prehistoric britain


  • A 2017 study suggests a major genetic shift in late Neolithic/early Bronze Age Britain, so that more than 90% of Britain’s Neolithic gene pool was replaced with the coming
    of a people genetically related to the Beaker people of the lower-Rhine area.

  • [6] There is evidence of a relatively large scale disruption of cultural patterns (see Late Bronze Age collapse) which some scholars think may indicate an invasion (or at
    least a migration) into Southern Great Britain c. the 12th century BC.

  • [45] During 1,000–875 BC, their genetic marker swiftly spread through southern Britain,[46] making up around half the ancestry of subsequent Iron Age people in this area,
    but not in northern Britain.

  • [50] The dispute essentially revolves around how the word “Celtic” is defined; it is clear from the archaeological and historical record that Iron Age Britain did have much
    in common with Iron Age Gaul, but there were also many differences.

  • People of this period were also largely responsible for building many famous prehistoric sites such as the later phases of Stonehenge along with Seahenge.

  • From c.180,000 to c.60,000 years ago there is no evidence of human occupation in Britain, probably due to inhospitable cold in some periods, Britain being cut off as an island
    in others, and the neighbouring areas of north-west Europe being unoccupied by hominins at times when Britain was both accessible and hospitable.

  • The former may be derived from the long house, although no long house villages have been found in Britain — only individual examples.

  • However, only a few actual settlement sites are known in Britain, unlike the continent.

  • [45] The study also found that lactose tolerance rose swiftly in early Iron Age Britain, a thousand years before it became widespread in mainland Europe; suggesting milk became
    a very important foodstuff in Britain at this time.

  • This distribution and the age of the haplogroup indicate that individuals belonging to U5 were among the first people to resettle Northern Europe, following the retreat of
    ice sheets from the Last Glacial Maximum, about 10,000 years ago.

  • The earliest evidence of human occupation around 900,000 years ago is at Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast, with stone tools and footprints probably made by Homo antecessor.

  • The more advanced flint technology permitted more efficient hunting and therefore made Britain a more worthwhile place to remain until the following period of cooling known
    as the Wolstonian Stage, 352,000–130,000 years ago.

  • This was considered to show a large degree of population replacement during the Anglo-Saxon invasion and a nearly complete masking over of whatever population movement (or
    lack of it) went before in these two countries.

  • The first distinct culture of the Upper Palaeolithic in Britain is what archaeologists call the Creswellian industry, with leaf-shaped points probably used as arrowheads.

  • [6] No written language of the pre-Roman inhabitants of Britain is known; therefore, the history, culture and way of life of pre-Roman Britain are known mainly through archaeological

  • [35] However, more widespread studies have suggested that there was less of a division between Western and Eastern parts of Britain with less Anglo-Saxon migration.

  • [1][2] Britain was at this time still joined to the Continent by a land bridge known as Doggerland, but due to rising sea levels this causeway of dry land would have become
    a series of estuaries, inlets and islands by 7000 BC,[3] and by 6200 BC, it would have become completely submerged.

  • [45] The “evidence suggests that, rather than a violent invasion or a single migratory event, the genetic structure of the population changed through sustained contacts between
    Britain and mainland Europe over several centuries, such as the movement of traders, intermarriage, and small scale movements of family groups”.

  • Traditionally it was claimed by academics that a post-glacial land bridge existed between Britain and Ireland, however this conjecture began to be refuted by a consensus within
    the academic community starting in 1983, and since 2006 the idea of a land bridge has been disproven based upon conclusive marine geological evidence.

  • [36] Looking from a more Europe-wide standpoint, researchers at Stanford University have found overlapping cultural and genetic evidence that supports the theory that migration
    was at least partially responsible for the Neolithic Revolution in Northern Europe (including Britain).

  • [14][15] The most famous example from this period is the burial of the “Red Lady of Paviland” (actually now known to be a man) in modern-day coastal South Wales, which was
    dated in 2009 to be 33,000 years old.

  • Their stone tools are similar to those of the same age found in Belgium and far north-east France, and very different from those in north-west France.

