Britain is headed for a new Bronze Age

By Ian Grosz

We are obliged to know we are global citizens. Disasters remind us we are world citizens, whether we like it or not.

Maya Angelou

In the region where I live, there exists the remnant landscape of a fortified, troubled world. As we emerged out of the Neolithic and rushed headlong into the technologically defining Bronze Age – began farming on a more widespread scale – our numbers grew. The earth’s climate shifted, and in northern Britain became cooler and wetter with increased flooding, making the growing of crops a challenge and resources precious. [1] We left our dwelling places along the river banks and low valleys formed out of the retreat of the glaciers, and headed for the hills, building fortified strongholds as seats of power in rival groups. These structures appeared all over northern Britain at this time: hill top sites of ringed defences protecting people and livestock within. Trade was widespread, but so was the threat of war. Alliances and deals were made. Kingdoms emerged. But this was now a deeply tribal world: a world where place and allegiance defined. We became rooted and afraid of difference. We traded, yes, but we feared too.

One such site rises above the village where I live: a low hill with a flattened plateau ringed by once towering earthen banks and walls constructed in three phases beginning in the late Bronze Age. The main entrance is still clearly defined and marks a passage from a once dangerous, unprotected world to the safety of the enclosure within. They say history has a habit of repeating itself, but on what scale? I see the world now facing similar problems to those of Bronze Age Britain: an expanding population competing for resources under the pressures of climate change. And I see a similar response. As borders become ever harder, and the progressive values that helped forge a more stable Europe come under increasing attack from emergent tribal politics, we are once more retreating to metaphorical hill-forts. We are building new walls barely a generation after the old ones were torn down. We are again becoming afraid of difference, of those seeking a better life in lands of plenty, suspicious of outside influence. Brexit is surely one symptom of this: a project that seeks to create a stronghold that controls who might enter through the safety of its walls, and who might not. The new world we face is shaping up to resemble that of the old: different tribes competing with one another for power, territory and resources: Britain in this paradigm, rife with internal factionalism, in danger of becoming just one more isolated minor stronghold amongst a world of other hill-fort nations, while the human catastrophes surely to unfold will only highlight our interdependencies.

[1] Brown, Tony. (2008). ‘The Bronze Age climate and environment of Britain’. The International Journal of Research into the archaeology of the British and European Bronze Age. V1.

Ian Grosz is a writer based in the NE of Scotland. Drawing largely from a deep interest in place and identity, he is published across a range of magazines and journals in print and on-line. He holds an Mlitt in Creative Writing from the University of Aberdeen and in 2019 was commissioned for a social documentary project highlighting the plight of local market traders in a building under the threat of demolition and redevelopment. Collaborating with a photographer, the work was brought to exhibition as part of the Look Again Aberdeen Visual Arts Festival. In 2020 he was awarded a New King’s Studentship with the University of Aberdeen in support of research toward a PhD in Creative Writing. 

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