Scilly’s Iron Age: valuing the invisible

Posted on September 3, 2012


Figure 1. Map of the Isles of Scilly, underlying bathymetry data is derived from the GEBCO_08 Grid, version 20100927,


This article seeks to assess the ways the Iron Age of the Isles of Scilly has been understood from previous and current archaeological studies. It stresses the problematic of the archaeological record being interpreted mostly on conspicuous elements of the ritual landscape, with discreet, everyday features being left relatively unexplored.  Consequentially, the Iron Age has been portrayed as a discreet continuation of local Late Bronze Age traditions resulting in what could be argued as an ‘invisible’ Iron Age for this region.  Recent work such as that carried out by Robinson (2007) in Scilly and Henderson (2007) at a broader-scale for the Atlantic, demonstrate that the Iron Age has been invisible not because it is absent, but because our methods and research objectives have been directed elsewhere.

In Scilly the Early Iron Age has traditionally been told as a tale of continuity; continuation of Bronze Age cultural traditions. Some of the aspects of the latter are mostly recognisable in the archaeological record by the ceramic assemblages and the architecture. Nevertheless, comparisons are few in number for this period and therefore, represent just a fraction of the potential connectivity of the islands. The Later Iron Age, on the other hand, has been considered as distinctively different to the Earlier Iron Age – with an abandonment of local traditions. Such differences have their origin mainly from perceived changes in the material culture as well as burial and building traditions.

At the Eastern Isles (Butcher, 1970; Butcher, 1978; Butcher, 2000-1), Bryher (Johns, 2006) and St Mary’s (Ashbee, 1979) (see Figure 2.), important metalwork assemblages dating from the first half of the first century BC to the Late Iron Age are amongst the best examples for connectivity proxies. The presence of mainland wares, in particular South Western Decorated (Glastonbury Ware) and Cordoned Ware dating to the Late Iron Age (Robinson, 2007: 53-54) have also been established as important proxies for connection with wider-scale networks.

In spite of this, if we were to draw from Henderson’s definition of a Western Atlantic identity, the isles do not seem to quite fit the model. Even when the excavated settlements are stone-built, the size and distribution seems to point more towards Cornish influence, especially the buildings at Chysauster (St. J. O’Neil, 1961: 11 #2146; Quinnell, 1986: 120 #399; Ashbee, 1996: 133-135 #2156). However, most of the Atlantic ‘cultural package’ do not seem to be reflected much for the Iron Age in Scilly. The absence of burials, as in most of the Atlantic fringe, is not a common trait in the archipelago. Johns (Johns, 2011) notes a lack of visible deposition of human remains for the period between the beginning of the Early Iron Age and beginning of the Late Iron Age, but the large number of cist-graves might prove the opposite, especially considering the limited available dating and the association with earlier burial traditions, such as Entrance Graves (Ashbee, 1986). Despite this, Henderson is right when he acknowledges the Atlantic seaboard as a complex one, which is better associated with a range of diverse communities, changing at different rates over different moments (Henderson, 2007: 297). The isles therefore seem to reflect some of the cultural changes happening on mainland Cornwall. This is arguably shown by similarities in both ceramic records but also in the sharing with a wider Atlantic community of what could be termed a ‘cultural package’, but with important contrasts, such as in burial practices and settlement building traditions.

Settlement pattern and material culture have played a central role in structuring our understanding of an “Iron Age”, but these are insufficient if we are trying to understand a gradient in the historical process. Two models have been used recurrently for perceiving the Iron Age in the Isles of Scilly. The first relates to the Early Iron Age – a model of ‘continuation’. The second model sees the Late Iron Age as a ‘rupture’ of the earlier traditions. Both models although different from one another, are based on similar arguments. Despite their marked differences both are dependant on ideas of maritime connections. The first model is defined by a lack of contact and the preservation of local Bronze Age traditions, the second is related to the replacement of these traditions and the identification of well-known and imported Iron Age elements.

