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Kingdoms of the British Isles

Early Cultures


Wessex Culture (Bronze Age) (Britain)
c.2000 - 1400 BC

The term 'Wessex Culture' was first termed in 1938, before British prehistory had been fully understood and properly categorised. It mainly concentrated on central and southern Britain of the early Bronze Age, and today it can be seen as a sub-category of the British Bell Beaker culture, as the Neolithic ended in favour of the Bronze Age.

Wessex culture itself can be broken down into two phases, the first in 2000-1650 BC and the second in 1650-1400 BC. Related to the Hilversum culture of what is now Belgium, the central Netherlands, and northern France, the period saw fresh arrivals of Beaker folk from these regions (the same pattern of successive waves of immigration by the same people would later be repeated by the Celts).

They buried their dead in barrows, although cremation was later practised, with the remains being placed in the same barrows. A rich assortment of grave goods was added to the burials, some of which were imported from very good trading contacts on the continent mainland.

Those links reached as far afield as Latvia and Lithuania (amber), and Mycenaean Greece (beads). Alongside the British Beaker culture, Wessex culture was replaced by the Atlantic Bronze Age and the beginnings of a Celticised 'Prydein'.

Egtved girl of the Bronze Age

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from the documentary programme, Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons, with Mike Parker Pearson, first screened in the UK by Channel 4 Television in 2013, from The Celts, TGE Powell, from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, and from External Links: Stonehenge, and The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of northwest Europe (Nature).)

c.2000 BC

The beginning of the Bronze Age in Britain can be placed around this point in time. Although not certain, it is generally thought that the new bronze tools and weapons which are identified with this period are introduced from continental Europe into the late British Bell Beaker culture.

Stonehenge was probably abandoned in the seventeenth century BC as an anachronism which was no longer part of the lives of the people

Skulls which have been recovered from Bronze Age burial sites are different in shape to Stone Age skulls. This would strongly support the notion of fresh ideas and fresh blood are making their way over to Britain from continental Europe. This is the start of 'Wessex Culture I'.

c.1650 BC

'Wessex Culture II' sees the construction of Stonehenge ended, with the last work taking place around 1600 BC (the Y and Z Holes). While a wide range of artefacts from later periods are found at the site, it is still unknown whether the monument remains in use or simply becomes an object of amazement for later generations who are wondering about this massive stone construction.

c.1200 BC

Bell Beaker culture in Britain is disrupted. The Atlantic Bronze Age arrives, possibly being transported by Q-Celtic-speaking proto-Celtic settlers during a period of intense disruption which is taking place as far afield as the Near East. There, the collapse of the Hittite empire is a major act in a century of turmoil.

Map of Late Bronze Age Cultures c.1200-750 BC
This map showing Late Bronze Age cultures in Europe displays the widespread expansion of the Urnfield culture and many of its splinter groups, although not the smaller groups who reached Britain, Iberia, and perhaps Scandinavia too (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Although many Bell Beaker people will remain where they are and accept their new Celtic overlords, some will migrate westwards to avoid them, or are already in the west. Here they remain safe from Celtic domination for much longer, and when that domination finally comes, it may only be through the imposition of a warrior elite nobility.

c.1200 BC

It is the tradition regarding the arrival (roughly in the twelfth century BC) of Brutus and his followers which creates the later concept of a high kingship of Britain. This provides the linking narrative for the remainder of Britain's (Iron Age) prehistory until the first century AD.

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