have been used in weaving.
Many aspects of this complex Late Bronze Age society carried on into the Iron Age, but there were also some dramatic changes and new developments.