As a result of these imports, maritime connections have been envisaged as the principle mechanism by which the isles are involved in larger scale processes. An example of this is the identification in Scilly of the ceramic shifts of the indigenous Middle Bronze Age Trevisker styles replaced by the fourth century BC South Western Decorated wares, recognised widely as a Cornish cultural development (Henderson, 2007).  But the isolated nature of such finds does not allow us to perceive a gradient in the historical process. Instead we are left with synchronic events, extracted from imports, resulting in a fragmented temporal scale.

Figure 2. Map of the Isles of Scilly, the marked points represent key sites discussed throughout this chapter and are derived from the Cornwall and Scilly Historic Environment Record. Topography data is derived directly from 1m resolution LIDAR courtesy of Channel Coastal Observatory

Defining the Iron Age

The identification of Middle to Late Bronze Age relationships in the South West of England has been seen most clearly through the ceramic development. It is widely accepted that the appearance of the Trevisker types, a local variation of the classic Deverel Rimbury urn forms (1400 – 1000 BC), indicate some relationships with the south East of England (Henderson, 2007). Trevisker materials have been identified on Scilly in Halangy Down as well as in Nornour (Butcher; Butcher). But the relationship with Trevisker does not only come from the material culture associated with some of the buildings, the latter have been also related to some of the architecture present in Cornwall. These stone-built round buildings as seen at Halangy Down and Nornour have been compared with mainland structures found at both Trevisker and Dean Moor (Ashbee, 1996).

The ceramic assemblages also mark the start of the Iron Age. The appearance at the Cornish peninsula of South Western Decorated wares, shows a new ceramic development produced locally from clays found from at least six different sources in Cornwall (dated from the fourth until the first centuries BC) (Henderson, 2007: 206). As it will be shown, South Western Decorated wares found in Scilly have worked as proxies not only to mark the start of the Iron Age but also to hypothesise about the ways in which these materials reached the archipelago. The appearance of Late Bronze Age ceramics as well as South Western Decorated vessels from buildings at Halangy Down and Nornour has been cited as evidence for the reuse of these buildings. This therefore suggests a similar path of development to those of Mainland Cornish sites.

Late Iron Age Cornish cemeteries such as Harlyn Bay, Trevorne and Stamford Hill, present rectangular and oval cists lined with stones, similar to those at Porth Cressa at St Marys. These sites have been dated from the second century BC to the first century AD. Similar cemeteries have been found in Scilly and their grave-goods have shown connections with Continental elements such as La Tene II swords and mirrors (Figure 3). According to Whimster (1981) similarities in inhumation between Cornwall and Scilly could be seen as part of a shared tradition.

Figure 3. Late Iron Age Porth Cressa type cist-burial found at Bryher (Johns, 2006: 19)

Despite the similarities found between Scilly and some mainland Cornwall Late Prehistoric sites, materials from Scilly present differences in need of closer examination. As an example, the Late Bronze Age ceramic assemblages recovered from the isles, and considered as belonging to the Cornish Trevisker styles, but found amongst the Later South Western Decorated Wares contexts. Robinson (Robinson, 2007: 69) argues that even when there is a new introduction of Late Iron Age wares, Late Bronze Age Coarse Wares might still be in use. To take a further example, the stone-built round houses, apart from the relationship with Chysauster structures, (Halangy Down and Nornour) seem to correspond better with the way in which Atlantic settlements developed (Henderson, 2007). It is clear that the study of such variations is important to understand the Isles of Scilly’s role in the Iron Age.

Why is it important to understand the nature of maritime connectivity in Scilly during the Iron Age? The best and most straightforward answer to such a question is because connectivity at a range of scales, from inter-island communication to connection with the mainland was crucial for social reproduction. Without maritime connections the Iron Age in Scilly has proven, so far, impossible to define, let alone explain. This period has been characterised mainly by the identification of imported elements; by recognisable influence on settlements, funerary practices and artefacts; by the replacement of the local traditions. This relationship, between connectivity and the Iron Age, has been a mutual one, a bond of cause and effect. Henceforth, the Iron Age is seen as the sub-product of the changes between the local developments and the external influences. In the following section these issues are introduced. I recall some of the most relevant opinions used to present the Early Iron Age, whether as a continuation of the Bronze Age or as an introduction of the Late Iron Age development or, sometimes, both. Also, I will tackle the issue of the Early Iron Age ‘invisibility’ and then will expose some of the arguments regarding a Late Iron Age. This paper aims to make clear why connectivity is essential for perceiving this period but also how current conceptions of connections have drawn a sharp boundary between different stages of the Iron Age development in Scilly.

