The area today known as England has been occupied for hundreds of thousands of years. The remains of its earliest inhabitants (believed to be predecessors of modern humans called Homo erectus) date back some 700 000 years. The first human beings (Homo sapiens, as we appear today) arrived in and occupied England about 35 000 years ago, but fled to the highlands of southern Europe when the Ice Age hit region. The conditions at this time did not allow for human survival, so only very large, hardy creatures (such as the Mammoth and the Woolly Rhinoceros) remained.
Between 12 000 and 11 000 years ago, the ice had receded sufficiently for people to return to the lower lying lands of England and occupy them. At this stage, England was still connected to Ireland and Eurasia by land. However, during the next two or three centuries, the sea level soon rose as a result of the melting snow of the Ice Age, and separated these land masses from one another. This process was completed in about 6500 BCE (Before our Common Era).
At around 4000 BCE, the area was occupied by a Neolithic people. This remains a mysterious culture as there are no known written records from that time. In fact, archaeologists and anthropologists are not even aware of a surviving written language dating back that far. The small amounts of information available regarding their history and culture has been put together using shreds of evidence in the forms of archaeological remains. It was at around this time that farming became adopted so that these hunter-gatherers could survive off the land more freely and practically (than relying on killing wild animals with spears and arrows). The Neolithic culture also introduced pottery, which played a huge role in the transport and cooking of food and water. The vegetation changed somewhat at this time; first dense forests became more prolific and were then replaced by extensive grasslands. Animals were domesticated; particularly the dog for its hunting abilities. Because the Neolithic Era encouraged a more sedentary way of life, settlements formed, dividing the people considerably as they were no longer nomadic, meeting and interacting with one another as they travelled the vast plains.
Celtic Cross Monument, Bolton Abbey,
North Yorkshire, England
The Bronze Age followed between 2200 and 750 BCE. This was preceded by the use of clay or pottery. The art of refining metal was introduced by the Beaker culture from Iberia. Copper was initially used, but smiths soon changed to using bronze as it was harder than copper and, therefore, more resilient. During this era, bronze replaced stone in the production of weapons, tools and utensils. Copper was sometimes mixed with tin, of which there was an abundance in the area of modern-day England. By the middle of the second century BCE, Britain was exporting tin to other areas throughout Europe. Bronze Age humans lived on ‘plots’ of land and in round houses. They were responsible for the building of the last parts of the world-famous tourist attraction of Stonehenge. It was also during this time that cremation was adopted as a way of honouring the dead rather than burials. Some scholars theorise that it was during the Bronze Age that Celtic cultures were introduced to England.
From about 750 BCE to 43 CE (Common Era), the Iron Age dominated. Iron is stronger than bronze and was more easily available at that time. The introduction of iron had its most significant effect on the farming industry. Ploughs, axes and other important agricultural tools were far more effective when made out of iron. Just 250 years into the Iron Age, most of the British Isles residents were speaking Celtic in one form or another. At this time, communities lived in groups that were ruled by a chieftain. Soon, conflicts arose between the groups, and forts needed to be built for the wars that erupted. While not all of the structures believed by some to be forts from this time were actually intended as such, there are a number of wartime buildings from the Iron Age that tell the tale of historical battles.
Towards the end of the Iron Age was a period known as The Late Pre-Roman Iron Age. At this time, ancient Germanic-Celtic speaking tribes flooded into England from Gaul. They were forced out of their homeland by the Roman invaders and introduced their own influences. Some of the tribes were more Romanised than others, and this created a society of more sophistication and advancement than before. One example of this development is that coins started to be used for trading purposes instead of a barter system.
As the Romans continued to move westward, their interest in Britain piqued. The local inhabitants began to experience the full impact of Roman occupation in 43 CE, when Rome conquered the country under Emperor Claudius. The region was thus incorporated into the Roman Empire and was made the province of Britannia. The Romans introduced educational systems, sewerage, agricultural tools, personal hygiene standards, and so on. They also introduced Christianity to some extent, although it was already quite polluted by pagan customs and symbols. However, when Europe began to be threatened by outside influences, the Romans soon left England to defend their homeland. Thus, by 410, England was again without Roman rule.