First Britons

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Hunter-gatherers dressed in animal skins roamed around Hampstead Heath near London around 8,000 years ago. Numerous prehistoric sites between 4000 B.C. and 1500 B.C. have been discovered around Britain and Scotland. Many parts of Britain contain Neolithic burial mounds and standing stones, the most famous of which is Stonehenge. In 1997, scientists found a site twice as large as Stonehenge, with stone circles remains of timber temples, at Stanton Drew in Somerset. Archeologist have found evidence that bridge made from oak crossed the Thames, where Parliament now stands in 1,500 B.C. The bridge was two feet wide and stretched at least a third of the way across the river.

The first people to live in Britain were Stone-Age hunter-gatherers. During much of the Stone Age, Britain was connected to the European continent by a land bridge. People traveled back and forth between the two region, following the herds of deer and horses which they hunted. Britain became permanently separated from the continent by the English Channel about 10,000 years ago. Cheddar Man, a 9,000-year-old skeleton, was found near Cheddar, England. [Source: “Life in the United Kingdom, a Guide for New Residents,” 3rd edition, Page 15, Crown 2013 /]

Around 4,000 years ago, people in Britain learned to make bronze, marking the beginning of the Bronze Age there. At that time people lived in roundhouses and buried their dead in tombs called barrows. They were skilled metalworkers who produced bronze and gold objects, including tools, ornaments and weapons. During the Iron Age that followed, people learned how to make weapons and tools out of iron. They continued to live in roundhouses but they were grouped together in larger settlements, and sometimes were defended by hill forts. A hill fort from this era can still be seen today at Maiden Castle, in Dorset. Most people spoke a Celtic language and were either farmers, craft workers or warriors. Celtic languages were spoken throughout Europe and one closely linked to those spoken in Britain are still spoken today in some parts of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Iron Age Britons produced the first coins to be minted in Britain, some inscribed with the names of Iron Age kings. By some reckonings, this marks the beginnings of British history. /

One of the oldest surviving breeds of domestic cattle is found in a walled park at Chillingham in the Cheviot Hills in Britain. Dating back to the 13th century and believed to be related to aurochs, the wild animals from which cattle were domesticated, these animals are smaller than aurochs but still retain an element of wildness. The males are still very aggressive. If they are threatened they form a ring and charge any perceived threat. One dominate male rules the herd, mates with the females and fights off male rivals. Each dominant male hold his place for two or three years.

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans ; Prehistoric Art ; Evolution of Modern Humans ; Iceman Photscan ; Otzi Official Site Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History ;

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Did Britain Experience Waves of Settlers?

Glaciers and land brdiges during the last Ice Age

Dr Simon James wrote for the BBC: “The story of early Britain has traditionally been told in terms of waves of invaders displacing or annihilating their predecessors. Archaeology suggests that this picture is fundamentally wrong. For over 10,000 years people have been moving into - and out of - Britain, sometimes in substantial numbers, yet there has always been a basic continuity of population. [Source: Dr Simon James, BBC, February 28, 2011. Dr James is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Leicester. He specialises in Iron Age and Roman archaeology, Celtic ethnicity and the archaeology of violence and warfare.|::|]

“The gene pool of the island has changed, but more slowly and far less completely than implied by the old 'invasion model', and the notion of large-scale migrations, once the key explanation for change in early Britain, has been widely discredited. Substantial genetic continuity of population does not preclude profound shifts in culture and identity. It is actually quite common to observe important cultural change, including adoption of wholly new identities, with little or no biological change to a population. Millions of people since Roman times have thought of themselves as 'British', for example, yet this identity was only created in 1707 with the Union of England, Wales and Scotland. |::|

“Before Roman times 'Britain' was just a geographical entity, and had no political meaning, and no single cultural identity. Arguably this remained generally true until the 17th century, when James I of England and VI of Scotland sought to establish a pan-British monarchy. Throughout recorded history the island has consisted of multiple cultural groups and identities. Many of these groupings looked outwards, across the seas, for their closest connections - they did not necessarily connect naturally with their fellow islanders, many of whom were harder to reach than maritime neighbours in Ireland or continental Europe. It therefore makes no sense to look at Britain in isolation; we have to consider it with Ireland as part of the wider 'Atlantic Archipelago', nearer to continental Europe and, like Scandinavia, part of the North Sea world.”“|::|

