Our earliest thoughts when we think of primitive humans that have roamed this land of ours for thousands of years. Is one of people, clothed in animal skins, with spear in hand, trekking across this land of ours, in search of food!
Ice Ages, have affected this land of ours, with deep sheets of ice, and have been here, long before the first human made his or her appearance.
The “Ice Age” that affected Britain, saw the Earth’s surface and atmosphere drop in temperature, and the polar ice sheets expand outwards from the north and south poles. This caused much of Earth’s water to become trapped in ice sheets.
During this period Britain was joined with Ireland and Europe. The connection with Ireland dissipated by 14,000 BC and with Europe around 5,600 BC.
When the Ice Age came to an end, the ice would slowly melt, and the oceans would return, and the sea levels would rise. Coastlines would change, and so much of the coastal outlines would change, with the creation of new water areas, when before there was none. Britain was connected to Europe by land mass, which has been replaced by the English Channel.
The last Ice Age came to an end in 10,000 BC, and nomads moved to the lands of Britain around 9,600 BC, and by 4,000 BC the island showed signs of a Neolithic culture inhabiting the island.
Planet Earth had received a respite from the Ice Age, but for how long?
If we look back at our history, Planet Earth could be millions of years old, and have been plunged into deep-cold Ice Ages many times over. The warm weather would fade away, only to be replaced by cold weather winter and summer, which would be an indication of the return of an Ice Age.
Avebury Henge monument consists of three stone circles, located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire. It was erected in 2,600 BC, comprising of one large outer circle, with two smaller stone circles situated inside. Along with a large circular bank with an internal ditch measuring some 460 yards in diameter.
What is its purpose, a question that has baffled archaeologists for years, but they believe it was more than likely used for some form of rituals or ceremonies.
By the time of the Iron Age, it had been abandoned, yet human evidence existed into the time of the Roman occupation, showing that the Roman’s had used the site.
The outer stone circle of the henge, measures 1,088 feet in diameter, originally constructed with ninety-eight Sarsen stones. With two large polished stones at the southern entrance.
The northern inner ring stone circle, measures 322 feet in diameter, with a cove of three stones in the middle, with a north-east facing entrance, but when erected probably consisted of twenty-seven stones.
The southern inner ring stone circle, measures 354 feet in diameter, with a single stone some 21 feet in height located centrally, along with an alignment of twenty-nine smaller stones.
Around the central point of the obelisk, small yet rough sarsen stones were positioned in a near rectangular format. The obelisk stone has long since disappeared.
The West Kennet Avenue of paired stones leads from the south-eastern henge entrance to Beckhampton Avenue to the western entrance. Which linked the Avebury Henge with ceremonial sites at Beckhampton and Overton Hill.
The henge, with its imposing boundary to the circle, has no defence purpose, because the ditch and bank are located inside the larger circle.
Being a henge, one has to accept that the positioning of the stone circle are related to astronomical alignments. The site is more than likely laid out for some form of religious function.
The Druids believe that there was an astronomical axis which connected Avebury Henge to Stonehenge, flanked by West Kennet Long Barrow on the west which symbolised the Mother Goddess and Silbury Hill the symbol of masculinity.
In the 5th century following on from the end of Roman Rule, Anglo-Saxons migrated to Southern Britain, where suggestions have been put forward that they used the site as a defensive site.
During the middle ages, many of the stones were buried or destroyed, as it was believed they had a connection to pagan and devil worshipping.
In the early part of Saxon life in Britain, around AD600, a settlement had been built at the henge; a seme-fortified settlement.
King Athelstan recorded a charter in 939 defining the boundaries of Overton, a parish which laid adjacent to Avebury.
In the 11th century Anglo-Saxon armies fought with Viking raiders at Avebury, and the pre-historic monument at Silbury Hill was fortified creating a defensive position.
In 1114 a Benedictine Priory and Church was built upon the site.
In the latter part of the 12th century, Avebury parish church was enlarged at a time of religious revival.
The Avebury stones, which stood tall for all to see along with nearby barrows were given names relating to the devil, before being toppled: The Devil’s Chair, The Devil’s Den and The Devil’s Brandirons.
