The Bronze Age

The Bronze Age was the period in history between the Stone Age and Iron Age, characterised by the use of bronze, proto-writing (in some areas), and other early features of urban civilization. In Britain, the Bronze Age is defined as occurring between around 2100BCE and 750BCE. The age was one of great change. The trade and development of bronze and tin smelting capabilities (the two combined creating copper) catalysed technological and societal advancement; as ever in history, those societies who developed newer systems and technologies before their neighbours, could more easily assume control and influence over said neighbours. In Britain, the Bronze Age was a period of mass migration, with recent dental archaeology from graves around Stonehenge, for example, showing the arrival of peoples from as far southeast as modern-day Switzerland. Additionally, climate during the Bronze Age was deteriorating, and where once the weather was warm and dry, heavier rains and colder climes forced people to move from their mountaintop Iron Age forts into the more sheltered, more fertile valleys below. As a result, large livestock farms developed in the lowlands and appear to have contributed to economic growth and inspired increasing forest clearances. This, then, was perhaps the origins of the cattle farming which, many centuries later, would fuel the reiving raids on and by Border families. Burial practices were also revolutionised during the Bronze Age, with the focus moving more toward the individual. Whereas in the Neolithic period (late-Stone Age) the dead were commonly interred in large, chambered cairns or long barrows, the Bronze Age harkened the practice of burying one’s dead in individual barrows (also known as ‘tumuli’) or in small cists, covered by cairns.

There is plenty of evidence of Bronze Age occupation in the Tweed and Teviot valleys and
their tributaries, including cairns, stone circles, burial cists, standing stones, axe heads, bronze pins and ornaments, pottery, and beads. The Ca’ Knowe stood on the site of a Bronze Age burial cairn, known locally as ‘the Hero’s Grave’, as does Russell’s Cairn on Windy Gyle at the Scottish-English border. The Dod Burn valley also yields an astonishing number of remains of prehistoric settlements, many presumably of Bronze Age origin, or at least re-occupied during it. Near Yetholm, three bronze shields were found, one of the most impressive Borders discoveries, and a Bronze Age mirror was also found near there in 2004. The Hawick Museum has a flanged axe from the Middle Bronze Age, as well as other artefacts from a similar period. There are nine Bronze Age burial cairns situated around Smasha and Whitfield Hills, a few miles west of Hawick, each being about thirty-feet in diameter and two- to three-feet high – but a handful of the Bronze Age cairns which can be found throughout the Borders.

Most recently (Summer, 2020), amateur detectorist Mariusz Stepien uncovered a historically significant Bronze Age horde in a field near Peebles. Alerting archaeologists to his discovery, they uncovered a sword, still in its scabbard, dating to around 1000-900BCE, along with the straps, buckles, and chariot-wheel axle caps of an ancient horse’s harness, and the remnants of a decorative “rattle pendant” that would have hung from said harness – the first to be found in Scotland, and only the third in the UK. It seems that Borders’ Bronze Age history runs deep, and there is still plenty more to discover.