Hoarding: A Bronze Age Conundrum

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The Agricultural Revolution was already a century old when the Bronze Age began. Bronze tools helped further farming efforts. Remains of agriculture implements and settlements have been found throughout the island. Religious beliefs and ritual behavior continued to evolve during this period.

The entities or things worshipped changed with the times and circumstances. Votive offerings became more common, as did group worship.

With the rise of the new metal came a demand for tin, prevalent in Britain. Availability to provide and/or work with bronze was a sign of wealth. Even moreso was the ability to flaunt this wealth.

Chieftains became strong out of necessity; strongholds became necessary. With the coveting of new wealth came fighting over that newfound wealth. Bronze tool-making begat bronze weapon-making. The chieftains usually demanded something from their subjects in return for defending them and providing stability for them. These “payments” came in all forms, including in bronze.

It wasn’t just the chieftains who grew wealthy, though. Traders accumulated wealth, as did adventurers. Even common people thought it necessary to store things away. In a way not before seen, people in the Bronze Age accumulated hoards.

These hoards took the form of weapons, tools, animal skins–anything that people considered wealth. Untrusting folk would hide their treasures, revealing the location to a select few. Unafraid folk would make their treasures known, daring foolhardy thieves to strike. Hoarding was rampant. In some cases, these hoards served as foundation deposits for later settlements, as was the case at Danebury, in southern England, where an Iron Age hill-fort was placed at the location of a Late Bronze Age hoard.

Just as startling was the tendency to create hoards that could not be accessed. It seems that many people in the Bronze Age went to great pains to bury their hoards or throw the contents into deep waters. Archaeologists have speculated that these hoards, especially the ones associated with water, were religious or ritual in nature–an echo of votive offerings.

For archaeologists and historians, the most startling aspect of hoarding was the conspicuous consumption of wealth without a return in benefits. People needed to keep everything they had to survive, the theory goes. How could they possibly just throw these things away or keep them hidden away? In either case, all the things hoarded were resources unused. This in intself was as much of a cultural innovation as the introduction of bronze. We don’t call it the Hoarding Age, of course, but its significance cannot be overlooked.

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