England, Group of Bronze-Age vessels, Urns and Beakers c. 1500-1000 BCE. 20cm.
Late Iron Age cremation burials in Britain.
Bronze Age pottery from Britain, showing a wide range of surface colours, dependent upon firing conditions. To the left are two globular urns. One is oragne and oxidised, showing a blackened area through contact with the fuel. The other is heavily smudged, due to carbon deposited in reduction. The beakers to the right show a range of incised and impressed decoration; once again, the firing effects are highly variable.One of the major changes that took place in the last 150 years of the Iron Age in Britain was that people in south-eastern England began to use new funeral rituals. People were cremated and buried in a grave along with pots, food and other items. Often the graves were in a small cemetery. This type of funeral rite was the same as that used by people who lived in north-east France (Gallo-Belgica) at this time. Many of the Iron Age British objects in The British Museum come from the excavation of these cremation graves. The grave goods were placed in the grave for the dead person to use in the next life. Most of the objects are connected with dress and appearance or with eating and drinking. They include brooches, mirrors and personal hygiene sets with items such as nail cleaners and tweezers. The grave goods also include cups, beakers, flagons and plates. Offerings of food and, perhaps, drink were also given.The more important the person's family was, the more grave goods were placed in the grave. Important families also placed rarer and more costly items in graves, such a foreign pottery, wooden 'buckets', mirrors, metal vessels made in Roman Italy and complete amphorae of wine. The graves from Welwyn, Welwyn Garden City and Hartford Heath are examples of burials of the most important ruling families. Graves such as those from Aylesford, Alkham and the grave from King Harry Lane shown here were those of middle ranking families. The poorest families could only bury their dead with, perhaps, just one locally made pot or a single brooch.