Category Archives: Iron Age

Bronze Age Britain

Britain in Ice Age

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.

Stonehenge
Stonehenge at Night

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.

Bronze Age Tools
Bronze Age Tools

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.

Uffington White Horse

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.”

Wikipedia Images

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Britain: The Iron Age

Iron Age Settlement
Iron Age Settlement

At the beginning of what had been referred to as the “British Iron Age” around 800 – 750BC iron reached Britain from Europe.  It was harder and stronger than bronze, and it revolutionised much of agricultural working practices.

Iron tipped ploughs, could dig up the land more efficiently and quicker.  Iron axes, would de-forest wooded areas quicker.

By 500 BC, the common language spoken by the inhabitants was “Brythonic” and by the Roman era, their language was similar to that of the Gauls.

Skilled craftsmen showed their wares, producing patterned gold jewellery, weapons made of bronze and iron.

Pytheas of Massilia, believed the inhabitants were speaking in a Celtic dialogue, believed to come from Western Europe or that of the Welsh.

Iron Age Britons lived in groups ruled by a chieftain.  As the population grew, wars broke out between different tribal groups, which led to the construction of “Hill Forts.”  By 350 BC these forts had fallen out of favour.

Prior to the Roman invasion, many Germanic-Celtic speaking refugees from the lands of Gaul, who had been displaced by the expansion of the Roman Empire around 50 BC settled in Britain.  They settled on the lands of Southern Britain.

In the year 175 BC highly developed pottery making skills appeared in Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex.

The tribes of the South East became romanised, and were attributed with the creation of early settlements.

The Roman Empire expanded into parts of Northern-Britain, as Rose took interest in Britain.  Was it the large number of refugees from Europe or the large mineral reserves held by Britain?

Maiden Castle located in Dorset, is a fine example of an Iron Age Hill Fort, measuring 1800 feet in length, and dates back to (900-600 BC).

Archaeological evidence indicates the site was used by gatherers, traders and for storage.

Danebury Hill Fort in Hampshire, showed it to been used as a settlement, including religious out buildings.

By 100 BC, hill forts in southern parts of Britain were abandoned, whilst those in the western and northern parts of the country along with Ireland continued to be used until the Roman conquest in ADS 43.

Most Iron Age settlements were small, the main family and descendants, often enclosed by banks and ditches, but large enough to create a defensive position.

Their buildings were built of a roundhouse design, built out of timber and stone, covered in thatch or turf.

Another type of dwelling, often found on marsh edges and lakes, involved the creation of a man-made island, built of stone and timber, thought to be a form of defence.

Another type of settlement found at that time consisted of a tall tower like structure, surrounded by smaller round houses, more commonly found in the eastern parts of the country.

The Iron Age gave us some of the finest pre-historic metalwork of Britain.  Bronze and goldsmiths produced high quality items, richly decorated with fancy designs and enamelled inlays.  Anything from delicate works of rings, brooches to shields, helmets and swords.

Coinage first appeared in Britain during 20 BC in south-eastern parts of the country.

Around 150-200 BC Roman influence extended to the western parts of the Mediterranean and southern France.  Trading started between the British and Romans, across the English Channel.

Trade with the Romans intensified after 50 BC, following Julius Ceasar and the Roman conquest of Gaul (France).

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