Ages and Transitions - Shining Land

Shining Land
The ancient sites of West Penwith, Cornwall
Palden Jenkins
Shining Land
Site nearly complete - organically growing
and what they tell us about megalithic civilisation
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Ages and Transitions

Prehistory > The Megalithic Era
Ages and Transitions
The Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages
Extracted from the book Shining Land, by Palden Jenkins, chapters 17-20.


Gurnard's Head, a cliff sanctuary
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 sociocultural 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. But it’s helpful, from a megalithic viewpoint, to suspend thinking of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, and instead 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).

Twenty-five centuries is a very long time. For people with a life-expectancy of around forty years, in a time when women gave birth in their teens and adults were mature by thirty, just one century is a long time. One Metonic cycle of nineteen years signified one generation. In terms of the long sweep of Britain’s history, the megalithic era was a lengthy phase with a fundamentally different flavour to all that came afterwards. In some respects it was Britain’s zenith, or arguably 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 sought to augment nature and the cosmos, working in dialogue with its deeper magic, in a way more sophisticated than we moderns acknowledge. The heart of it rested in their advanced worldview and cosmology: it was a deep-sustainable society and economy. While it lasted.

After 1200, the psychosocial reality in Britain flipped quickly to one of warlords, clannishness and insecurity, shifting toward a more extractive, exploitative and stratified society and economy – though less so in Cornwall than upcountry. Longterm, it was evolving into something eventually more rapacious and destructive, ramping up with the invasions of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans, all of whom came here to raise their own wealth, power and fortunes, and not to care for the locals. Eventually, by the 1700s-1800s CE, Britain, historically bruised by all this, turned the tables to assert its own power globally, in turn extracting wealth from the world and growing rich on it.

Shining Land
A book by Palden Jenkins about the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall
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