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PREHISTORIC INDUSTRY

FLINT KNAPPERS AND POTTERS

From the very earliest times mankind has used technological and craft techniques to produce tools and everyday objects needed for survival. Very often tools and objects were made for personal or family use, but on other occasions craft and technological skills were used to produce large numbers of tools or objects for barter or trade. The fact that over 100,000 flint implements were recovered from the Palaeolithic site at Swanscombe, near Dartford, suggests an almost industrial scale approach to satisfying the demand for good-quality flint hand-axes, locally and much further afield. Greenstone hand-axes originating from the Mounts Bay area of Cornwall have been found locally, implying that trade was an established fact of life in prehistoric society.

Neolithic pottery manufacture and the manufacture of Bronze Age and Iron Age tools and weapons involved creativity and advanced technological skills. Other Prehistoric skills included bone working, stone carving, leatherwork, basketwork, reed-work and carpentry. Technological skills were employed in the clearance of woodland, the creation of fields, and the construction of monuments such as the barrows on Dartford Heath.

 

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Polished flint axe heads

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STONE AGE TECHNOLOGY: FLINT TOOLS

The earliest flint tools produced locally in the Palaeolithic era were crude but functional. As time progressed, Stone Age peoples developed new techniques to produce exquisite leaf-shaped arrowheads, scrapers, knives, axes, adzes, awls and sickles.

Over large tracts of southern England flint suitable for making small finely worked tools could be found on the surface. Chalk outcrops with flint layers occur throughout the Dartford area. Large tabular blocks of flint suitable for making robust axes could only be obtained by digging into a chalk hillside or by sinking mineshafts down to the prized layers of natural flint which occur in bands in the upper chalk. Remains of Neolithic flint mines are known from Cissbury and Findon in Sussex and at Grimes Graves on the Suffolk/Norfolk border.

 

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POTTERY MAKING

By Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age times, pottery was made in a range of fabrics and forms, many of which have been found on sites in and around Dartford. Cooking pots had to be able to stand the heat of the fire. Porous storage jars were useful for keeping liquids cool. Vessels were fired in clamp kilns or bonfires. Usually local sources of clay were exploited. Clays around Dartford, Wilmington and Bexley would have been ideal for this purpose.

Most pottery manufacture seems to have been undertaken by travelling potters who moved from site-to-site with their own wheel and other basic equipment. The potter would have to set-up a temporary kiln in order to fire the pottery at a high temperature. Clay was mixed with materials such as ground shells, grass or crushed fired pot to make the clay more flexible. Initially, pots had been roughly shaped by hand, but the introduction of the potter’s wheel produced much finer vessels. Dartford Borough Museum contains a representative selection of prehistoric pottery.

 

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METAL TECHNOLOGIES: BRONZE, IRON AND GOLD

  

Palestave axe heads

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A series of metalwork industries developed in Britain c. 1500-600 B.C. Local industries geared-up to making small metal items such as tools, small spearheads and ornaments were widespread. Archaeological research has revealed that each prehistoric smith was working to produce bronzes for communities within a radius of 9 to 12 miles. Hoards of finished and part-finished tools found throughout Kent, suggest that smiths worked seasonally and cast a sufficient number of items to provide a stock for later use and distribution. Some metal items such as swords, rapiers and large spearheads, were clearly manufactured on a regional basis, almost as an industry. Regional industries can be recognised from similarities in product design and casting techniques used over a wide area. The Thames Valley was one such area of regional production.

 

  

Leyton Cross bronzes

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Metal ores were being worked widely in the west of Britain by c. 900 B.C. Bun-shaped copper ingots were transported to smiths based in the east of England to enable them to cast bronze objects. Bronze was a valuable metal. At Wansunt Pit on Dartford Heath, excavated in 1930, 16 complete bronze axes and other tool types were discovered. This may have represented a bronze founder’s hoard of scrap bronze awaiting re-melting and re-cycling. A smaller Bronze Age hoard comprising two axe-heads, a razor and a knife were found in the garden of a house at Tredegar Road, Wilmington, fairly close to Dartford Heath.

 

  

Stone thistle brooch

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The use of lead bronze became more widespread as time progressed. This allowed for more complex castings to be made. Copper, tin and lead, the raw materials used to make bronze, had to be imported into the Dartford area. By the late Bronze Age sophisticated two and three-piece moulds were made. Sheet metalworking was another prehistoric skill used in the manufacture of buckets, cauldrons and shields.

 

 

 

 

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THE IRON AGE REVOLUTION

British smiths began to use iron from about 650 B.C. onwards; by 200 B.C. iron was in common daily use. Iron objects in the collection at Dartford Borough Museum include knife blades, small spearheads, brooches, and an agricultural billhook. The reason for the sudden change to iron is not known. Perhaps there was some difficulty experienced in obtaining the raw materials used to make bronze. Clearly, iron ores were much more widely available than copper, tin and led. Kent was particularly well endowed with deposits of iron ore.

The techniques of roasting and smelting iron were much more difficult than for softer non-ferrous metals. Initially, iron objects were straight copies of traditional bronze implements (sickles, axes and edged tools). All early ironwork was forged (shaped by heating in a fire and hammering), presumably because casting produced very brittle and quite useless tools and weapons. Bronze continued to be used for the manufacture of intricate brooches and smaller pieces.

 

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GOLD WORK

  

Bronze age gold armlets

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Gold-work continued alongside bronze working and iron working for the manufacture of ornaments such as bracelets, torcs (necklaces of twisted metal), and sleeve-fasteners. Gold items, particularly jewellery, were imported from Ireland. Excavations at Wansunt Pit on Dartford Heath in 1906 revealed seventeen gold armlets of a plain design. These are now housed in the British Museum collection.

 

 

Next topic: Roman industry

 

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