Shortly afterwards the “Black Death Plague” struck the village in 1349, reducing the village’s population, as many died.
In 1541 John Leland; Librarian and Chaplan to King Henry VIII, noted the existence of Avebury and its pre-historic monuments. William Camden published his guide book to British Antiquities in 1586, but made no mention of Avebury, but his 1610 version made a fleeting remark to it.
John Aubrey Antiquarian rediscovered the Avbrey Henge in 1649, and recorded many drawings of the site. In 1663, King Charles II visited Avebury Henge.
In the early part of the 18th century, William Stukeley doctor-clergyman and antiquarian studied Avebury Henge between 1719-1724.
The village was growing, and stone was much needed for the houses and the church. He left a drawing for them to follow, how to break these large boulder stones, formerly part of Avebury Henge Pre-historic Monument. Burn straw in a large pit to heat the stones, pour cold water on the stones, creating a weakness then split them open with a sledge hammer.
The Avebury Henge became listed as a pre-historic and sacred complex with ceremonial avenues lined with stones. Silbury Hill the largest known man-made mound, the West Kennet Long Barrow a Neolithic burial chamber. A former stone circle Sanctuary.
Druidic rites held at Avebury are called Gorseddau, where they invoke Awen (a druidic concept of inspiration). They recite the Druid Prayer by Morganwg and the Druid Vow.
One group of Druids (Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri) held their rites at Avebury’s pre-historic monument.
Originally constructed on the site, known to-day as Stonehenge, were a number of pits, which supported wooden totem-pole posts, erected between 8,500-7,000 BC.
Around 3,100 BC, a large Henge was constructed, comprising of a ditch, bank and fifty-six Aubrey holes (round pits cut into the chalk, with flat bottoms). They formed a circle some 284 feet in diameter.
Excavations at the site, have discovered human bones, but opinions believe these holes were not graves, but part of a religious ceremony. Saying that some sixty plus cremations have been discovered in the area.
Stonehenge was abandoned for some hundred years. Then life returned around 2,150 BC with the arrival of eighty-two bluestones from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales. These stones once erected created an unfinished double-circled circle. At the same time the original entrance was widened, to make way for a pair of Heel Stones, plus other stones being set up in the centre of the monument.
Around 2,000 BC Sarsen stones were brought from Marlborough Downs. These were arranged to create an outer circle with lintels. Inside the circle, five trilithons were placed in a horseshoe arrangement.
In 1,500 BC the bluestones were rearranged in a horseshoe and circle arrangement, consisting of some sixty stones. An earthwork Avenue was built, which connected Stonehenge with the River Avon.
In 1800-1500 BC, some digging took place around the stones of two concentric ring pits… the reason for these pits is unknown.
With Stonehenge built, and history ever changing, groups of barrows have been located on hilltops, which are visible from Stonehenge. Could it be a connection to Stonehenge for the dead?
Four Sarsen stones have been adorned with carvings of early historical weapons; axe-heads, daggers and axes. Was it a status of power to those visiting Stonehenge, or a connection to the graves on the nearby hillsides?
The last “Ice Age” ended some 10,000 years ago. Sea levels rose as the great ice sheets melted, and by 6,000 BC Britain had become separated from Europe.
The inhabitants of this new island; Britain were descendants from the lands of Europe. They existed by gathering fruit, nuts, leaves and were known to hunt wild animals.
Early man would be in a time of learning as they made tools from bones and rocks. Tree branches would form a handle, for their early styled weapons; knives, cleavers and mallets.
They would have been afraid in the beginning when lightning struck a tree, seeing it topple over or even catch fire. They would learn that food left out in the sun, would smell and taste bad after a few days. Fruit from the trees was sweet to the taste.
As man learnt to light fires, by banging stones together, rubbing wood in a stone hole or rubbing wood together. They were entering a new world of discovery…
They brought with them heavy pottery vessels, which supplied archaeologist’s information about their lives, for the earth had protected these pots buried in the ground for centuries.
