(Chapter V, section 8)

The The Bronze Age in Britain

The consideration of the Bell Beaker problem leads naturally to that of the Bronze Age in the British Isles, where the Beaker people found their most important and most lasting home. Coming down the Rhine and out into the North Sea, they invaded the whole eastern coast of England and of Scotland, and also the shore of the Channel.

The Beaker invasion of Britain was not a simple affair. Not only did the newcomers land in many places, but they brought with them somewhat different traditions. Although most of them brought zoned beakers and battle axes, in consequence of their blending with the Corded people in the Rhinelands, others, with the older type of bell beakers and with stone wrist-guards of Spanish inspiration, seem to have entered unaffected by Corded influence.

Like their predecessors the Long Barrow people, the new invaders who went to England chose open lands for settlement, and eschewed the forest of the Midlands, and the Weald of Surrey, Sussex, and Kent. Yorkshire with its moors was a favorite spot, while other centers were Wiltshire and Gloucestershire in the south, and Derbyshire and Staffordshire in between.64 On the whole, the Beaker people chose the same regions which had attracted the builders of the long barrows, except that the concentration in Yorkshire was an innovation. The Beaker people did not exterminate the Long Barrow people, who continued for a while to build their characteristic earth-covered vaults, in some of which Beaker pots have actually been found. The remains of the newcomers, however, are always buried singly under round barrows, of a type which the Corded people contributed to the Zoned Beaker complex.

In comparison with the Continent, Great Britain contains a great plenty of Beaker skeletal material. The invasions which reached this island brought the wholesale migration of a large population. Over two hundred and sixty crania from England alone have been preserved and studied. Out of a series of one hundred and fifty exhaustively analyzed by Morant, the brachycephals exceed the pure long heads in the ratio of three to one, while the intermediate forms are about equal in number to the latter. This segregation would indicate that the blending between the Corded racial element and its round-headed companions was incomplete at the time of invasion, as well as afterward. In all the regions from which a considerable number of skulls have been taken, the proportion between round heads and long heads is constant, and this would indicate that the survivors of the Long Barrow people were not buried in the tombs of the invaders.

The Bronze Age people of England, as represented by this Beaker series, were clearly heterogeneous. The three ancestral elements which met in the Rhinelands may be distinguished easily. All three were tall, and the mean stature of the whole group was about 174 cm.65 The Corded element, however, was the tallest, and the Borreby element, about 170 cm., the shortest. On the whole, the heavy-boned, rugged quality of the Borreby type seems to have influenced the bodily build of the total group. The Beaker skulls as a whole are large, long, and high vaulted, whatever their shape. They form one of the rare groups in the world with a cranial length of 184 mm. and an index of over 80. This peculiarity they share with the few known brachycephalic crania of the Upper Palaeolithic. Again reminiscent of Upper Palaeolithic skulls is the ruggedness of muscular markings, the prominence of browridges and occipital lines, and the depth and breadth of the mandible.

In the Crania Britannica are engravings of seventy-three male crania of this group; by observing them morphologically it is possible to segregate them into their component elements. Twenty-four, or one-third of the whole, are planoccipital. This ratio is probably about the correct proportion of the original Bell Beaker element in the blend, with the Corded group one-fourth, and the rest Borreby. The planoccipital skulls are, as one would expect, the most brachycephalic; for over sixty per cent of all crania over the index point 83 possess some posterior flattening.

When seriated by index groups and occipital form, the planoccipital brachycephalic male crania (see Appendix 1, col. 22) approach metrically the series already discussed from W├Ârms, as well as that from Bronze Age Cyprus. The British planoccipitals are larger vaulted, in all three dimensions, than their continental and Near Eastern prototypes; they are also wider faced; but in total and upper face heights and in nasal dimensions, they are much the same. The curvoccipital brachycephalic crania (see Appendix I, col. 23) are much larger; and it is this element which contributes the combination of a truly long vault with a high index. They likewise have large faces, of great width, and of great mandibular size. One of the most striking differences between the two brachycephalic British sub-groups lies in the disproportion of face heights. Both have the same upper face height; but the total face height, from nasion to menton, is five mm. greater in the curvoccipital group. The lower jaw of the planoccipital skulls is more nearly of a normal Dinaric form, while that of the Borrebv element is nearly equal to Upper Palaeolithic standards.

