Wessex culture

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The Wessex culture is the predominant prehistoric culture of central and southern Britain during the early Bronze Age, originally defined by the British archaeologist Stuart Piggott in 1938.[1] It should not be confused with the later Saxon kingdom of Wessex.

The culture is related to the Hilversum culture of the southern Netherlands, Belgium and northern France, and linked to the northern France armorican tumuli,[2] prototyped with the Middle Rhine group of Beaker culture and commonly subdivided in the consecutive phases Wessex I (2000-1650 BC) and Wessex II (1650-1400). Wessex I is closely associated with the construction and use of the later phases of Stonehenge.[3]

They buried their dead under barrows using inhumation at first but later using cremation and often with rich grave goods. They appear to have had wide ranging trade links with continental Europe, importing amber from the Baltic, jewellery from modern day Germany, gold from Brittany as well as daggers and beads from Mycenaean Greece and vice versa. It has been speculated that river transport allowed Wessex to be the main link to the Severn estuary.[4] The wealth from such trade probably permitted the Wessex people to construct the second and third (megalithic) phases of Stonehenge and also indicates a powerful form of social organisation.[5]

Although this stage is responsible for the image people think of when they hear the word Stonehenge, this stage of construction has little to do with the astronomical calculations.

When the term 'Wessex Culture' was first coined, investigations into British prehistory were in their infancy and the unusually rich and well documented burials in the Wessex area loomed large in literature on the Bronze Age. During the twentieth century many more Bronze Age burials were uncovered and opinions about the nature of the early-mid Bronze Age shifted considerably. Since the late 20th century it has become customary to consider 'Wessex Culture' as a limited social stratum rather than a distinct cultural grouping, specifically referring to the hundred or so particularly richly furnished graves in and around Wiltshire. The culture group, however, is named as one of the intrusive Beaker groups that appear in Ireland.[6]


  1. ^ [1] The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology - Timothy Darvill, 2002, Wessex culture, p.464, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-211649-5
  2. ^ The Armorican Tumuli of the Early Bronze Age, A Statistic Analysis for Calling the Two Series into Question -Mareva Gabillot et al.
  3. ^ Barry W. Cunliffe, The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe. Oxford University Press, 2001. p.254
  4. ^ SHERRATT, ANDREW (1996). "WHY WESSEX? THE AVON ROUTE AND RIVER TRANSPORT IN LATER BRITISH PREHISTORY". Oxford Journal of Archaeology. 15 (2): 211–234. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0092.1996.tb00083.x.
  5. ^ Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, Wessex Culture-an elitist sub group? Wessex Archaeology, December 2012
  6. ^ Ancient Ireland, Life before the Celts - Laurence Flanagan, 1998, p.83, Gil & MacMillan, ISBN 0-7171-2433-9


  • Piggott, S 1938. The Early Bronze Age in Wessex, Proc. Prehist. Soc. 4, 52-106.
  • Piggott, S 1973. The Wessex culture of the Early Bronze Age, Victoria County History Wiltshire I (ii), 352-75.
  • Coles, J M and J Taylor 1971. The Wessex Culture, a minimal view, Antiquity 45, 6-14.