Part 1 – Age of Ice.
A battle for survival in an icy world, when our land was shaped by nature’s most powerful forces. Relics of our long lost past, in South Wales. Archaeologists discovered footprints of an ancient people from 8000 years ago. Footprints preserved by chance. Poignant remains beneath the waves, a group of hunters. Tides preserved the footprints and filled them with material until they are convex. There were men, women, and children – nomadic hunter gatherers. They ate wild plants and animals and were subject to the natural hazards of the environment. These were times of extreme pressure and difficulty. Survival depends on an understanding of the natural environment. 300 generations ago.
At London’s Natural History Museum, Box grove man. The oldest human remains ever found in Britain. From West Sussex, 500,000 years ago. Ate meat. There were grooves in the teeth from a tool. 1.8 meters tall and 14 stone.
In Kent, they found the early remains of a Neanderthal from 400,000 years ago. He had a hand ax, used to butcher animal carcasses. A link to the humanity of these people.
There were modern humans evolving in Africa which the Neanderthals were in Europe. 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, they migrated out of Africa. They were in France 40,000 years ago. There were several species of humans on earth, our Prehuman ancestors.
In West Wales, 1823, Rev. Buckland was in search of relics from Biblical flood. He thought there were elephant bones in a cave near the bottom of a vertical cliff. He descended the cliff and went into the cave. He recorded his assessment in meticulous detail, the scene was exactly the way Buckland saw it and drew it. An excavation plan. A human skeleton was under 6 inches of earth. He thought it was a local prostitute from Roman times, and he called it the Red Lady of Paviland. He was wrong. At the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, they found it was a young man in his late 20s, and from carbon dating learned he was from 33,000 years ago. This was when Britain was a peninsula, not an island. In the Paleolithic era, the old stone age, there were small bands of hunters hunting on the open tundra. It was cold. They were following wild herds of reindeer and mammoth.
Instead of elephant bones in the cave, they were mammoth bones. The bones had been lost fro 200 years but are now back with the Red Lady. Archaeologists speculate that they were buried together because of a funeral ritual. They interred part of the mammoth with the hunter. Two spirits are united in a shared death. This is an intimate human moment.
The way of life is coming to an end. There is climate change on a massive scale. Ice age Britain, 30,000 years ago was the last ice ages. Glaciers advanced southwards. It was a frozen wilderness.
18,000 years ago, it wiped out the entire population of Western Europe (almost). Just a few groups survived, far to the south. The landscape was barren and desolate, no even mammoths.
14,000 years ago, there was a relative respite. The ice lifted just enough that a few bands of hardy hunters returned to Britain.
Inside the box, a tiny Creswell horse head – engraving of horse etched on the bone. Vibrant, miraculous. This was made by an ice age hunter.
Sheffield (Valley of Caves) – Cave art, too. Base relief Ibis. Used natural shapes in the rock to base the art on.
Animals were very important to the people that made the cave art. Some were not meant to be seen, in small spaces. 13,000 years ago. Making something for no human to see, not as different from animals as we now think we are. Animals were their kin.
Then the ice came back, and it was again desolate. The “Big Freeze.” In Scotland, a 1 km blanked of ice buries everything. Glaciers scarred the landscape and shaped the mountains and lochs we see today. It was colossal environmental power. At 11,000 BC the glacier melted back, now lots of water carving things. Basins, rippled landscape, loose carpet, dumps of material, was on glacier’s nose. The power of water, misfit streams, gorges carved by melt water. The Paleolithic ends with the melting of the ice.
New Britain, North Sea. Britain still attached to continental mainland. Hunters come again, forests of birch and alder, a new era. The Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age.
Found a Mesolithic fishing camp, Isle of Coll, 7000 BC. Flint blades, finely worked. Classic Mesolithic artifact.
9000 years ago, fish bones, tip of an antler harpoon, fish spear, this was a red deer antler. People were still nomadic, but settled into areas, as opposed to the Paleolithic, were there were no settled areas. These were the first people who were born and bred British. 1,000 population, 1 survived. In London’s Natural History Museum, it is “Cheddar Man.” The oldest complete human skeleton ever found in Britain. Re colonizers of British Isles. Open tundra was now forests of birth and alder. They hunted red deer in the wood. Had a good diet, Cheddar Man dies in his 20s from a bone infection. Artifacts brought in from elsewhere.
No permanent settlements, moved from Island to Island for resources. There were a network of islands, each with unique natural resources. Cull, Pylorus, Colon say, Islay. Things they needed were scattered. On Orosay, there were shellfish, on Colonsay, there were hazelnuts.
To be found – base camps. Small communities, separated, isolated.
5,000 people in all of Mesolithic Britain. What did they believe?
