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Personifying Prehistory

Relational Ontologies in Bronze Age Britain and Ireland

Joanna Brück

Publication Date - 30 December 2021

ISBN: 9780192858252

320 pages
8.5 x 5.4 inches

In Stock


The Bronze Age is frequently framed in social evolutionary terms. Viewed as the period which saw the emergence of social differentiation, the development of long-distance trade, and the intensification of agricultural production, it is seen as the precursor and origin-point for significant aspects of the modern world. This book presents a very different image of Bronze Age Britain and Ireland.

Drawing on the wealth of material from recent excavations, as well as a long history of research, it explores the impact of the post-Enlightenment 'othering' of the non-human on our understanding of Bronze Age society. There is much to suggest that the conceptual boundary between the active human subject and the passive world of objects, so familiar from our own cultural context, was not drawn in this categorical way in the Bronze Age; the self was constructed in relational rather than individualistic terms, and aspects of the non-human world such as pots, houses, and mountains were considered animate entities with their own spirit or soul. In a series of thematic chapters on the human body, artefacts, settlements, and landscapes, this book considers the character of Bronze Age personhood, the relationship between individual and society, and ideas around agency and social power. The treatment and deposition of things such as querns, axes, and human remains provides insights into the meanings and values ascribed to objects and places, and the ways in which such items acted as social agents in the Bronze Age world.


  • Draws on new and unpublished finds from the many developer-funded excavations carried out over the past 20 years
  • The first book on Bronze Age Britain and Ireland to apply contemporary archaeological theory to this rich dataset
  • Employs a wealth of images, many of which have previously appeared only in local/specialist publications

About the Author(s)

Joanna Brück, Professor of Archaeology and Head of the School of Archaeology, University College Dublin

Joanna Brück is Professor of Archaeology and Head of the School of Archaeology at University College Dublin. Her primary area of research is the archaeology of Bronze Age Britain and Ireland. She is particularly interested in the treatment of the human body and concepts of the self; depositional practices and what these reveal about the meanings and values ascribed to objects; and the relationship between space and society including domestic architecture and the changing organisation of landscape. She co-organises the Bronze Age Forum, is Vice President of the Prehistoric Society, and is an editor of Archaeological Dialogues. She has also recently published an edited volume on the material and visual culture of the 1916 Rising in Ireland.

Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: Identity and Alterity in Bronze Age Britain and Ireland
    2. Fragmenting the Body
    3. Object Biographies
    4. The Living House
    5. Social Landscapes
    6. Conclusion: The Flow of Life in Bronze Age Britain and Ireland