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The University of Southampton

The earliest crafts. Lessons from Bronze Age textiles, pottery and metalwork

Published: 23 June 2010Origin: Archaeology

Thousands of years ago, sophisticated textiles, pottery and metalwork were being produced by pioneering craftsmen and women during the Bronze Age. Technological advances gave them exciting new materials to work with for the first time. Over a millennium, intricate designs developed and spread throughout Europe; many of these items can be seen today in our leading galleries and museums.

Southampton archaeologist Dr Jo Sofaer is heading a major European project to explore this creativity within communities from 1,800BC to 500BC.

“All we know about these people is what they have left behind,” explains Jo. “Creativity has always been important in human history but no-one has investigated this before. People have examined changes in types and shapes, but not considered the human element. How did people exploit new kinds of materials? What kinds of designs, colours and patterns did prehistoric people develop? How did motifs spread from one community to another and between different crafts? There are many questions to answer.”

Over the next three years, academics and heritage professionals from five countries will examine Bronze Age textiles, pottery and metalwork and how creative ideas developed along a north-south axis from Scandinavia to Central Europe and the Adriatic.

“International trade was developing at this time. For example, bronze itself is an alloy of copper and tin. As these raw materials are not found in the same place, they had to be transported across Europe,” adds Jo.

Researchers will also link ancient and modern creativity by involving modern European craftspeople with the project. Contemporary designers will use ancient objects as sources of inspiration and museums and archaeological parks will make connections with people who work in a variety of crafts.

As the work develops, Jo and her team are planning a major programme of events to spread the word about the research. Highlights will include a Bronze Age fashion show using textiles inspired by prehistoric designs and fabrics. Collaborations are underway with schools; animations and videos will also be produced. All data will be available online so other researchers and interested people can use it.

The million euro project is funded by Humanities in the European Research Area, HERA, which is part of the European Union. It also involves the Universities of Cambridge and Trondheim, the National Museum of Denmark, the National History Museum of Vienna, Zagreb Archaeological Museum, the Lejre Archaeological Park in Denmark and the Crafts Council of England. Jo’s project Creativity and Craft Productions in Middle and Late Bronze Age Europe (CinBA) is one of only nine HERA-funded projects on the theme of ‘creativity’ in the European Research Area.

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