Ireland and France 2500–1900 BC: evidence for contacts and influences

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Burlot, Aurélien
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University College Cork
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During the first half of the 3rd millennium BC Ireland experienced significant cultural changes in what is known as the Late Neolithic period. The introduction of copper metallurgy sometime in the 25th century BC coincided with the arrival of new cultural influences that originated in mainland Europe, represented in archaeological terms by a distinctive range of pottery now called Beaker, and by other material innovations. Another important development at that time was a renewal of the megalithic tomb tradition in the form of the wedge tomb, some five centuries after such monuments had ceased to be built in Ireland. It has long been suggested that these developments were driven by external contacts, the most important of which were from Atlantic France. While copper metallurgy had already been practised in southern France by 3000 BC, the spread of this technology to Armorica (north-west France) came somewhat later, coincident with the circulation of Beaker material culture with some Iberian influences. The fact that the allées couvertes, a Late Neolithic gallery tomb type widely known in the north-western region of Brittany, has similar design features to Irish wedge tombs, and has similar connections with the Beaker culture, has long invited speculation as to the possible connection of the two monument traditions. This thesis is a detailed examination of the potential role of Atlantic France in the spread of metallurgy and associated cultural developments to Ireland. Three closely related topics are considered: • The initiation and development of copper and gold metallurgy, and the later introduction of tin bronze • The cultural context of this new technology, and specifically the underlying explanations for the spread of Beaker cultural influences with the first use of metal in Ireland • The development of wedge tombs in Ireland with regard to French allées couvertes, and the potential influence of the latter in terms of design and use. This thesis is essentially a review of relevant published and archive sources. It combines evidence from old excavations, notably for Breton material, which is often devoid of contextual information, but also some recent investigations with scientific analyses. The aim is to develop a wider understanding of exchanges and contacts between the two regions, but also other parts of Atlantic Europe during the Chalcolithic and earliest Bronze Age. This includes a consideration of south-west England, and its role in a triangular system of exchanges from the beginning of the Bronze Age, when its rich resources of tin and gold may have become significant for the trade in metals between Ireland and Armorica. Central to this study is the exploration of the role of Armorica as the critical springboard for the introduction of metallurgy to Ireland, within a wider Beaker network of Atlantic exchanges.
Prehistory , Chalcolithic , Early Bronze Age , Beaker , Megalithism , France , Ireland
Burlot, A. 2019. Ireland and France 2500–1900 BC: evidence for contacts and influences. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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