Made to Remake the World: The Bronze Age Tool and the ‘Idea of Craft’



The metal tools of the Late Bronze Age in Europe, though lying at the heart of much discussion of technology and metallurgy, have remained less considered as objects which manifest the ‘idea’ of craft, both in being made and in being a means of making. In 1950 Robert Forbes lamented that too little attention was paid to Bronze Age metal tool finds save through typologies; nearly 70 years on, with some exceptions such as use-wear analysis, to a great extent that lament still stands.

An ‘idea’ of craft is integral to understanding tools in the world, considering them not only as the end result of a technological process but as part of a network of communicating agents transferring knowledge, making technological choices and decisions within social relationships, and practices allowing materials from a craftsperson’s world to be shaped into objects which themselves can be used to make and remake their world. This perspective is influenced by a range of technological, social and archaeological perspectives from individuals such as Adamson (Thinking through Craft, Berg, Oxford, 2007; 2010), Dobres (Cambridge J. Econ 34:103–114, 2010), Gosselain (Technology, Darvill T (ed) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 243–260, 2011), Lemonnier (J Anthropol Archaeol 5:147–186, 1986; 1993) and Sennett (The Craftsman, Allen Lane, London, 2008).

This chapter explores the notion that Late Bronze Age tools manifest just such an idea of craft; they encapsulate technological potential and the social relationships that engendered that potential and embody social meanings in their form and the activities for which they were used. The discussion of contextualised meanings of craft beyond the physical builds upon Costin (Archaeol Method and Theory 3:1–56, 1991), Dobres (Meaning in the making: agency and the social embodiment of technology and art, Schiffer MB (ed) Anthropological perspectives on technology, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, pp 47–76, 2001) and Lemonnier (Mundane objects: materiality and non-verbal communication, Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, 2012). Within a socio-technological context, artefacts can embody the identity of makers and users (Chilton, Material meanings and meaningful materials: an introduction, Chilton ES (ed) Material meanings: Critical approaches to the interpretation of material culture, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, pp 1–6, 1999). S.A. Semenov’s (Preshitoric technology, Adams and Dart, London, 1964) ‘traceology’ asks whether and how the thought processes of prehistoric tool makers and tool users can be illustrated and in doing so considers crafting as reaction to, and adaptation of, materials and ideas. So, too, can the ways in which tools were treated, in their making and also in their ‘death’, be viewed as part of embedded social meanings that lay within the object and its use. Combined, these themes are explored to consider part of the meanings of craft in the Bronze Age world and the temporal influences which spread from there into the Iron Age and beyond. The discussion concludes by suggesting that the metal tools of the Northern European Bronze Age represent the foundations of a socio-technological continuum which extends to the present day; in that continuum, materials may have changed, but the same ideas of craft and crafting abound, and those ideas find form in tools which were, and are still, made to remake the world.


Bronze Age Craft Makers Craftspeople Tools Woodcrafting Technology Metalwork Life cycle 


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Rob Lee
    • 1
  1. 1.North SomersetUK

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