Early Bronze Age stone wrist-guards are found across Europe from around 2400-1900BC and are closely associated with the Beaker culture and Unetice culture. In the past they have be variously known as stone bracers, stone arm-guards and armlets, although "stone wrist-guard" is currently the favoured terminology.
The wrist-guards are small rectangles of stone (often slate) with a number of perforations, typically between two and six, to allow attachment to the arm with cord. One, from Hemp Knoll in Wiltshire, had markings which clearly indicate its attachment to the arm by two cords. The shapes of wrist-guard are stereotyped and common forms exhibit a narrowed 'waist' and curved cross-section (presumably so they fit the arm better). Stone wrist-guards are exclusively found in the graves of males, often lying next to the corpse's wrist. Rare examples - three in Great Britain - are decorated with gold rivets or foil.
It was originally thought that these stone wrist-guards were bracers, used by archers to protect their bow arms from the string of the bow, however recent research (Smith 2006; Woodward et al. 2006) has highlighted that (in Britain at least) they do not commonly occur in graves in association with arrowheads (the Amesbury Archer being a notable exception) and nor are they commonly found on the part of the arm that would need protection from the bow string (on a right-handed archer; the inside left wrist). When the objects occur in barrows, they always occur in the central primary grave, a place thought to be reserved for heads of family and other important people. One at least (from Barnack in Cambridgeshire) had pressed foil caps in each of its 18 holes. These caps would have prohibited any form of rivet or cord being used as a means of attachment. See Smith 2006 It seems likely that, as found in graves, these objects were used as symbols of status within family groups. There is no evidence on whether and how they were used in daily activities.
The wrist-guards are commonly classified following either the 1970 Atkinson classification (cited in Clarke 1970) or the 2006 Smith classification. Of the two it is the 2006 Smith classification which is less rigid and more descriptive. It uses a three-character system to classify the objects on three simple characteristics:
Total number of perforations: (e.g. 2, 4, 6 etc.)
Shape in plan: described as-
- 'Waisted', having a narrow mid-section
- 'Tapered', having narrow ends
- 'Straight-sided', having a rectangular plan
Shape in transverse cross-section: described as-
- 'Curved', having a concavo-convex cross-section
- 'Plano-Convex', having a plano-convex cross-section, (i.e. one side flat and the other curved)
- 'Flat', having a flat or slightly bi-convex cross-section
The most common types of wrist-guard are the 'tapered variety' consisting of 2TFs, 'straight variety' consisting mainly of 4SFs and 6SFs and the 'waisted variety' consisting mainly of 4WCs
This is how the 1970 Atkinson classification translates into the newer classificatory system:
- Clarke, D.L. 1970. Beaker Pottery of Great Britain and Ireland (two volumes). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Smith, J. 2006. "Early Bronze Age Stone Wrist-Guards in Britain: archer's bracer or social symbol?" in Archaeology Chaos, available at Geocities.com
- Woodward, A., Hunter, J., Ixer, R., Roe, F., Potts, P.J., Webb, P.C., Watson, J.S. and Jones, M.C. 2006. “Beaker age bracers in England: sources, function and use” in Antiquity 80, p 530-543it:Guardapolsi in pietra