Humans evolved, they learnt other ways to exist, and by 3,500 BC they started to farm the land and feed their family, and so communities settled down, and their lives as wanderer’s slowed down.
One would have to deduce that the change of lifestyle from a wandering hunter – gatherer to that of a farmer, defines the beginning of the New Stone Age or Neolithic times.
They fashioned stone tools, using a process of knapping, which chipped away at the stone, then polished it using water and a shaped rubbing stone.
These Neolithic farmers, bred dogs from wolves, pigs from wild boar, and brought cattle, sheep and goats from Europe.
It is possible and highly likely, that some of these animals would have been used in clearing dense wooded areas.
It is believed that the early farmers of this land would have been Middle Stone Age or Mesolithic people. They, who travelled across the country over the next 2,000 years, would introduce farming to other parts.
We know from studies, that these people, created clearing’s in wooded areas close to water.
The Neolithic farmers, formerly from the lands of Europe, brought with them wheat and barley seed grains, which had been bred from wild grasses. Cereals were grown in plots, harvested, and grain stored for a later time.
So what we had in those early times in Britain were two different types of people: The Neolithic farmers gradually settled down, whilst the Mesolithic would move around the country based on the seasons of the year. They tended to follow the lifestock, birds and fish; their prey.
The henge styled monuments, like “Stonehenge” are known to incorporate lunar and solar alignments.
An interesting piece of early history, Neolithic sites, turned up in areas which were once a Mesolithic settlement. This practice took place between (4,000 – 5,000 BC). Then around 3,800 BC, they moved into non exploited areas.
In the Middle Neolithic, large communal tombs known as long barrows or mounds and ceremonial monuments started appearing.
People from communities gathered together, and socialised, exchanged ceremonial gifts, and acquired fresh lifestock.
These ceremonies, where rituals took place, were an important part of their lifestyle. They were known to buy significant items like early axe heads, pottery or human skulls.
Some ceremonial monuments in the Middle Neolithic periods are aligned based on the position of the sun during summer or winter solstice.
The long passage of a passage grave, is positioned so the sun on the shortest days shines into the burial chamber. They were known to provide good acoustics, possibly for theatrical performance of some kind.
From around 3,000 BC huge monuments similar to “Stonehenge” were created by digging a circular ditch surrounded by stones, and entrance is by way of entrances laid out in stones. Most lie within pre-set ritual landscapes.
They are known to incorporate lunar and solar alignments, as a means of linking physical and social structures within society, with powers of the natural world.
Neolithic designed houses, were rectangular in shape, made from timber, with timber walls of wattle (woven hazel rods) covered with daub (clay, straw and cow dung) with a thatched roof.
Most remnant discoveries of these houses have been located in Scotland and Ireland.
The “Bronze Age” started around 2,500 BC when bronzes started appearing in Britain, along with copper and tin. The only notable changes were seen in burials, when bronze or tin metal work on dagger and axes were discovered in burials with rings, bracelets adorning bodies.
Lifestyles changed little in the “Bronze Age” yet the difference were only noted in burials
Early Bronze Age houses were round in design with a conical roof and a single entrance.
The “Middle Bronze Age” (1,500 – 1,250 BC) saw an important change in burials, moving away from mounds towards cremations where one’s ashes were placed in pottery urns.
These new settlements, consisted of round houses grouped together possibly for defence, as large hoards of spearheads axes and daggers were buried within easy reach.
In the “Late Bronze Age” (1,250 – 800 BC) hoards found in southern Britain contained fancy bronze ornaments; bracelets, rings, pins and swords of a similar design to that of the cavalry cutlass.
The Bronze Age has left us many reminders of the past, but one which stands out proud for all to see, has to be the “Uffington White Horse” believed to have been created in 1,000 BC.
This image is a Geoglyph, which has been cut into the landscape, revealing the white chalk beneath a layer of grass. The image is that of a horse, based on the fact that the area is known as “Mons Albi Equi (Hill-White-Equine.”
Grime’s Graves is a flint mining complex located near Brandon, between the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk. The mine was worked between 3,000 and 1,900 BC, and consists of 433 shafts dug into the chalk to access the flint, across ninety-six acres.