The Bronze Age/Iron Age transition: Being local means being invisible

The Early Iron Age in Scilly has been interpreted mainly from a few examples of imported material culture, predominantly pottery. This material comes mainly from two sites: Halangy Down in St Mary’s island and Nornour at the Eastern Isles (Figure 2), excavated between the 1960s and the 1970s by numerous people (Ashbee, 1955; Ashbee, 1965; Dudley, 1967; Ashbee, 1970; Butcher, 1970; Butcher, 1978; Fulford, 1989; Ashbee, 1996; Butcher, 2000-1). Additionally, from the 1,009 Late Prehistoric (3000-700 BC) recorded sites in the Isles of Scilly only 5% of these are dated to the Iron Age (Figure 3). This clarifies to some degree the constraints of previous research and why there is such a lack of awareness for this period. This lack of archaeological information however, should not act as justification for the Early Iron Age to be ignored, as is discussed in the following.

The Early Iron Age is presented loosely, as a sub-product of the changes between the Late Bronze Age and the Late Iron Age – something that simply happens between these two phases. So far, as mentioned above, this period has been seen in two different ways. One considers the Early Iron Age as a continuation of the indigenous development, starting from the Late Bronze Age, the second, is based on more recent re-calibrated dates, which identifies the period as a result of imported Early and Late Iron Age elements used widely to define the period in other regions.

Figure 4.  Map of Late Prehistoric (3000 BC – 42 AD) sites recorded in the Isles of Scilly. Data derived from the Historic Environment Record, Cornwall Council.

Those who argue for an Early Iron Age as a continuation of traditions are in the majority. They base their arguments on funerary evidence, settlement types and the development of ceramic styles. This focus on the funerary monument is perhaps understandable given their profundity.  As Alec Gray noted in the 1930’s:

The prehistoric sepulchral remains in the Isles of Scilly are so numerous and so conspicuous that they attracted the attention of the first man to write a description of the Islands, and have mentioned in more or less detail in almost every book that has been published about Scilly from the time of Dr, Borlase to the present day. When however, we turn from the places constructed by the living for the dead, to those built by the living for the living, it is a very different story. (Gray in Gray, 1972: 19)

Although the main concern of Gray, which has been echoed in later studies, particularly those by Thomas (Thomas, 1985: 105), is the focus on the monumentality and the conspicuous nature of some of the mortuary structures, they were and still are (Mulville, 2007) part of the main research agenda. Chambered cairns or ‘entrance graves’, in regards to their configuration and methods of construction, are known to be unique in Scilly, and have raised important questions over early Scillonian identity (Ashbee, 1954: 24). They are characterised by cremation urns, the urns being stacked and then covered.

Regarding the relevance of such monuments to the conceptual construction of an Iron Age, the nature of usage has been crucial. These funerary monuments are known to been widely used from the Early Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age, where new ways of treating the dead are introduced. According to Thomas (1985: 133), chambered cairns fall into disuse around 1000 BC, where they are being replaced by the introduction of contracted inhumation in cists burials. Chronological evidence for this shift has come from the dating of cist tombs courtesy of dateable inclusions of imported metalwork, brooches such as those found in Hughtown and Porth Cressa, St. Mary’s, and the mirror found in a remarkable 3rd to 1st Century AD  (St. J. O’Neil, 1961: 10-11; Quinnell, 1986: 118). assemblage at Bryher[1] (200-45 cal BC) (Johns, 2006)

More widely, evidence of cist-burials comes from various sites on Bryher, St. Martin’s and St. Mary’s (Johns et al., 2004: 71).  The cists, built from boulders, are found on rocky outcrops at sea-cliffs, known in Cornwall (Whimster, 1977) and Scilly as ‘carns’ (Robinson, 2007: 70). Scillonian cist-burials also have a Cornish counterpart on sites such as Harlyn Bay, Trevone, Trelan Bahow and Stamford Hill (Quinnell, 1986: 118). In all of these sites, there seems to be some continuation of this particular burial tradition, where it appears to have developed during the Late Iron Age and persists into the Romano-British period (Robinson, 2007: 70).

