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A guide to...

The Stone Age

to the Iron Age

When was this period of history?

This period of prehistory in Britain generally refers to the time before written records began. It begins when the earliest hunter-gatherers came to Britain from Europe around 450,000 BC and ends with the invasion of the Romans in AD 43.

 

With no written sources, what we know about this period comes mostly from artefacts and monuments that archaeologists have discovered. What we do know is that the period from the Stone Age to the Iron Age was one of immense change in human development, spanning from the early hunter-gatherers who roamed the countryside to the highly sophistacted and organised groups of the late Iron Age. We generally break this period into the following historical divisions: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

What was it like in the Stone Age?

The Stone Age refers to such a vast period of time that we break it into three sections. In the early Stone Age, which we call the Paleolithic, early people were hunter-gatherers and found food by roaming from place to place according to the seasons. The middle Stone Age, called the Mesolithic, begins at the end of the last Ice Age when sea levels rose and Britain became an island. Tools were developed to become smaller and finer and the invention of canoes meant that people were able to hunt for fish as well as animals. In the late Stone Age, which is called the Neolithic, the way people lived changed significantly because they began to settle into farming communities (like Skara Brae) instead of moving from place to place. People started to domesticate animals and grow their own crops.

What was the Bronze Age?

When people discovered how to extract metal from rocks, bronze replaced stone as the best material for tools. People were able to build better tools for agriculture and they also began to produce weapons and jewellery. Elaborate burial ceremonies took place and important objects were buried alongside bodies in round barrows. Many of these objects have now been discovered and they help us to know more about what life was like in the Bronze Age.

How was the Iron Age different?

Iron replaced bronze as the main metal for making tools and weapons. Better tools for agriculture improved farming and this meant that the population began to rise. People lived in tribes and they were often at war with each other. Soon people protected themselves by settling in hillforts, which were groups of roundhouses and farming land protected by stone walls. During the Iron Age, British society became more sophisticated and people produced ornate art and music. Often these people are called ‘Celts’, although historians believe that this term was not used until the 18th Century. This period ends with the invasion of the Romans in AD 43.

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