Flint was used in the making of stone axes, during the Neolithic period, and was later replaced by iron. Fortunately, the use of flint had other uses, starting fires and centuries later as strikers for muskets.
One of the tools used in the excavation of flint, would be a “Deer Antler Pick” fashioned from a red deer.
These miners dug shafts some forty feet in depth, searching out the better quality flint in the subterranean galleries, which radiated outwards from the base of the shaft.
Much flint could be found close to the surface, but they opted to dig deep for the smooth black stone, better known as floor-stone.
These floor-stones were used in the construction of axes for warriors, but they were never used in battle, but buried with them. These floor-stones were of ceremonial use.
Interesting finds have been discovered in many of these pits, leading us to suggest ritual ceremonies took place: Chalk platforms shaped to resemble that of an altar, arrangements of pottery and antler picks, close by.
Once the mines had been abandoned, possibly at the time when iron had been introduced to Britain. The floors showed evidence of fires, being used in some form of purification ceremony.
An axe made from Cornish greenstone, had been discovered, carefully laid on a gallery floor beside two antler picks, both laying parallel and facing inwards, with the skull of a Phalarope (shorebird).
This is possibly laid out in such a way as a ritual purpose, was it about the mine or the bird, we will never know!
As the mines were backfilled, a time when flint mines had been exhausted, human and animal finds have been discovered.
10,000 BC: The earliest known occupation of Scotland by man, started in the Palaeolithic era, also known as the Stone Age. Man lived off the land and waters, hunting for fish and wild animals, gathering fruit, plants, roots, nuts and shells.
3,000 BC: Early prehistoric tools discovered in Scotland, date back to the Neolithic age, and the nomadic hunter-gatherers. It was a time when farmers built permanent dwellings.
120 AD: Much of Scotland’s history, started when the Roman’s arrived in Britain. As hard as they tried, Roman forces could not defeat the Caledonians and Picts. Fortifications were built by the Romans, to defend themselves against these warriors, in the shape of Hadrian’s and Antonine Wall.
800 AD: Viking accomplished warriors and seamen migrated from Norway and Denmark, settling in Scotland. The Viking’s settled in the west as the Picts forged a new kingdom; the Kingdom of Alba.
1040 AD: Macbeth ruled Scotland, and a fictious tale by William Shakespeare written in Tudor Times, kept the tale alive for centuries. Macbeth, the King of Alba ruled from 1040-1057.
1100 AD: In the 12th century, the Kingdom of Alba grew, becoming a feudal society. Peace was achieved through the “Treaty of Falaise,” signed by William I. During the reigns of Alexander II & III much land was turned over to agriculture, trade on the continent grew, monasteries and abbeys flourished.
1297 AD: Succession crisis brought unrest across Scotland, following the death of Alexander III. England’s monarch, Edward I believed he should be recognised as overlord of Scotland, as his troops marched north. Edward planned to cross the River forth at Stirling Bridge, but were pushed back by William Wallace.
1306 AD: Robert the Bruce was crowned King, amidst times of unrest. In 1314, Robert the Bruce defeated Edward II at the “Battle of Bannockburn.”
1320 AD: The “Declaration of Arbroath” proclaimed Scotland’s status as an independent state, which was sent to the Pope John XXII, who gave his seal of approval.
1450 AD: The cultural intellectual and artistic movement took hold across Europe which brought changes to Scotland. Education, intellectual life, literature, art, music, architecture, and politics advanced in the late 15th century.
1542 AD: In 1542 Mary is crowned Queen of the Scots at the tender age of nine months. Her reign was marked by civil unrest during the Rough Wooing and conflict between the Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. Worried Mary would try to launch a Catholic plot against her, Elizabeth I imprisoned Mary in England until her execution in 1597.
1603 AD: James VI succeeded to the throne at just 13 months after Mary was forced to abdicate. When Elizabeth I died with no heir, James VI succeeded to the English throne and became King James VI & James I, a historic move that’s now known as the “Union of the Crowns.”
