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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)


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Publication details for Professor Richard Hingley

Hingley, Richard (2009). Esoteric Knowledge? Ancient Bronze Artefacts from Iron Age Contexts. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 75: 143-165.

Author(s) from Durham


‘Esoteric knowledge is knowledge of the unusual, the exceptional, the extraordinary; knowledge of things that in some way lie beyond the familiar everyday world’ (Helms 1988, 13)

This paper explores the ways in which Bronze Age bronze artefacts may, on occasions, have been used in the commemoration of place during the southern British Iron Age. The chronologically-based typological systems adopted by archaeologists indicate that these artefacts occur out of their time as they were already several centuries old when they were buried, but it should not be supposed that Iron Age societies necessarily viewed these items entirely in terms of a linear sequence of time. While broadly similar in form and material to items in the cultural repertoire of contemporary society, the bronzes were also quite distinct in the particular forms that they adopted. That these items often appear to have been deposited at sites with a pre-existing monumentality may suggest that objects and places were felt to share ‘otherworldliness’. These items and places may have been used to construct esoteric knowledge through reference to spirits but it is also likely that particular acts of curation and deposition created genealogical associations, incorporating ideas of the mythical past into the context of the present. Drawing on the evidence for the form and contexts of depositions of these objects, this paper addresses the connected topics of what Iron Age society did to objects and sites derived from its own past and what we, in turn, do to (and can do with) the information derived from the Iron Age.