Despite the increased clarity regarding changes in funerary styles, and the implications that these might have on further arguments about identity, there are still important imprecisions regarding such changes. If the period of abandonment suggested by Thomas (1985: 133), and the dating of the earliest find from the cist-graves is correct, this leaves a gap of over 600 years between these two, where the evidence of burials is non-existent. This has been interpreted by Johns (2011) as a possible change in deposition practices, which appear invisible in the archaeological record. He raises the possibility that burial practices for this period were carried out in a less conspicuous manner (Johns, 2011: 16), although clearly more research needs to be conducted if we are to accept such hypotheses.

So far we have seen how a focus on mortuary elements over settlements has affected research since the first explorations in the Isles. It is also clear that the number of available sites for study is very low. This does not imply that the information retrieved from such elements has been less important, far from it. The settlements are believed to present evidence for uninterrupted occupation from the Bronze Age until the end of the Roman Period, sometimes even later (Thomas, 1985: 163-164). On the other hand, evidence for the Early Iron Age is limited.

Roundhouses provide the only evidence for Iron Age dwelling in the Isles and, so far, they appear in groups of houses or clusters. Although individual houses exist in the archaeological record their proximity to cliff edges, intertidal zones and urban sites makes it problematic to verify their association with clusters of houses (Robinson, 2007: 71). From these, Halangy Down (Figure 4) was the first to be recorded (St. J. O’Neil, 1961; Gray, 1972) and later excavated by Paul Ashbee in the 1960s and 1970s (Ashbee, 1965; Ashbee, 1970; Ashbee, 1983; Ashbee, 1996). Ashbee’s early chronology of the site was classified into broader ‘Early’ and ‘Later’ periods. The site was later assigned an initial Bronze Age occupation, on the basis of domestic ceramic typologies found within the buildings. The Iron Age dates came alternatively from the stratigraphic association of some of the buildings with an Iron Age field-system, dated by O’Neil (St. J. O’Neil, 1961) in the late 1950s.

Additionally the robust construction of some of the buildings, together with the material culture, has been interpreted as similar, for their continuous usage, to that of the mortuary structures. Robinson has pushed further the idea of continuous occupation by suggesting that the robustness of the buildings is related more with the household longevity than a specific method of construction (Robinson, 2007: 76).

Figure 5 Aerial photo of Halangy Down, image courtesy of Channel Coastal Observatory Overlapping the photograph (in red colour) is Ashbee’s (1996: 24) excavation plan.

Thanks to Gray’s previous observations at Halangy Down, as well as subsequent excavations by Paul Ashbee, the site was also chronologically classified by its proximity to the coastline. Its location directly on a hill-slope, at the northern coast of St. Marys, Scilly’s largest isle has been important for understanding the relationship with the eroding sections. In detail, Halangy Down consists of eleven round buildings; four Bronze Age chambered cairns or ‘entrance graves’ and field systems. The association of elements and the erosion presented by the coastline was relevant to explain the settlement occupation process. Ashbee is the first to suggest that the lower part of the settlement (near the coastline) had an earlier occupation (Ashbee, 1986). The remains of eroded roundhouses at the cliffs, which presented Bronze Age material, reflected evidence of this. Also, even though there was some Bronze Age materials associated with the reuse of building, materials extracted from the lowest parts of the settlement and used on the higher buildings not only explain the abandonment of the ‘lower’ settlement but also the continuity model. Those buildings on the higher part were dated to the Late Iron Age by direct association to Halangy Down courtyard house.