They found an antler head dress that signifies the Mesolithic religion. It is 10,000 years old. It was part of a rite, a ritual, a ceremony. People wore this, and when they did, they became something else. Maybe they also wore a pelt. They were transformed into a red deer stag or a hybrid part man/part deer. These people were so much a part of nature, and so dependent on it.
At the beginning of the Mesolithic era, Britain was still attached to mainland Europe, but the sea level was rising, and there was a narrow, marshy land bridge was the only thing connecting it to Europe. There was a tsunami that finished the job.
Evidence was found for the tsunami in North East Scotland, in the Montrose Basic, in 6.100 BC. They found clay, then a layer of sand, from a cataclysmic wave. The tsunami was like an Express train, with waves 10m high. People would have been dismembered by the power of the wave. The tsunami was triggered by a landslide in Norway. At that single moment, the landscape was reshaped, the narrow sea channels ripped wide open. Snapshot of a moment when this land became an island. In Norfolk, there are footprints from 6000 BC that survived, on the other side of the island.
Hidden story of distant, prehistoric past. Hunters from the ice age hunted mammoth and reindeer, then red deer. There was the invention of farming, and massive social revolution.
10,000 years ago, the ice age was over, trees were birch and alder and hazel and oak. Before, a few thousand nomadic hunters were part of nature, when Britain was still attached to mainland Europe. Sea levels rose, Britain became an island. Land became tidal marsh.
Isle of Wight – used to be part of the mainland. Under water – relics of a lost world. 8,000 years old, Mesolithic. Coastal community of hunter gatherers. Under water log boat. The oldest boat building yard in the world. Woodworking. Nomadic but carried out life around shorelines. Forested interior was dangerous and forbidden.
Grains of Barley 8,000 years old. World of farming. Neolithic – New Stone Age. Producing food allowed them to have bigger families and more children. Farmers had domesticated cattle, sheep. Grew most of what they needed from seed. There was an altered state of ourselves. In addition to domesticating livestock, we had domesticated ourselves.
Changed the land, what we ate, our beliefs, how we understood our place in the universe. It was the biggest social revolution ever.
Hunter gatherers were still here, and there was a collision of worlds. Agriculture versus hunting communities.
In Brittany, there are unique monuments, ancient standing stones. Monolithic hunters erected them. The impact of the stones is breathtaking. They completely dominate the landscape. This is a result of a collision of belief systems, a monumental tipping point in human history. Hunters hauled the stones into place to demonstrate their strength in the face of things they didn’t understand. It was a statement of defiance, like they were saying to the farmers “Bring your crops and animals – we are here and we have always been here. We will be remembered for all time.”
Neolithic stone tombs. Inside the tomb was rock art. Carmac. Mesolithic hunting weapons, like the throwing stick. An axe with a handle superimposed over it – the new technology. Cutting into the old world of the throw stick. The age of the Mesolithic was coming to an end.
The last few watery miles interrupted the spread of farming for hundreds of years from further south. The first farmers came by boat, with domestic animals, grain, to an unknown land. In Kent, the Coldrum Neolithic tomb – farmers – 6000 years ago. Clear threes, cut and burn, built homesteads. What did local hunters think? New farmers were technologists, who shaped and adapted the land to suit their needs. These farmers were the first to break into the interior of Britain, where there were red deer, elk, bears, and pigs in the forest.
To rule over nature. Coldrum Farmers, Kent – 17 individuals and their bones – age range represented was infancy through old (40s). People participating in the farming revolution were real people. Agriculture was a gamble, and they were brave. In just a few generations, the farmers swept across Britain.
In the west of Ireland, the Ceide fields from 3500 BC. Preserved in a massive scale the ancient stone walls, preserved in a peat bog – which is slowly decaying vegetation.
A researcher has been using steel rods to map the walls. They stretch for 100 km, a Neolithic field system. They were cattle enclosures. This was a dairy economy, and they had to separate the dry from the milking animals. Dried peat was used for fuel. The top of the wall was 1 meter high. Hidden wonder of the world. In the peat, can reveal the record of human activity. Pollen grains are preserved in the peat. Pine pollen was dominant at 4500 BC, but by 3500 BC it was herb and grass pollen. A significant find was cereal pollen, wheat, oats, and barley. To cook the cereal, they needed pottery. It was a new diet. Boiled wheat, flatbread, bread and butter. Human remains show farmers were less healthy than hunter-gatherers. Milled grains took a physical toll. Skeletons showed work vertebrae. They had to grind grain for an hour each day to make enough bread for a family. However, the productivity of farming made it irresistible as a survival strategy. They had more children. They couldn’t go back to hunting even if they wanted to, there were too many people to support. This ushered in the era of land ownership and conflict and changed the way we thought about ourselves in this life and the next.