First Settlers of Britain

The first 'Britons' were an ethnically mixed group Dr Simon James wrote for the BBC: “From the arrival of the first modern humans - who were hunter-gatherers, following the retreating ice of the Ice Age northwards - to the beginning of recorded history is a period of about 100 centuries, or 400 generations. This is a vast time span, and we know very little about what went on through those years; it is hard even to fully answer the question, 'Who were the early peoples of Britain?', because they have left no accounts of themselves. [Source: Dr Simon James, BBC, February 28, 2011 |::|]

“We can, however, say that biologically they were part of the Caucasoid population of Europe. The regional physical stereotypes familiar to us today, a pattern widely thought to result from the post-Roman Anglo-Saxon and Viking invasions - red-headed people in Scotland, small, dark-haired folk in Wales and lanky blondes in southern England - already existed in Roman times. Insofar as they represent reality, they perhaps attest the post-Ice Age peopling of Britain, or the first farmers of 6,000 years ago. |::|

“From an early stage, the constraints and opportunities of the varied environments of the islands of Britain encouraged a great regional diversity of culture. Throughout prehistory there were myriad small-scale societies, and many petty 'tribal' identities, typically lasting perhaps no more than a few generations before splitting, merging or becoming obliterated. These groups were in contact and conflict with their neighbours, and sometimes with more distant groups - the appearance of exotic imported objects attest exchanges, alliance and kinship links, and wars.” |::|

14,700-Year-Old Skull Cups Found in British Cave

skull cup from Gogh's cave

In 2012, British archaeologists said they had found 14,700-year-old skull cup in a cave in southwest England. Gregory Katz of Associated Press wrote: “Ice age Britons drank from human skulls and may even have eaten flesh and bone marrow, but they were far from barbarians. The bowls look almost like works of art, ritual items laced with meaning. Look more closely, however, and it becomes clear they are made from human skulls. Scientists say they are the oldest known carbon-dated skull cups, said by experts to be about 14,700 years old. [Source: By Gregory Katz, Associated Press, February 28, 2011]

“British scientists writing in the Public Library of Science journal maintain the cups were fashioned in such a meticulous way that they only credible explanation for their manufacture is that they were used as bowls to hold liquid. If the hunters and gatherers simply wanted to eat the deceased person’s brains, there would have been far easier ways to get at them, scientists said. Experts believe the rare cups — two made from adults skulls, one from a child thought to be about three years-old — were used in some sort of ritual, as was common in many parts of the world. “It is likely that this was part of some symbolic ritual and not mere necessity,” said Sylvia Bello, lead author of the study. She said that the artifacts demonstrate how skilled early humans were at the manipulation of human bodies.

“The practice of using human skulls as cups or bowls has been well documented in many cultures, and in some cases skull cups have been elaborately decorated and used to adorn temples and in religious ceremonies. The practice was documented by the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C.. But the three skull cups found in an English cave are the only known examples from the British Isles, scientists said. The three skulls aren’t the first historic clues to early man found in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. In 1903, the complete skeleton of a man dated to about 10,000 years ago was found at the same site. Explorations of the site, which in human and animal remains, began even earlier.

“Although the team found indications that some of the flesh and bone marrow from the skulls was eaten, they concluded that cannibalism was unlikely to have been the main purpose of the modifications. It is impossible to say the flesh was consumed,” Bello said. “They could have de-fleshed to have a clean skull to work with, but then did they consume part of the brain or the soft tissue? We can’t prove it. I don’t know if they then consumed the brain, but that wasn’t the first purpose.” She did say the bone marrow seems to have been consumed.

“The use of skulls as cups or bowls in northern Europe is thought to have been fairly common during that time frame, but it is very rare to find actual examples that can be accurately dated by modern techniques, said Rick Schulting, an archaeology professor at the University of Oxford. “These finds are important because there are so few finds from this period,” he said. “These are fully modern humans like us but we have very little insight into what they thought about themselves and their world. We know they had some burials, we know they cared about their dead. This adds complexity to their world.”