  • [18] Sites such as Cathole Cave in Swansea County dated at 14,500BP,[19] Creswell Crags on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire at 12,800BP and Gough’s Cave in
    Somerset 12,000 years BP, provide evidence suggesting that humans returned to Britain towards the end of this ice age during a warm period from 14,700 to 12,900 years ago (the Bølling-Allerød interstadial known as the Windermere Interstadial
    in Britain), although further extremes of cold right before the final thaw may have caused them to leave again and then return repeatedly.

  • [citation needed] Less than 20% are descended in the female line from Neolithic farmers from the Middle East and from subsequent migrations.

  • It is generally thought that by 500 BC most people inhabiting the British Isles were speaking Common Brythonic, on the limited evidence of place-names recorded by Pytheas
    of Massalia and transmitted to us second-hand, largely through Strabo.

  • Britain had its own unique variety of late Neanderthal handaxe, the bout-coupé, so seasonal migration between Britain and the continent is unlikely, but the main occupation
    may have been in the now submerged area of Doggerland, with summer migrations to Britain in warmer periods.

  • A 2017 study showed that British Neolithic farmers had formerly been genetically similar to contemporary populations in the Iberian peninsula, but from the Beaker culture
    period onwards, all British individuals had high proportions of Steppe ancestry and were genetically more similar to Beaker-associated people from the Lower Rhine area.

  • Several species of humans have intermittently occupied Great Britain for almost a million years.

  • [13] The earliest evidence for modern humans in North West Europe is a jawbone discovered in England at Kents Cavern in 1927, which was re-dated in 2011 to between 41,000
    and 44,000 years old.

  • According to Paul Pettitt and Mark White: The British Lower Palaeolithic (and equally that of much of northern Europe) is thus a long record of abandonment and colonisation,
    and a very short record of residency.

  • [8] This period also saw Levallois flint tools introduced, possibly by humans arriving from Africa.

  • [24] The plains of Doggerland were thought to have finally been submerged around 6500 to 6000 BC,[25] but recent evidence suggests that the bridge may have lasted until between
    5800 and 5400 BC, and possibly as late as 3800 BC.

  • [citation needed] This warmer time period lasted from around 424,000 until 374,000 years ago and saw the Clactonian flint tool industry develop at sites such as Swanscombe
    in Kent.

  • [45] There was much less migration into Britain during the Iron Age, so it is likely that Celtic reached Britain before then.

  • There has been debate amongst archaeologists as to whether the “Beaker people” were a race of people who migrated to Britain en masse from the continent, or whether a Beaker
    cultural “package” of goods and behaviour (which eventually spread across most of Western Europe) diffused to Britain’s existing inhabitants through trade across tribal boundaries.

  • At this time, Southern and Eastern Britain were linked to continental Europe by a wide land bridge (Doggerland) allowing humans to move freely.

  • They settled along most of the coastline of southern Britain between about 200 BC and AD 43, although it is hard to estimate what proportion of the population there they formed.

  • By 40,000 years ago they had become extinct and modern humans had reached Britain.

  • The tribes of southeast England became partially Romanised and were responsible for creating the first settlements (oppida) large enough to be called towns.

  • The construction of the earliest earthwork sites in Britain began during the early Neolithic (c. 4400 BC – 3300 BC) in the form of long barrows used for communal burial and
    the first causewayed enclosures, sites which have parallels on the continent.

  • The beginning of the Bronze Age and the Bell Beaker culture was marked by an even greater population turnover, this time displacing more than 90% of Britain’s neolithic ancestry
    in the process.

  • [33] Though the Mesolithic environment was bounteous, the rising population and the ancient Britons’ success in exploiting it eventually led to local exhaustion of many natural

  • The extreme cold of the following Anglian Stage is likely to have driven humans out of Britain altogether and the region does not appear to have been occupied again until
    the ice receded during the Hoxnian Stage.

  • This disruption was felt far beyond Britain, even beyond Europe, as most of the great Near Eastern empires collapsed (or experienced severe difficulties) and the Sea Peoples
    harried the entire Mediterranean basin around this time.