Furthermore, the Halangy Down buildings have also been related to the remains of Bronze Age field systems. When O’Neil (1961: 19) describes the settlement he considers the field-systems to be part of the ‘Romano-British village’ (the courtyard complex). He therefore tentatively assigns the former a probable use for the Iron Age. Unfortunately, no further examination of this relationship was carried out, until Ashbee noticed that the Bronze Age chambered cairn rested on top of the field, suggesting an earlier use for the field-system (Ashbee, 1983: 36).

Despite the difficulties that dating prehistoric field-systems (Thomas, 1985) present, Robinson (2007: 71), following the ‘continuation’ model, suggests a Bronze Age land-use until the Late Iron Age, by providing a single radiocarbon date extracted from a ditch running alongside a field wall at Bar Point (St Mary’s). The sample produced a date 385 BC – AD 17 (HAR-3483 2140 ± 70 BP). This, he suggests, demonstrates the use of such fields until the Later Iron Age. So far this is the only evidence, dated by radiocarbon, for the use of Bronze Age field systems for the Iron Age in Scilly.

It is apparent from the summary above that the definition of an Early Iron Age in Scilly remains unclear. It has been masked under this pervading idea of continuity of Late Bronze Age traditions until the introduction of imported, and known, Iron Age elements. The label of “indigenous” given to such a development has been fuelled through the homogeneous nature of the material culture, as well as the burial practices and settlement pattern. One way in which the debate might be moved forwards is to turn the attention towards an integration of the archaeological information and to include the period in comprehensive dating programmes.

The Late Iron Age: A period of changes and connections

In comparison with the model of an Early Iron Age in the Isles of Scilly, the Late Iron age period is one of clean-cut and marked limits. This period has been characterised by the abandonment of the local, indigenous, traditions and the replacement of such by imported elements. The Later Iron Age is a period much better understood elsewhere and so the evidence in the archipelago of such recognisable elements has been key to define the period. There are varying ways in which external influence has been perceived. One of the most important is the identification of previously identified architectural styles and in particular those that relate with the Late Iron Age in the rest of the British Isles and Continental Europe. In the previous section we mentioned some of these elements. This section explores them in detail with the objective of gaining further insight into some of current issues regarding the Later Iron Age. Also, as mentioned above, this section has the objective of stressing the importance of maritime connectivity within the creation or definition of an Iron Age. I will therefore, explore the most relevant arguments related with these two.

As seen for the Early Iron Age, the main separating marker of a Late Bronze Age and the Later Iron Age are the obvious changes, the replacement of local traditions by introduced elements. It seems that changes have been primarily inferred from burial practices, an important source of imports. Settlements however, have been more relevant for this period. If we recall the main defining elements of the ‘continuation’ model- the change to a Late Iron Age at Halangy Down – this happens with the identification of a rectangular courtyard complex – a chronological marker for the ‘higher’ section of the settlement. These buildings have been typically associated with Romano-British phases (Ashbee, 1983: 17; Ashbee, 1996: 21). However, this did not constitute the first time this characteristic was discussed. O’Neil, in his visit to the site in the late 1950s, reported that these peculiar rectangular buildings were important because not only did they date the  ‘ancient village’, to a much later phase, but also they linked Scilly with mainland Cornwall, and in particular, with the Iron Age village of Chysauster (Southern Cornwall) (St. J. O’Neil, 1961: 71). Since then, comparisons with mainland Cornwall have been regularly made (Christie, 1986; and later Quinnell, 1986: 120). A noticeable change in the attitude of research can be reflected here. The identification of recognisable elements push new arguments towards the creation of a ‘rupture’ model. Their lack of interest in the local is clear, considering the longevity of some of the sites.

Comparisons carry-on and discreet details start to take some weight. As an example, one of the other shared characteristics between these two sites is the appearance of small chambers within the rectangular courtyard buildings in Cornwall and Scilly. These features, termed aediculae, are believed to be small shrines within the complex, with the only examples being those at Halangy Down and Chysauster (Ashbee, 1996: 135).

