How Britain’s Bronze Age Created the UK’s First Wealthy Elite

The World of Stonehenge – Part 4 The Age of Bronze

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Episode 4 is about Britain’s Bronze Age, which began about 2,200 BC. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Archeological evidence suggests the first British copper came from western Ireland. It was transported to Britain to be combined with Cornish tin to make bronze.

Skeletal DNA evidence suggests that Irish copper and Cornish tin were discovered by European metal prospectors who taught the British how to extract copper and tin from ore, combine the molten metals to craft tools weapons and jewelry.

Copper alone is no stronger than the greenstone used for Stone Age tools and must be combined with tin to produce strong and durable swords and axe heads. The film contains fascinating shots of metallurgists reproducing the ancient technologies used to smelt copper and tin and combine them to make bronze.

The discovery of metallurgy in Britain led to the development of an entire industry made up of metal workers, metal traders and middlemen who controlled the main trade routes. It also created the opportunity for some families to become ostentatiously rich, as they acquired bronze tools (poor people could only afford stone tools) and gold and jet* jewellery. Because tin was relatively scarce, by 2,000 BC Britain was setting fashion trends for the rest of Europe.

Prior to the Bronze Age, there is no evidence of permanent settlement in Britain – farmers typically worked fields and pastures until they exhausted the soil and moved on. However beginning in 2,220 BC, Britons began building permanent dwellings (single room Bronze Age roundhouses) that could last as long as 1,000 years. The first evidence of villages also dates to this period.

Despite the clear emergence of a wealthy elite during the Bronze Age, skeletal remains reveal no evidence of a malnourished underclass.


*Jet is a type of lignite, a precursor to coal, a gemstone of organic, rather than mineral, origin.