The dolichocephalic crania (see Appendix 1, col. 24), forming the least numerous of the three elements, are of pure Corded type, and furnish an opportunity to study this form in greater numbers than elsewhere. The vault is very long, and extremely high, with a breadth-height ratio of 105, and extremely long faces, with deep, narrow mandibles. There can be no question that these most extreme variants from the fundamental Mediterranean stock came to England as part of the Zoned Beaker racial complex, and do not represent accretions of megalithic Long Barrow survivors, although both elements, in England as in Scandinavia, entered into the ultimate composition of the living population.

In Scotland the progress of events in the Early Bronze Age was quite different from that in England, and more complicated. The Beaker people who arrived on the eastern shore came in part directly from Holland, and in part from England. A few may have approached from the west, by way of Wales. At the time of the Beaker arrival, or not long after it, another group of people, named after the so-called Food Vessels which they placed in their tombs, seem to have arisen in the west, or to have arrived there from Ireland, where they were also prevalent during the Early Bronze Age. These Food Vessel people buried their dead in individual cists, as did the Beaker people, but often incinerated, for which reason their skeletal remains are relatively rare. The two groups-Beaker and Food Vessel - had close relationships and interchanged material possessions and ideas. In many Scottish cist graves, neither type of pottery is present, and it is not always possible to tell to which original complex the burial belongs.66

The short cist skeletons of Scotland have been lumped together regardless of original cultural affiliation, which in many cases may have been impossible to determine. By this means a series of seventy-seven crania has been assembled for study.67 (See Appendix I, col. 25.) In general, the Scottish Short Cist people resembled the Beaker invaders of England, but were by no means identical with them. The means of the cranial dimensions are in many cases smaller, and the larger elements in the blend seem to be less in evidence. Furthermore, the stature seems to have been shorter, with a mean of 165.0 cm.68 for seventeen males. The group as a whole is more purely Beaker in the continental sense, or Dinaric, than is that in England; metrically, the Scottish series resembles the non-Borreby brachycephalic element in the British Beaker population, and also approximates the skulls from the Rhineland. In several features, such as a lower vault, it comes closer to the Cypriote Bronze Age group than does any wholly Beaker series which we have studied.

The reasons for the difference between the Scottish and English series are not difficult to discover. The Borreby element is less prominent in Scotland, and the same is true of the Corded. In fact, three out of four dolichocephalic male crania from short cists seem to be of a Megalithic type, while only one has the characteristic vault form of the Battle-Axe people. Long heads are less frequent here than in England, and the original eastern Mediterranean brachycephalic type is in the majority. Logically, one would expect that the Food Vessel people belonged to this racial variety.

It is impossible, however, to determine with any certainty the physical type of the Food Vessel people in Scotland, for only four complete skeletons have been associated with this pottery form. Three, however, which are males, are all brachycephalic and of medium stature, and belong, in the totality of their features, to a small Beaker variety,69 as does the single female. Two other individuals, represented only by long bones, were, respectively, 166 and 173 cm. tall. Little is to be learned, unfortunately, from the members of this small group, except that they were no different from the Beaker people who occupied the same type of cist.

There is, however, one far better way to discover the physical affinities of the Food Vessel people, and that is by a study of the Bronze Age remains from Ireland. As far as we know from published evidence, the Beaker people never went to Ireland at all. The thirty odd known Irish skeletons of the Bronze Age, taken from short cists, were associated with food vessels in most cases, or at least when there is known to have been any pottery.