  • Humans spread and reached the far north of Scotland during this period.

  • Many leading academics, such as Barry Cunliffe, still use the term to refer to the pre-Roman inhabitants of Britain for want of a better label.

  • [32] Members of U5 may have been one of the most common haplogroups in Europe, before the spread of agriculture from the Middle East.

  • The term “Celtic” continues to be used by linguists to describe the family that includes many of the ancient languages of Western Europe and modern British languages such
    as Welsh without controversy.

  • [16] The climatic deterioration which culminated in the Last Glacial Maximum, between about 26,500 and 19,000–20,000 years ago,[17] drove humans out of Britain, and there
    is no evidence of occupation for around 18,000 years after c.33,000 years BP.

  • Britain was populated only intermittently, and even during periods of occupation may have reproduced below replacement level and needed immigration from elsewhere to maintain

  • Protohistory[edit] The first significant written record of Britain and its inhabitants was made by the Greek navigator Pytheas, who explored the coastal region of Britain
    around 325 BC.

  • The study argues that more than 90% of Britain’s Neolithic gene pool was replaced with the coming of the Beaker people.

  • Archaeologists have found a string of early sites located close to the route of a now lost watercourse named the Bytham River which indicate that it was exploited as the earliest
    route west into Britain.

  • The Beaker people were also skilled at making ornaments from gold, silver and copper, and examples of these have been found in graves of the wealthy Wessex culture of central
    southern Britain.

  • [51] By about 350 BC many hillforts went out of use and the remaining ones were reinforced.

  • [45] Iron Age[edit] Wandsworth Shield, in the Insular version of La Tène style, 2nd century BC (around 750 BC – 43 AD) Main article: British Iron Age In around 750 BC iron
    working techniques reached Britain from southern Europe.

  • Over the next thousand years, bronze gradually replaced stone as the main material for tool and weapon making.

  • It is now concluded that an ice bridge existed between Britain and Ireland up until 16,000 years ago, but this had melted by around 14,000 years ago.

  • Changes in Neolithic culture could have been due to the mass migrations that occurred in that time.

  • Late pre-Roman Iron Age (LPRIA)[edit] The last centuries before the Roman invasion saw an influx of Celtic speaking refugees from Gaul (approximately modern day France and
    Belgium) known as the Belgae, who were displaced as the Roman Empire expanded around 50 BC.

  • Archaeological evidence demonstrates that ancient Britons were involved in extensive maritime trade and cultural links with the rest of Europe from the Neolithic onwards,
    especially by exporting tin that was in abundant supply.

  • For example, the development of Neolithic monumental architecture, apparently venerating the dead,[citation needed] may represent more comprehensive social and ideological
    changes involving new interpretations of time, ancestry, community and identity.

  • By around 1600 BC the southwest of Britain was experiencing a trade boom as British tin was exported across Europe, evidence of ports being found in Southern Devon at Bantham
    and Mount Batten.

  • Certainly by the Roman period there is substantial place and personal name evidence which suggests that this was so; Tacitus also states in his Agricola that the British language
    differed little from that of the Gauls.

  • Boxgrove handaxes at the British Museum There is evidence from bones and flint tools found in coastal deposits near Happisburgh in Norfolk and Pakefield in Suffolk that a
    species of Homo was present in what is now Britain at least 814,000 years ago.

  • Although the main evidence for the period is archaeological, available genetic evidence is increasing, and views of British prehistory are evolving accordingly.

  • The last centuries before the Roman invasion saw increasing sophistication in British life.

  • Julius Caesar’s first invasion of Britain in 55 BC is regarded as the start of recorded protohistory although some historical information is available from before then.

  • This huge period saw many changes in the environment, encompassing several glacial and interglacial episodes greatly affecting human settlement in the region.

  • This was traditionally interpreted as the reason for the building of hill forts, although the siting of some earthworks on the sides of hills undermined their defensive value,
    hence “hill forts” may represent increasing communal areas or even ‘elite areas’.

  • Cave occupation was common at this time.


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