Relations with the land, beliefs changed. Stone tombs were created that mark the countryside even today. Wiltshire – West Kennet Long Barrow, 3600 BC. Chalk rubble, 40 ton stones, 1 mile away. It took the whole community. It mattered – they were creating a world. One built by the community of the living for the community of the dead. 40 people are buried here over 25 years. Body was laid out. After decomposition, there was a pile of skulls, a pile of vertebrae, a pile of l long bones. Loved ones cease to be individuals, but became part of one collective presence, the ancestors.
Tombs were left open. You could enter to commune with the spirits of the dead. They had an earthly function, too. The tombs laid claim to farmland, there was a new concept of ownership. Territory belonged to the tribe and the ancestors. There were consequences.
It was a watershed that created armed conflict. Battle of Crickley Hill, Gloucester-shire, 3500 BC. Severn Valley, Marlene Hills. Whoever controlled the high ground controlled the landscape below. Beautiful flint arrowheads are scattered on the top of the hill. These arrowheads reveal the cruel intention to kill. They found a skull of a male in his mid 20s, smashed with a blunt object, with a fracture line all the way around. He would have been killed instantly. There was a woman with a wound to the front and a dimpled wound further back. These wounds didn’t kill her, she survived until she eventually lost all of her teeth. If you lived in the 4000 to 3000 BC era, it was an era of extreme physical violence. The population of Britain exploded. There were new ways of coming to terms with things. Laid the foundation for locale policies, invented society.
Neolithic communities had to cooperate and collaborate. In Wiltshire, Stonehenge Carsus 3500 BC. Monuments on a grand scale. Cursus – 3 KM long, 150 m wide. Shallow ditch, barely perceptible. Interior was a long, thin shape. Cuts through bank of trees, kind of a runway. Don’t know what the shape symbolized.
Causeway-ed enclosure. 3 concentric enclosures. A meeting point for large gatherings. Windmill Hill Causeway-ed Enclosure, Wiltshire, 3500 BC. Stone Age society. Artifacts include a domesticated cow skull and a pot of the same age. This was a new world.
Ankle bone of domesticated cow, found with pottery. World farmers were trying to create. Wild cow bone outside the causeway, so much bigger, at the base of the hill. Wild world, hunters in tune with. Framers trying to cut themselves off from this world. A boundary between the wild and the domestic.
Part 3 – Age of Cosmology
Before Britain was an island, hunters from mainland Europe hunted red deer. The first farmers build monumental tombs to their ancestors. In the Next Chapter, The Age of Cosmology, their lives were ruled by sun and stars. There was the concept of a social class.
6000 years Neolithic Revolution. 1st farmers – new relationship with the land. Spiritual. Wild wood, boundary between land and sea, mountains. In the Lake District, special power in valleys and crags. Folks came for the stone.
5000 years ago, outcrops of volcanic rock, called “Green stone.” There is debris from an ancient ax factory. These axes took thousands of hours to craft, and were a token of identity. Cumbrian axe factory – . Ceremonial, spiritual process (to climb to get stone).
In this age, there was a transition from ancestor worship, a change in thinking. Monuments in stone, astronomically aligned, signaled a change in how people conceived of themselves as individuals, as part of society, as part of the world. Where did we fit into time? Into the cosmos?
Stone circles are unknown outside Britain and Ireland. The tradition lasted more than a thousand years.
Spiritual connections to the sky, the idea of heaven? Mysterious, glorious period. The height of the Neolithic.
Orkney – first farmers cut down trees, there is horizontally bedded limestone. 3,300 BC – used to build structures.
Skarabrae – no wood for building. Found 8 stone houses with a winding passage, and bed recesses. What were the stone houses like? They were comfortable, with a central hearth, a toilet with a drain underneath. There were carved stone artifacts (metal was not here yet). 8000 beads in just one house.
Maeshowe Passage tomb was first a domestic house. A triumph of ancient architecture. The position in the landscape allows the sunset to light up the inner chamber.
A natural amphitheater. The Ring of Brodgar. 100 meters across, 60 stones originally, narrow land bridge.
Standing stones of Stenness 5000 years ago. Moat. Island within an island. The evolution of Neolithic culture. What did it mean to people here 5000 years ago?
Connections between monuments is new.
Cosmic alignment is new.
Mid-summer lots of visitors to Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain. 1000S wait for sunrise at summer solstice. This documentary argues that it is more about the commendation of death than the celebration of life, and that the mid-winter solstice is more appropriate way to look at how the people would have used it.
The sarcen stones are big and come from within 20 miles. To really understand the history, look at the smaller stones, these are spotted dollarite and come from the SW of Wales, much further away. The smaller stones are 500 years older. The big lentils and sarcen stones were added in 2500 BC.
Durrington Walls. Pig bones 9 months old. Fattened up prior to feasting. More about mid-winter, belongs to the dead.
What’s new – Religious act – society – defining a place in the universe in life and in death. A priestly class supported by farmers. Monuments were connected. Groove ware pottery. Priestly class marshaled effort and carried mace head. Sand and wood drills. Knowth Macehead . Ceremonial – 5000 years old. Artistic genius. Technically flawless.
