Random accumulation and breaking: The formation of Bronze Age scrap hoards in England and Wales

Publication date: February 2018Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 90
Author(s): Rob Wiseman
This article introduces a simple, intuitive model for the random accumulation of objects into groups, and the inverse process of random fragmentation.The model is used to explore metalwork hoards deposited during the British Bronze Age (2500–800 BC). Between 1997 and 2015, 174 hoards from England and Wales were reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Three-quarters of those large enough to assess are a good match to the model. The model also predicts approximately 85–95% of bronze in circulation must have ended up in hoards. Key consequences are that most large hoards of the Late Bronze Age, and possibly also the Middle Bronze Age, must be the product of random accumulation and breaking, and that their burial must only have been temporary (otherwise the bronze economy in Britain would have collapsed). This runs counter to most contemporary explanations of bronze deposition, which stress selective deposition, votive offerings, status display, and meaningful behaviour.The same distribution appears in other archaeologically-significant distributions, such as administrative areas and field sizes.