Prehistoric Britain

Ice Age 

New Grange 
 Britain during the last ice age  Newgrange

Before the last Ice Age, about 26,000 years ago, homo sapiens—modern humans—had been living in the area now known as Wales, but four thousand years later a quickly deteriorating climate forced these early hunter-gathererers to migrate across a new land-bridge to mainland Europe and south before the slowly advancing ice scoured almost all traces of them.  By 18,000 years ago, the British Islands were almost entirely buried under thousands of feet of glacier.  

Six thousand years later the ice had largely retreated from Britain, and Paleolithic (Old Stone-age) humans once again began following big game across the wide plains that connected Britain and the mainland.  Another cold period sent them running, but by 8000 B.C.E humans reestablished a Mesolithic (Middle Stone-age) culture that survived as semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers and traders in the lush forests and river valleys of a much more temperate environment.  By about 5000 B.C.E. agriculture had begun to spread to the islands and over the span of two millennia, fields were cleared, bringing with it the Neolithic (New Stone-age) culture's permanent population centers and highly organized society.  This period in history would bear witness to an intense construction campaign that seems to have demonstrated their belief in an afterlife.  Newgrange in Ireland and Stonehenge in Southern England are two famous examples of these megalithic monuments that were dedicated to the dead and focused attention on the Winter Solstice.  

This thriving and relatively advanced culture would expand by around 2500 B.C.E as a new wave of immigration brought advances in pottery techniques and the technology of metalworking was passed along the European trade routes. Abundant tin mines and imported copper would provide the raw materials for this Bronze Age, and the elite members of society developed a taste for elaborate jewelry and decorations shaped from finely hammered gold.  As this culture evolved, burial sites tended to move away from the massive passage tombs like Newgrange to smaller, more personal cairns and barrows.  Eventually, cremated remains would be interred in pottery urns in communal cemeteries.   

About 800 B.C.E. saw another migration of social behavior and technology which would signal the transformation into another culture:  the Celts.  

Related Links

Avebury   Avebury Stone Ring Silbury Hill 
Avebury Stone Ring Stonehenge Silbury Hill
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