The series as a whole70 (see Appendix I, col. 26) is tall and slender boned; the skulls, almost exclusively brachycephalic, are often thin walled; the bony relief is rarely as prominent as in the British specimens. Metrically, the Irish crania are narrower headed and narrower faced than the Scottish, and are almost identical with the Adlersburg group in Germany, and quite close to the series from Cyprus. Their most notable difference from the British group, which confirms their similarity to the skulls from Cyprus, is in their narrow facial breadth. In this and in many other ways, the Scottish skulls are intermediate between the English and the Irish.

The Irish Bronze Age people who were buried in association with food vessels were, therefore, members of the racial type which was originally linked with the Beaker complex, without the associated Borreby and Corded elements. Childe finds possible prototypes of the food vessels both in Germany and in Spain." Without doubt, in any case, there were movements from northern Spain and the western end of the Pyrenees during the Bronze Age, which brought halberds to Ireland, and thence to Scotland, along with other cultural innovations. These movements were quite late, but so, in all probability, was the spread of the Food Vessel people, who often incinerated.

It is necessary to choose between two routes of invasion for the Food Vessel people, for they were obviously not indigenous. The first, from Germany and Holland, would be somehow separate from the Beaker invasions, but yet, would bring the most basic Beaker physical element. The second is from Spain, where the Beaker people were probably only one of a number of related brachycephalic groups. The latter seems the more likely, purely on racial grounds; furthermore, on the Scottish food vessels there are often cord impressions, on the Irish there are none. The direction, therefore, was probably from Ireland to Scotland and not vice versa.


64 Morant, G. M., Biometrika, vol. 18, 1926, pp. 56-98.

65 Obtained by applying Pearson's formula to 27 adult male femora listed by Thurman.
Thurman, J.,
MASL, vol. 1, 1865, pp. 120-168, 459-519; vol. 3, 1867, pp. 47-80.

66 Childe, V. G , The Prehistory of Scotland, pp. 81-95.

67 Morant, G. M., and Reid, R. W., Biometrika, vols. 3-4, 1928. Later publications, mostly in the PSAS series, would swell this number by at least twelve, but would in no way alter the conclusions.

68 Callander, J. G., PSAS, vol. 58, 1924, pp. 23-27.
Callander. J. G., and Low, A.,
PSAS, vol. 64, 1930, pp. 191-199.
Craw, J. H., and Low, A.,
PSAS, vol. 67, 1933, pp. 308-311.
Edwards, A. J. H.,
PSAS, vol. 65, 1931, p. 421.
Edwards, A. J. H., and Low, A.,
PSAS, vol. 66, 1932, pp. 418-426; vol. 67, 1933, pp.164-176.
Gordon, J. T., and Waterston, D.,
PSAS, vol. 67, 1933, pp. 354-361.
Low, A.,
PSAS, vol. 67, 1933, pp. 176-186.
Ritchie, J., and Dow, D. R.,
PSAS, vol. 69, 1935, pp. 401-415.

69 Dow, D. R., PSAS, vol. 69, 1935, pp. 401-415.
Low, A.,
PSAS, vol. 64, 1930, pp. 191-195; vol. 65, 1931, pp. 418-426. PAAS, 1904-06, pp. 133-142.
Waterston, D.,
PSAS, vol. 67, 1933, pp. 354-361.

70 A composite group from the following sources:

Haddon, A. C.,
PRIA, vols. 3-4, 1896-98, pp. 570-585.
Martin, C. P.,
JSAI, vol. 62, 1932, p. 55; vol. 64, 1934, pp. 87-89.
Martin, C. P., Price, L., and Mitchell, G. F.,
PRIA, vol. 63, 1936, sec. C, #7.
Movius, H. L.,
PRIA, vol. 61, 1934, pp. 258-284; JSAI, vol. 59, 1929, pp. 99-115; vol. 64, 1934, pp. 73-85; vol. 65, 1935, pp. 213-222.
Shea, S.,
JGAS, vol. 12, 1925, pp. 13-22.

See also:

Martin, C. P., Prehistoric Man in Ireland.
Morant, G. M.,
JRAI, vol. 66, 1936, pp. 43-55.

71 Childe, The Prehistory of Scotland, pp. 89-95.