Ages and Transitions
The Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages
The three archaeological ages – Neolithic, Bronze and Iron – are based on toolmaking materials. New technologies obviously do affect society, allowing expansion and development, but the biggest and most fundamental changes of cultural agenda and viewpoint happened at other times. We can break down the Neolithic and Bronze Ages into several socio-cultural periods, more accurately reflecting changing ideas, worldviews and culture.
The Neolithic divides into four phases (dates are approximate, pertaining to Cornwall):
- 4500-3800 pre-megalithic – a gatherer-hunter-fisher phase with some cultivation;
- 3800-3200 tor enclosures, quoits and stones – growing use of cultivation;
- 3200-2900 significant downturn and a pause in megalithic development;
- 2900-2500 late Neolithic and ‘proto-Bronze Age’.
The Bronze Age has five megalithic phases:
- 2500-2300 Neolithic-Bronze Age transition (NBA);
- 2300-2000 megalithic ascendancy;
- 2000-1800 megalithic zenith;
- 1800-1500 megalithic culture as a settled tradition;
- 1500-1200 decline and eventual fall.
It was all over by 1200 BCE, by the beginning of the late Bronze Age. But it’s helpful, from a megalithic viewpoint, to suspend thinking of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, and to divide the entire 2,500-year megalithic period into two main phases:
- 3700-3200 early megalithic (500ish years);
- 2900-1200 late megalithic (1,700ish years).
For people with a life-expectancy of 30-40 years, in a time when women gave birth in their teens and adults matured in their late twenties, a century is a long time. One nineteen year Metonic cycle signified one generation. In terms of the long sweep of Britain’s history, the megalithic era was a lengthy phase with a very different flavour to all that followed afterwards. In some respects it was Britain’s zenith, or one of two, the second being the relatively recent 250ish year colonial period and industrial revolution.
The megalithic era expired around 1200 BCE – and with it died a uniquely advanced culture. Whatever its faults and weaknesses – we must not be idealistic and starry-eyed – fundamentally it worked on a cooperative operational model. Our ancestors sought to change the world in ways that attempted to augment nature and the cosmos, working in dialogue with its deeper forces, and they were more sophisticated than we moderns like to acknowledge. The heart of the matter rested in their advanced worldview and cosmology: it was a deep-sustainable society and economy. While it lasted.
After 1200, the psycho-social reality in Britain flipped quickly to one of warlords, clannishness and in-security, shifting toward a more extractive, exploitative and stratified society and economy – though less so in Cornwall than upcountry. Longterm, it evolved into something eventually more rapacious and destructive when the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans came along, all of whom came here to improve their wealth, power and fortunes, not to care for the locals. By the 1600s CE, historically bruised Britain turned the tables to assert its own power globally, in turn extracting wealth from the world and growing rich on it.