These comparisons were not only centered on Halangy Down. As mentioned above, there is a second settlement in the Isles of Scilly whose importance has been crucial to our understanding of a Later Iron Age phase. Located on one of the Eastern Isles, Nornour, was excavated by Dorothy Dudley and by Sarnia Butcher (Dudley, 1967; Butcher, 1970; Butcher, 1978). It extends roughly four acres, consists of approximately 13 round houses that have been occupied approximately two millennia (the early dates being based on a radiocarbon sample and the later phase on magnetic dating readings), and with no more than two of them occupied simultaneously (Robinson, 2007: 76). Ashbee’s interpretation of Nornour’s chronology is similar to that of Halangy Down, where the earlier settlement phases have been lost through coastal erosion and the later development being located up-hill (Ashbee, 1983: 37). Due to these events, Ashbee gives this site a certain contemporaneity with Halangy Down.

Figure 6. Aerial photo of Nornour, image courtesy of Channel Coastal Observatory Overlapping the photograph (in red colour) is Butcher’s (1978) plan of the structures.

In contrast to the evidence from Halangy Down, the material culture on Nornour (Figure 6) presented a wider range of types and styles. This included two good examples of well-dated Cornish mainland types such as sharply carinated bowl (made from non-local fabrics) and secondly, a Scillonian variation of the Late Iron Age Cordoned Wares. The first was found in the stone filling of House 1 at Nornour and is suggested to have an Early Iron Age counterpart on mainland Britain – All Canings (Wiltshire) Cross-Meon pottery.  The second style has parallels with sites St Mawan-in-Pydar and Carvossa, Cornwall, where similar vessels were found as storage containers (Robinson, 2007: 63).

Apart from the ceramic assemblages, other important materials have been considered as key to defining the Late Iron Age of Scilly. Metalwork found on the islands has been dated to around the end of the Iron Age and the end of the Roman period. With the exception of the brooches found at Nornour (Butcher, 2000-1) and those from Halangy Down’s courtyard complex (Ashbee, 1996: 63), all the metal artefacts have come from funerary contexts. O’Neil (1961: 10-11) was the first to assign a Roman origin to the bronze brooches found in a burial cist at Old Man Island, Teän, where he found a comparison with the oval-cists at Hughtown, St Mary’s Island (Ashbee, 1954).

The only example of brooches found, other than in a funerary context are those of Nornour, where an extensive number of varying styles (Thomas, 1985: 164), were found in the crevices of some of the buildings (Butcher, 2000-1: 15).

These brooches reached all parts of the Roman Empire and occur sporadically on British sites, but the number found at Nornour is exceptional. Although those from Continental origin are the largest group of plate brooches from the site, there is also a significant number whith a mainly British distribution, which can also be distinguished by differences of technique. These include the small enamelled plate brooches like hull 1968, nos 191-3 and 257, the horse rider (no 132), gilded oval (no 237) and eagle (no133). They are unlikely to be products of the north-western industry and the distribution and context of each type suggests diverse origin and dates. (Butcher, 2000-1: 15)

Around 300 brooches were found at Nornour. One of the original interpretations was to suggest that Nornour was a brooch-workshop (Dudley, 1967). This idea was short lived as further excavations (Butcher, 1978) demonstrated that there was not enough information to suggest any kind of domestic activity.  Concurrent to the idea that Nornour was a workshop, further ideas were considered. Reconsidering Thomas’ proposal that Nornour was a potential harbour site and pilgrimage centre by Roman times, this has been, so far, the best-accepted explanation to understand the nature of the remarkable brooch assemblage. This has led to suggestions that Nornour, and its location as a sailing landmark, could have been used as a small shrine dedicated to a marine goddess (Thomas, 1985: 164). Together with the brooches, several clay figurines, and a unique assemblage of Scillonian miniature pots, as well as furniture that could represent a sailor’s shrine (Butcher, 2000-1) have been recorded. Nornour, for the Late Iron Age-Roman period, has therefore been explained as a centre of pilgrimage, dominated by a strong marine cult (Thomas, 1985: 164).

Within the Isles, brooches have been found in domestic contexts, such as those found at Halangy Down. From these, four were of bronze and one of Iron. One is a heavily bronze made fantail brooch, and is thought to belong to Colinwoods group X. European counterparts of this brooch have been found at Camulodonum (present day Colchester) and Bagendon (Glouchestershire), and in Cornwall at St. Mawgan-in-Pydar and, more locally at Nornour Scilly (Ashbee, 1996: 67).

