Chapter 4: The Bronze Age

The beginning of the Bronze Age in England can be put around 2000BC. It could be deduced that the folk using bronze tools and weapons were newcomers from the continent, the shape of the heads of the people using such tools (in burials) being different from the Stone Age men. We can, then, imagine an invasion or slow infiltration of new blood and new ideas into our area. Stone and Bronze may be used together, depending of course on the availability of those materials. The sample taken of the bronze smelted showed the proportions of 87.97% copper and 10.74% tin. Both of these ingredients could be found in quantity in England. Once the art of producing the alloy had been mastered there would be no difficulty in producing the metal. Bronze is easy to produce provided the required temperatures can be reached. Brass, not in use until the 13th century, is much more difficult to produce.

The evidence of the presence of Bronze Age man in our area is provided by his burial mounds. These are most prolific on the ridge to the south of Gilling, that is on Yearsley Moor. They are placed along this ridge all the way from Gilling to Oulton. These are round barrows consisting of raised conical mounds. In this area there does not appear to be any surrounding ditch. It would appear therefore that the mound material has been imported. Like the Yearsley barrow they appear to be made of sand. There is also evidence of a retaining curb.

The most obvious group are the three barrows known as Coney Hills (5974). The name itself is interesting. It could simply mean Rabbit Hills, but on the other hand it could be derived in a similar way to Coney Street in York, which is a corruption of Konig Street. The Hills would then be Kings Hills: not a way-out conclusion. Perhaps years ago when the hills were named people thought that kings were buried here, and they were not far wrong. One barrow is particularly prominent, the most westerly of the three. The second one, to the east of it, is easily visible but reduced considerably by ploughing. The third one is just detectable if you see it in the right light. Gill in his Vallis Eboracensis in 1832 reports as follows:

“In a field adjoining the road from Yearsley to Gilling, are three tumuli of large dimensions, all of conical shape. The largest which is nearest the road measures at the base 636ft in circumference, its sloping height 112ft and its perpendicular height 39ft, a stupendous monument of human labour, unaided by scientific skill, which works its wonders in the great mechanical operations of the present day. It is thought that this may be the burial place of some ancient British chief or king previous to the times of the Romans, for these tumuli are of very ancient date.”
On closer inspection the mound will be seen to be studded with large stones, probably carried to the higher part of the mound by the farmer to enable him to plough further up the slope. These stones probably formed the curb around the base to prevent the sand from spreading.

In a field, now woodland, centred about 615743 are two further tumuli (615743 and 616744), and further pairs of tumuli (613738/9 and 610742), 6 in all. In addition there is a great possibility that Soury Hill (603745) may also be either a hill topped with a tumulus, or a long barrow. This is not obviously conical but may be two cones or the high and low parts of a long barrow. There are then in this compact area 9 tumuli of good size erected over the bodies of important people. All command good views north and south. This testifies to a considerable population in the Bronze Age living high above the flood swamps of the remains of Lake Pickering, and placed on a well drained ridge which connected the Vale of Mowbray with the Wolds and the Malton area. If flint was still used at this time such a link was an absolute necessity as the Wolds were the main source for the supply of good flint. There is no natural flint in this area or the Pennines. Another candidate for being a barrow is Lousy Hill on the Gilling-Coulton road (626757).

Elgee in his Archaeology of Yorkshire, p.92, states that a hoard of socketed bronze axes was found on Yearsley Common. It contained 100 axes, and as these were associated with metal fragments and cinders he considered that this was the site of a workshop, probably where the axes were made. An interesting find is recorded by Susan Brooks, that of a blue faience bead, found above the ford over the Howl Beck about 700 yards north-east of the long barrow. Dr. J.F.S. Stone writing on these beads says that they were similar to those found at Abydos in Egypt in association with a scarab of Amenhotep III (1412 to 1376BC). He adds that the Yearsley bead can positively be dated to between 1400 and 1350BC. Miss Kitson Clark considered that these beads were imported into England in small quantities during the last part of a comparatively short phase of trade expansion (circa 1500 to 1300 BC).

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