Time flows in cycle. In death, rebirth. Triple spiral is illuminated.
Newgrange Passage Tomb. Created before the Egyptian Pyramids. On the 21st of December, the sun is directly in front of the entrance. 3 recesses, held remains of the dead. Lacks perfection.
One of first elites – ancient society. Knowth passage tomb. ½ mega cut in all of western Europe.
Interior – ancient sacred rites. Burnt human remains. Ritual cremation. 100 cremated bodies over centuries of use. 300 year time span. 1 cremation every two to three years. Honor reserved for highest levels. Your spirit would go somewhere different. Chieftain or priest got this burial rite.
New society, status mattered. How body was treated and the objects.
Sent up into the sky.
Ideas traveled. New beliefs manifested in ancient monuments. New concept of existence. Our place in the cosmos, not just here on earth.
Bronze Age – increasing number of individuals, controlling trade and wealth. Almost modern Britain.
2500 BC. No permanent settlement. Flint.
Grime’s Graves Flint mine. Ancient industry. 433 mine shafts, network of tunnels, red deer antler. Flint was the life blood of the stone age. There was an ancient dependence on Flint.
2500 BC metal hit Britain. SW Ireland, County Kerry. Copper Ore – 1st metal objects in Britain. Ancient copper workers. Copper becomes green and blue, oxidizes on surface. Glitter is the copper.
Outside of Ireland, there were metal prospectors. First done in Northern Italy in 3000 BC. Spread to NW Europe by 2500 BC. Blue Hull Mine.
Process rock – need by stone hammers. Bellows to create very hot fire to smelt copper ore. The foundations of the modern world. Foreigners brought technology, and also culture. The Beaker People – 1st arrived 2500 BC.
Earliest meta tools, gold jewelry, put on the end of braided hair.
Amesbury Archer. Tooth analysis – born in the Alps of Central Europe. Cushion shone , years of use. To work metal. He was a metalworker, buried with his tools.
What’s new with Beaker People.
Individuality – the self. Laid to rest with their own stuff. An acknowledgment of who they were. Radical thinking.
Copper was soft, beaker people know about making bronze by combining it with tin. Off the Cornish coast, casterite, contains tin.
Bronze is an alloy hard enough to be useful as tools and weapons. Swords were a late development. In the early Bronze age, 2200 BC, they made axes. They offered more than just utility, they also offered status and prestige. This ushers in a new era – a different way to demonstrate wealth.
Copper from SW Ireland, Tin from Cornwall, axes made and sold to Scotland. Some people controlled the trade routes. Now, not everyone had to farm, there were new opportunities. Some became seriously rich. Natural harbors, trade routes. Bronze elite – a high status individual. There was new demand for luxury goods. Ireland and Northern Britain were the epicenter of cool. A jet necklace that is 4150 years old found. 2000 BC, Britain was up and coming. They had both the technological skills and the natural resources.
Waters around Europe are treacherous. To do trade, you have to have a good boat. Boats were made out of wood.
Wooden boat, buried in mud, the Dover Boat. The oldest surviving sea-going vessel in the world.
Skilled handling, either paddled OR rowed.
Carpenters built using bronze axes. Twisted yew branches, stitched pieces together. Deliberately sabotaged. The Earth is alive and sacred. Anything taken from the Earth would one day have to be returned. There was a relationship between ownership and obligation, debts had to be repaid. Dover boat was returned to the world. Rapier bent, struck edge on rock, also given back.
Forging modern way of living, the Bronze Age of religion. Connected with water. Rivers were special places. People brought special treasures and threw them in. They were offerings to appease the gods. This was part of everyday life.
There was scant evidence of permanent houses and farms. The people farmed but moved season by season. There was a wealthy bronze-age elite. 1500 BC.
In East Anglia, Flag Fen. A permanent homestead meant to last a lifetime. Did a best guess reconstruction, and the home housed an entire family, with a single room and a central hearth. It was a round house that lasted 1000 years. Society was relaxed, people knew their place and ate well. There was no underclass. Bones were well formed. There was little strife. Families organized their week, life was good. There was activity areas, cooking areas, sleeping areas. Settled life in rural Britain. Villages, fields, changed the way we related to a place and to one another.
New at 1500 BC, Devon, in Dartmoor. Rocky natural outcrops, tors. Natural. Dartmoor houses with criss cross markings divide land into plots to be farmed by families. Bronze age roundhouses. Set a pattern for the rest of Britain. First neighborhoods and villages, led eventually to the city life we have today. A recognizable Britain was beginning to emerge. Work, productivity, community.
5000 houses in Dartmoor, look strangely familiar. They were abandoned after a few centuries because of climate change that impacted farming.
How will our descendants remember us?