Also of relevance to the identification of a Late Iron Age period are the cliff-castles. These have been one of the most overlooked lines of evidence for an Iron Age settlement. These types of settlements, together with hillforts, have traditionally been considered to be marking the start of a local Iron Age in Cornwall (Robinson, 2007: 71).

Although several places (including Tresco and St. Martin’s) have been considered to present cliff-castles in the Scillies, two sites are consistently cited, the first is Giant’s Castle, St Marys, which was excavated before the construction of a Second World War lookout. From the excavations of the outer rampart, only a fragment of duck-ornamented pottery was found, dating back to 300 BC (Robinson, 2007: 71). The second, is located on the northern extreme of Bryher at Shipman’s Down. Thus far, there is no literature published that mentions any archaeological intervention on this site. Further explorations of such sites could yield important information between the relationship between the Scillonian sites and the Cornish ones.

Looking for better ways to understand Scillies’ Iron Age

This paper has attempted to summarise how the Iron Age in Scilly has been defined in two very different ways. One is related with the early phases of this period and is based on the principle that the communities living from 700 BC to 300 BC had few cultural differences to those communities that lived before them in the Late Bronze Age. However, we have seen that for the period of roughly 300 BC to 42 AD the cultural traits change violently and sharply and there is little remaining of the indigenous traditions.

If analysed carefully, the ‘continuation model’ does not allow us to perceive clearly Early Iron Age Scilly. It fails to define the period explicitly and secondly because it appears invisible due to the complete lack of imported and therefore familiar elements. Plus, the main problem of such a model is the unarticulated nature of reading the archaeological evidence – seen as separate events instead of being focused on the dynamics of the historical process. Additionally, there is a scarcity of absolute dates for the period. Despite this, more recently and thanks to a comprehensive programme of radiocarbon dating, new insights into the nature of some aspects of the Iron Age are coming to light (Johns, 2011) but much more work needs to be done. However, most of these radiocarbon dates come from environmental samples and have little relationship with some of the buildings, where the relative chronology has been associated.

Those who support the ‘rupture model’ (Johns et al., 2004; Robinson, 2007) have defined the Late Iron Age from the evidence of two major sources. The model though, stresses the evidence of connectivity and evident contact with external influences but the Isles are never seen as part of wider-scale phenomena. It mentions the importance of connectivity by defining a Later Iron Age from the nature of the contacts but the role of Scilly is unclear. As seen, the main and most used source is based on imported elements found in different contexts roughly dated for this period and summarised above. Together with such finds, and more discreetly, radiocarbon dating has been used to complement such finds, although in the light of recent calibrations these have been changed (Robinson, 2007; Johns, 2011).

These two ways of interpreting the Iron Age in Scilly are disassociated one from the other. It is necessary to understand the Isles’ Iron Age development to gain new insights towards the understanding of the period as a process. Whilst these two points of view persist it will be impossible to achieve a further understanding of the Iron Age. New research has to push towards a better integration of the archaeological evidence. At the same time, ideas of connectivity cannot be disassociated from connection itself. To understand Scilly’s role in a wider Atlantic community it is important to expand the analysis to a wider scale. The expansion of the, geographic and cultural, scale of analysis would give a much better scenario to integrate sites that, so far, have being just marginally related.


Fraser Sturt, Tim Champion, Sarnia Butcher, Amanda Martin, Charlie Johns, Kevin Camidge, Bryn Tapper, David Peacock, Jody Joy, Jane Marley, Sean Lewis and Nigel Young.


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[1] The assemblage of Bryher included a La Tene II sword and scabbard, a bronze mirror, the bronze bindings of a ‘hide shaped’ wooden shield, a Nauhiem variant brooch, a bronze spiral ring and an unusual object made from tin. Due to its complexity, a description of the artefacts will not be included here, although its importance regarding Late Iron Age contexts in Scilly needs to be stressed.

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