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Totternhoe in the Bronze Age

A bronze pin found at Shirrell Spring [X325/146/125]
A bronze pin found at Shirrell Spring [X325/146/125]

The Bronze Age lasted from around 2350 BC, to somewhere around 700 BC. It was preceded by the New Stone Age or Neolithic and was succeeded by the Iron Age. At this time casting and use of Bronze implements became widespread though flint tools were not abandoned straight away, the two co-existing for some time. Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record has recorded a number of Bronze Age sites in the parish of Totternhoe and is the basis for this article. The photograph at the head of the page shows a Bronze Age pin found at Shirrell Spring in 1913 or 1920 [X325/146/125]

An area of chalk quarrying just north of Totternhoe, on a hillock known as Banbury Knap, exposed material dating from the Late Bronze Age onwards [HER 24]. From the 1920s, finds of pottery and human bone were being retrieved, the pottery being of various dates from Late Bronze Age to medieval. In 1936-1938 an apparent settlement was recorded in the south west face of the quarry; four distinct areas were examined. The ditch was considered Bronze Age and a nearby round barrow was also Bronze Age. These comprised two trackways, a pit containing pottery dating to the Late Bronze or Early Iron Age, and a hearth or occupation deposit overlying a ditch. Large amounts of carbonised grain were found in the pit, and a copper alloy pin in the possible hearth. Flints and animal bones were also recovered.

During quarrying in 1968 evidence for Bronze Age, Iron Age and Saxon activity was found [HER 1407]. Two Bronze Age inhumations were found, one cut by the other. The latter of the two was also noticeably shallower, suggesting the possiblity that a mound had covered the earlier burial, into which the later one had been placed. Along with the earlier burial were grave goods comprising a flint wrist brace, a bone toggle, a copper spiral-headed pin and a beaker of Wessex/Mid Rhine type, dating from 1800-1750 BC. Approximately 30 metres to the north west of the burials was a small pit containing animal bone and pottery, thought to be late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, and possibly transitional. Nearby were three shallow postholes.

A barrow dating to the early-middle Bronze Age was found during quarrying operations [HER 1957] near the village. It contained a central urn cremation and the remains of a secondary burial in the ditch. Just over 90 metres away a circular arrangement of postholes was found, approx 7 metres in diameter, with a chalk floor surface inside; it was interpreted as a hut. A fire pit found 12 metres away from the hut showed evidence of forced heat being applied to it, which had penetrated the surrounding chalk. This indicated the use of bellows, and is thought to be evidence for metalworking on the site. Two groups of postholes, one of 10 arranged in pairs, and one of 18 forming six distinct triangles, were interpreted as drying racks, probably for hides.

Two ring ditches indicating the sites of ploughed-out barrows were found during quarrying north of Middle End [HER 1960]. The first was partly excavated and contained the remains of a central cremation; the ditch was approx 18 metres in diameter and produced a few sherds of undecorated flint gritted pottery. The second was slightly oval in shape, with a maximum diameter of 23.5 metres. The ditch produced flint flakes and a few sherds of pottery, but there was no trace of a burial.

Another ring ditch has been identified as a cropmark north-east of Church End (HER 2818). A further ring ditch has been identified on a slight rise north of Dunstable Road (HER 3356). The impressive prehistoric monument known as Maiden Bower lies just north of the parish boundary in Houghton Regis but a ring ditch has been identified to the south-west of it in Totternhoe parish (HER 6688). Yet another ring ditch has been identified as a cropmark north of Park Avenue (HER 16540).

Fieldwalking south-east of Totternhoe (HER 15829) produced a Bronze Age pot boiler along with Mesolithic and Neolithic flints.