1707 AD: The Act of Union brought Scotland even closer to Britain by creating a single Parliament of the United Kingdom at the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament).
1746AD: The “Battle of Culloden” in 1746 was the final Jacobite rising and the last battle fought on British soil. The Jacobites were no match for the Hanoverian army – the battle lasted barely an hour and the army had been crushed.
1746 AD: Shortly after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, a period known as the Highland Clearances began. A number of laws were introduced in an attempt to assimilate the Highlanders; speaking Gaelic and wearing traditional attire was banned, and clan chiefs had their rights of jurisdiction removed.
1750 AD: The Age of Enlightment shaped the modern world. The intellectual movement sought to understand the natural world and the human mind and ranged across philosophy, chemistry, geology, engineering, technology, poetry, medicine, economics and history.
1800 AD: Industrial advances and wealth accumulated from the trade of tobacco, sugar and cotton which brought about the dawn of urban Scotland at the turn of the 19th century. The country shifted from rural to urban, and huge towns, large factories and heavy industry took hold. Mining, shipbuilding and textiles became an important part of Scotland’s development.
Located on the Bay of Skaill, in the Orkney’s, Northern Scotland, can be found “Skara Brae” a Neolithic settlement.
Humans changed their way of life during the Neolithic Times, from hunters and gatherers with no fixed abode, to the farming and raising of animals. The changes took place over many hundreds of years. They found they could control their food sources, by the planting of seeds and cultivation of crops. They domesticated animals, which provided them with varied sources of meat; cattle, sheep and pigs.
The site date backs some 5,200 years based on archaeological excavations. There are ten single room houses, each measuring thirty-six square metres with no windows, and heated by fire. The roofs are all but gone, and we have to assume the roof was constructed from turf or timbers with chimney for ventilation. The village had constructed its own drainage system, with toilets located within each house.
The buildings were constructed from flagstones, layered into the earth, amongst midden, giving greater support. Space between walls and earth was filled with midden (rubbish) creating natural insulation.
Each dwelling contained cupboards, beds, seats and storage boxes constructed out of stone. These people knew how to work stone, even down to their furnishings.
Located at the front of each bed, remain stumps of stone pillars, possibly supporting a canopy of fur, associated with Hebridean life-style.
Builders of Skara Brae, were probably self-sufficient as much as possible. Bones discovered at the site, shows their stable diet would have consisted of cattle and sheep plus barley and wheat locally grown. Great quantities of fish bones and shells shows they complimented their food with fish.
Red deer and boar would have been hunted, eggs from seabirds and even birds would have been on the menu.
The inhabitants made grooved ware pottery, which was bowls, vases, pots and containers with flat bottoms and straight sides, decorated with grooves. This earn’t its inhabitants to be known as the Grooved Ware People of Skara Brae. They also crafted jewellery, tools and gaming dice.
“Skara Brae” lost for thousands of years, reared its head in the 19th century.
Western Scotland was battered by heavy storms in 1850, and much sand from the beaches was blown away, revealing parts of a few structures. Landowner; William Watt, saw these exposed sections of walls, and excavated four houses. George Petrie started his excavations, and presented his findings to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in April of 1867.
Work on the site came to a halt, and remained untouched until 1913, when the site was plundered for artefacts. In 1924 storm damage, led to part of a housed being washed away.
Radio-Carbon tests undertaken in 1972-73 confirmed without any doubt, that Skara Brae was occupied between 3180BC – 2500BC, when weather conditions became cold and wet, and the site was abandoned.
Red ochre found at Skara Brae, proves that body painting was taking place. Artefacts including knives, pins and beads were made from fish, bird and whalebones.
The Neolithic settlement of “Skara Brae” received World Heritage status in December 1999.
These Neolithic people built long barrows as tombs for their ancestors. They are remembered for the construction of ritual monuments, henges and stone circles; Stonehenge and Avebury Henge, there are many more examples scattered across our lands.
Skara-Brae Image: Zigzagonearth Skara-Brae Aerial View & Dwellings: Wikipedia Skara-Brae Bone Pins, Necklaces & Amulets: Odyssey Archaeology