Fortifications settlements and society

From the sheer numbers of burials represented in the archaeological record for the late Bronze Age, and from the quantities of artefacts recovered from burials and from hoards, it is generally inferred that this was a period of demographic expansion and social change. Compared to some earlier periods of European prehistory, the settlement evidence too is relatively abundant. Settlements display considerable diversity, both topographical and morphological. Fortified sites become more prominent than in earlier periods, while non-fortified settlements include single nucleated farmsteads and agglomerated villages (Audouze and Büchsenschütz, 1992). Environmentally distinctive settlements include the lakeside villages of Switzerland, for the most part abandoned by the turn of the first millennium bc or shortly thereafter, and the lake or marsh fortifications like the Wasserburg, Buchau, Baden-Württemberg (Kimmig, 1992) or Biskupin in Poland. In parts of southern France caves continued to be used, if only for periodic activities, a practice that evidently continued into the Iron Age.

Though fortified enclosures had been known from earlier prehistory, hill-forts assume a more dominant role in the landscape from the late Bronze Age. Defensive architecture, essentially comprising wall-ramparts, stockades and gated entrance-passages, assume a variety of forms, using a combination of timber and stone. In Switzerland, the Wittnauer Horn (Bersu, 1945), occupied from Hallstatt B to Hallstatt D, but apparently with no material evidence of Hallstatt C, employed a massive timber-laced rampart across its promontory. Elsewhere its perimeter was too precipitous to warrant defensive ramparts, but the buildings themselves seem to have been backed against the perimeter instead to afford a sheltered internal compound. A similar disposition of houses against the perimeter is characteristic of the Urnfield period hill-settlements of the Ebro valley such as Cabezo de Monleon, and at Cortes de Navarra this layout developed into something approaching a pattern of streets and houses (Maluquer de Motes, 1954; 1958).

The number of fortified sites or open settlements that can be assigned confidently to the Hallstatt C phase is limited, and it is in Hallstatt D that most commentators detect an unequivocal hierarchy of settlement for the first time. The hierarchical scheme for hill-forts, developed by Kimmig (1969) and reviewed on a number of occasions since (Härke, 1979; Eggert, M., 1989; Pauli, 1994), is well known and need not be rehearsed at length. The role of the Fürstensitze of south-western Germany within their territories, particularly as centres for the receipt and perhaps redistribution of Mediterranean imported goods, has been extensively studied (Frankenstein and Rowlands, 1978; Fischer, F., 1995), though the evidence for redistribution has rightly been challenged (Dietler, 1990). Furthermore, the discovery of Attic pottery at lesser sites like Bragny-sur-Saone suggests a greater degree of complexity in the social and economic structure than was at first anticipated. To link any of these late Hallstatt sites to the emergence of commercial forces of the kind that some have attributed to late La Tene oppida (Wells, 1984), however, seems premature, explaining neither the sudden demise of the one, the relatively rapid development of the other, nor the apparent hiatus between the two.

In domestic architecture, rectangular plans are the norm in the Urnfield and Hallstatt zones of Central Europe. Buildings range in size from substantial aisled longhouses to smaller oblong structures that may have served as ancillary units within a nucleated group. Both are present in the Urnfield settlement at Lovcicky, Bohemia, though which buildings in the maze of structures formed part of a contemporary nuclear group is less clear. For the Perleberg in eastern Germany, also dating to Hallstatt B, attempts have been made to identify contemporary clusters on the basis of entrance orientation (Audouze and Büchsenschütz, 1992, 195-6). At the Goldberg in Hallstatt D, there certainly appears to be a pattern of grouping of units, comprising a larger building and smaller ancillary structures in close proximity (Parzinger, 1998). Bersu believed that the stockaded compound in one corner of the site was for a chieftain's residence, segregated from the rest of the community, though other interpretations of the structural sequence have been advanced. The shift in building type at the Wasserburg from the simple Blockbau cabins of Hallstatt A to the winged houses with ancillary buildings of Hallstatt B, neither phase displaying any internal hierarchical differentiation, led Härke to infer a shift in social organization from nuclear to extended family groups. In general, there is little evidence for overall planning of settlements, except where the constraints of enclosure demanded it, as at Biskupin or the Senftenberg, or in the special environment of the Swiss lakeside settlements, like Cortaillod-Est or Auvernier-Nord, where practical constraints of access over flood waters may have dictated a more orderly layout.

Though rectangularity of plan is frequently regarded as the norm in Central European later prehistory, in marked contrast to the preponderance of circular plans in Britain or the north-west of the Hispanic peninsula in the Iron Age, there is a greater diversity of size, plan and building technique than this generalization might imply. West of the Rhine especially the oblong buildings of the Urnfield period frequently include apsidal ends (Lafage et al., 2006), implying hipped roof construction, as at Dampierre-sur-le-Doubs (Petrequin et al., 1969), and may even include some circular plans. The smaller, sometimes irregular circular plans of the middle Bronze Age in south-eastern Britain, represented by sites like Plumpton Plain, Itford Hill and New Barn Down in Sussex, are matched in the Netherlands at Nijnsel and Dodewaard, and for the Iron Age circular plans from Normandy now indicate that the classic Wessex roundhouses were not without their counterparts on the other side of the Channel (Dechezlepretre et al., 2000; Jahier et al., 2000). Rectangularity of plan, and especially the aisled longhouse, is therefore really a characteristic type of Central Europe, more particularly in the later La Tene, and Northern Europe, where it is represented at Elp in the later middle Bronze Age and continuing through into the typical 'Germanic' aisled Wohnstallhaus and the classic terp settlements of the Roman Iron Age. West of the Rhine the picture is more complex, involving, as might be anticipated, a combination of Central European and Atlantic traditions.

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