Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/371

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
352
ARCHAEOLOGY

originally found as pebbles or boulders in the beds of streams, where man in the Stone Age had been accustomed to search for stones to convert into implements; and in the same way the beds of rivers were for a long subsequent period the only sources of tin. Actual mining belongs in his opinion to a far later period, and naturally had its origin in the discovery of outcrops of the metal on the surface. By the simple application of fire, lumps of ore were reduced to a smaller size, and were then prepared for smelting by further reduction to the condition of a coarse powder. This latter process was carried out in the same way that grain was crushed between two stones; and stone-mills, doubtless used for the purpose, have been found in ancient workings in Wales. The next stage would be the furnace, and there can be little doubt that this would be of the simplest kind, merely a hole in the ground with the fire covering the metal, and with nothing but a natural draught. But Gowland holds that even with these singularly inadequate appliances, copper could be smelted from the surface ores, though the output would naturally be of the most uncertain and intermittent character, depending, as it must have done, on the wind. And until the discovery of bellows or some other method of increasing the draught of air, no progress could be made in this direction. With regard to the resulting metal, viz. copper, we have certain knowledge. From time to time there are found in the earth in Britain and elsewhere, hoards of fragmentary or imperfect bronze implements, portions of axes, swords, rings, &c., all of which have been failures in castings. These hoards are assumed to have been gathered together by the bronze founders to be recast into perfect and useful implements. Now, frequently associated with these hoards are portions of cakes of pure copper, originally circular in shape, flat on one face and convex on the other, like a lens with one flat face. The form of these cakes is in itself a fair proof of the prevalence of the method of smelting described above, as it is quite clear that the convex face of the cake followed the contour of the hole in the ground above which the fire was placed. The cakes are generally found broken up into small handy blocks. This can only be done in one way, viz. by watching the cake, after the fire and slag has been raked off it, until it is on the point of becoming solid, when it is quickly pulled out of the hole and broken up. It will be noted that while the implements in these founders’ hoards are invariably of bronze, the cakes are as invariably of copper. This is at first sight puzzling, until it is realized that these founders probably carried the tin necessary for forming bronze in the form of ore, and that tin ore in its pure state is a snuff-coloured powder very easily overlooked when lying on the earth, which it might very nearly resemble in colour, though it would be much heavier. Thus it is probable that in many such discoveries the tin ore has accompanied the copper cakes and bronze fragments, but has hitherto eluded the eyes of the finder. Not only have we this conclusive evidence of the methods by which Bronze Age man produced his raw material, but the discovery of crucibles and moulds takes us a step further towards the finished implements. The crucibles are generally simple bowls of thick clay with an extension of the lip at one side to pour out the molten metal. Several of these, with plentiful traces of metal still remaining in them, were found by the brothers Siret in the Bronze Age settlement at El Argar in Murcia. In the same place also were found moulds of stone for the casting of simple triangular axes. These were of the class known as open moulds, one stone being hollowed to the desired form, the other half being simply a flat cover, with no relation to the form of the implement to be produced. From the nature of the metal, such a mould is the only kind in which the casting of an efficient copper implement would be possible; and among the objects discovered by the Sirets were articles in plenty of pure copper.

Much has been written in support of the theory that the bronze tools and implements found in this or that country must have been importations from southern and more highly civilized lands. More particularly has this been alleged with regard to Britain, which, lying as it did on the extreme limit of the ancient world, was regarded as being dependent on the continent for the more complex weapons. The constant discovery, however, of these hoards of rough metal, as well as of moulds of the highest finish for casting swords, daggers, celts, and almost every kind of ancient bronze implement and weapon known to us, provides a conclusive proof of the contrary. The occurrence of a foreign type of implement is so rare as to be a source of especial gratification to the collector who secures it; and it may be taken that, in general terms, all the bronze swords, daggers and spears found in Britain were of home manufacture. Relations with the continent, however, did exist, as is shown by the occurrence of an Irish type of gold ornament in France and Scandinavia, and by the similarity of ornamental motives in the British Isles and elsewhere. Among the continental races it is natural to find intercommunication more common, owing to the absence of natural barriers. The weapons of the Bronze Age were swords, spears, daggers and axes (celts), though the last would be equally well adapted for more peaceful purposes. The swords were usually of a narrow leaf shape, cast with the handle in one piece, the mounting of the grip and the pommel being added. For perfection of workmanship the weapons of this period have never been surpassed, and the skill of adjustment in the moulds, the fine and equal quality of the metal, and the flawless condition of the surfaces still excite wonder among the most expert of modern founders. The cutting edges of swords and “celts” were often, if not always, hammered to serve the double purpose of hardening that part of the weapon and sharpening the edge. In the case of the axe-heads (celts), this hammering had a distinct influence on the evolution of the form of the implement. The earliest celts, whether of copper or bronze, were in form, copies of their stone prototypes, and curiously enough exactly like the ordinary woodman’s axe of to-day, but of course without the socket for the handle. Hammering rendered the cutting edge both broader and thinner, giving it at the same time a curved outline. This widened curve eventually became an ornamental feature, the two ends of the cutting edge becoming curved points and adding greatly to the elegance of the outline. Later, the other edges were finished by hammering also, at times in a simple ornamental fashion; and whether for greater rigidity or for some other reason, flanges were produced in the same way on those edges, which again affected the ultimate form of the celt. The early flat celt was no doubt simply fixed in a perforated wooden handle, which would naturally tend to split if wielded with any vigour. The side-flanges were in course of time utilized to prevent this, by allowing the use of a different form of handle. In place of the simple straight handle, a branch was cut with an elbow-joint, and its shorter limb then divided into two prongs, between which the metal passed, while the flanges, beaten up from the edges, overlapped the two forks; and no doubt a lashing of sinew was added to render the whole secure. This made a good serviceable tool or weapon, and prevented the splitting of the handle; but still another step was taken. The flanges on the edges met over the prong of the handle on either side, while the upper end of the celt itself eventually became a mere septum dividing the two openings. This septum was finally judged to be useless, and done away with; and the celt was cast with one hollow only for the reception of the ends of the handle; thus the flat celt became, by a natural process of evolution and improvement, a socketed celt. It is a curious fact, however, that the modern form of axe where the handle passes through a socket in the metal itself does not seem to have been much in favour in the Bronze Age, although it was a stone form that certainly survived into the succeeding period.

This and other shortcomings in what must have been the universal weapon and implement of the race, were remedied from time to time by various improvements in the form of the bronze axe-head and the method of hafting; and the various stages of development, from the flat blade of copper or bronze to the socketed implement and even to a pattern now in use, can still be traced in the Bronze Age specimens that have come down to us.