A Life In Fragments

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Done with Data Collection – Where to go next?

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A couple of weeks ago, as many of you will have seen, I collected my final piece of data. This data collection has been ongoing since about February 2015, when I stumbled into the Totnes museum with my random assortment of equipment, eager-eyed, and, quite frankly, a little bit uncertain about how the whole thing was going to go.

TOT-P001 Totnes (36).JPG

The first object I studied was this socketed axe from Totnes

23 museums and 2 years later, I think it all went ok! I have a massive catalogue of objects detailing everything from typology to patina to use-wear and a large, growing database into which it’s all being inserted to analyse. Plus, I had lots of fun along the way.

sword concentration

So much staring at objects

In one of my original posts, I noted that there are about 3000 pieces of Bronze Age metalwork in South West England. Inevitably, in the last two years this number has increased. I realised fairly early on that this number was going to be impractical if I was ever going to record the level of detail I wanted. My project wasn’t to catalogue the entire corpus of metalwork in the region (between myself and Professor Susan Pearce, we’ve actually already done that!) but instead to analyse the objects for signs of destruction.


Destroyed objects from the Wick Park hoard, Somerset (photo taken courtesy of South West Heritage (Museums Trust)

So I set myself the challenge of seeing as much of the material as possible by visiting local and national museums with some simple sampling criteria of which objects should be studied:

  • All weapons (e.g. swords, spears, daggers etc.);
  • Any broken material;
  • Any complete material associated with weapons;
  • Any material from a significant context (e.g. settlement, hoard, burial);
  • Any single finds with an established context also held at the museums visited

The aim was thus to collect an overview of the variety of objects in the region in a variety of contexts and a variety of conditions. I also set no restrictions on the material of the objects other than that it was some form of metalwork, nor any restrictions on the period within the Bronze Age. I estimated this would give me somewhere around 1000 objects (i.e. a third of the material) and I would then supplement this with PAS material.

As it turns out, I vastly underestimated my strategy. I am currently at nearly 1000 objects and I’d estimate I have another 300 entries to do. By the time I add in the PAS data I will probably have a catalogue of about 2000 objects. Suffice to say this gives me plenty to look at, interpret and analyse.

So where do I go next?

Right now I’m still just converting my 1000-page long catalogue into a workable database, which is laborious and time-consuming and just plain dull. But of the 956 entries so far, 188 are definitely deliberately destroyed, while a further couple of hundred are represented by pieces and fragments that were potentially deliberately reduced. These come from all manner of contexts including settlements, hoards, wetland deposits, and burials. Clearly destruction of objects was a multi-functional practice.


Yay databases

Of course, at this stage there’s little that I can say conclusively without a full analysis, but the next steps include lots of database querying, graphical interpretation, and mapping. It’s a shame to be finished with my museum visits, but I’m excited to see what I find out next.


I have to express my sincere thanks to all 23 museums that accommodated me over the last two years. My PhD seriously couldn’t have happened without their support!


  1. browney237 says:

    Congratulations on hitting that milestone. I’m just about to start my data collection – a very daunting thought!

    Liked by 1 person

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I’m Matt, 26 years old, a glutton for academic punishment, a lover of all things Bronze Age, always willing to continue talking even when my friends have lost interest, and never happy unless overwhelming busy. Find out more here and be sure to follow me on Twitter @mgknight24 and Facebook

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