Page:VCH Warwickshire 1.djvu/261

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


EARLY MAN Hitherto the only materials available for the manufacture of the toughest and hardest tools had been flint and stone. The art of working these substances had been carried to its utmost development ; but excel- lent as some of the neolithic work undoubtedly was, the implements were liable to be injured by use, and the fear of damaging an elaborately wrought celt, for example, must have been a source of constant care to the neolithic warrior or hunter. The need of some less brittle and more pliable material for the manufacture of weapons and tools must have been keenly felt before the discovery of metals was made. How that knowledge was first acquired is not known, and perhaps, seeing how great an interval of time separates the earliest age of metal from our own, it will never be discovered. It has been suggested how- ever that the discovery may have been made accidentally in those early days when neolithic man cooked his food on fires made in shallow pits dug into the ground. Such fires must have engendered sufficient heat to melt certain metals, and may easily have given man the first idea of smelting metals. It is hardly likely that the discovery was made in this country. The evidence, so far as it has yet been examined, goes to show that the art of extracting copper and tin from their ores, and the skill of blending them in such proportions as would give the requisite hardness, were both acquired in some other part of Europe or Asia, or even Africa. This is pretty clear from the fact that some of the earliest metal objects found in the British Islands are evidently the work of people skilled in the art of blending metals. 1 The earliest forms of bronze implements found in Britain are flat axes or celts and small bronze hand daggers. Of the latter kind the New Bilton dagger, which will presently be described, is a good example. Early celts as well as daggers are composed of bronze of excellent quality. At first metal would doubtless be very rare and valuable, but as soon as native metallic ores were worked it is probable that there would be a desire to reproduce in metal the heavy flint or stone celts which had hitherto been the highest achievement of the tool or weapon maker's efforts. For this purpose an actual stone celt was probably made to serve as a model. The remains of the bronze age comprise celts of bronze which have evidently been cast in this way from stone originals, and they have been thought to represent the earliest form in which metal celts were made. The objection to such a theory is that they would require a large amount of metal at a time when it was scarce, and it seems more probable that they may be referred to a period when bronze was plentiful and easily procured. Bronze implements are sometimes found singly upon or near the surface of the ground, but more often in the form of hoards below the surface. Warwickshire does not furnish an example of this kind of deposit, but there is no reason why a hoard of bronze objects should not 1 Munro, Prehistoric Scotland, pp. 177-8. I 217 28