“He said they were probably used in the ritual consumption of human remains, but said details cannot be known. “It’s not some barbaric bloodthirsty example,” said Schulting, who was not involved in the project. “It’s always a ritualistic setting where you eat the remains of the dead, but we can’t know in this case whether you’re eating your own revered ancestors, to keep in contact, or eating the outsider, the enemy, as a way of insulting them and imbibing their power and their spirit.” He said it was not unusual in that time period for people to consume the brain, which is seen as the seat of an individual’s identity, but it is not clear because of the lack of evidence whether this was done as an act of respect or contempt. The distribution of cut marks seen on the skulls indicates that they were scrupulously “cleaned” of any soft tissues, and subsequently modified by the removal of the facial region. The skulls were then meticulously shaped into cups by retouching the broken edges, Bello said. “All in all it was a very painstaking process given the tools available,” she said.

Britain's Oldest Home? An 11,000-Year-old Thatch-Roof Dwelling in NE England

possible signs of cannibalism from Gough's Cave

In 2010, archaeologists said they had discovered the site of Britain’s oldest house, a waterside home used nomad hunters about 11,000 years. David Stringer reported on “The dwelling, which has lake views, a thatched roof and very original features, predates the country’s famous Stonehenge monument by around 6,000 years and was built at a time when Britain was still connected to continental Europe. [Source: David Stringer,, October 10, 2010

“Teams from the University of York and the University of Manchester working at the site believe the circular shaped home was built in about 8,500 B.C. next to an ancient lake at Star Carr, near Scarborough, in northeastern England. “This is a sensational discovery and tells us so much about the people who lived at this time,” Nicky Milner from the University of York said. “From this excavation, we gain a vivid picture of how these people lived.”

“Discoveries made at the site suggest the house was about 3.5 meters wide (11 feet, 6 inches), constructed of timber posts and likely had a roof of thatched reeds. The site was probably inhabited for between 200 and 500 years, and there were possibly several homes built at the site. Archaeologists have also uncovered a 11,000-year-old tree trunk, with its bark still intact, and found traces of a wooden jetty-like platform on the bank of the ancient lake that could be the first evidence of carpentry in Europe.

“The house is about 500 to 1,000 years older than a building in Howick, northern England, previously thought to have been the country’s oldest home. “This changes our ideas of the lives of the first settlers to move back into Britain after the end of the last Ice Age. We used to think they moved around a lot and left little evidence. Now we know they built large structures and were very attached to particular places in the landscape,” said Chantal Conneller, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester. Artifacts found at the site — which include part of an oar, arrow tips and deer skulls — offer clues to the lives of the settlers. It’s thought they kept domestic dogs, hunted deer, wild boar and elk, fished on the lake and had rituals that involved the use of headdresses fashioned from animal skulls.

Earliest Evidence Found of Settlers in Scotland

Cheddar Man skull

In 2001, British Archaeology News reported: “The earliest known remains of human settlement in Scotland have been uncovered at Cramond, near Edinburgh. Mesolithic stone tools, tool waste and hazelnut shells from a hunting camp overlooking the Forth Estuary have been radiocarbon dated to about 8500 B.C. Meanwhile, at Sand near Applecross in Wester Ross, a shell midden from about 1,000 years later than the Cramond site has produced a range of intriguing evidence for Mesolithic life including pigments, dyes and possible items of jewellery, as well as tools, animal and bird bones and shellfish. [Source: British Archaeology News, August 2001]

“The site at Cramond was found when a team of amateur archaeologists from the Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society began digging for Roman remains close to a bath house. At the base of one trench they found a concentration of mainly chert stone tools and hazelnut shells, revealing a well-stratified single-phase Mesolithic site uncontaminated by later material. Subsequent work, including the radiocarbon dating of six hazelnut shell fragments (each one ranging between about 8600 and 8200 B.C.), was carried out with the help of Edinburgh’s City Council archaeologists, Historic Scotland, and the National Museums of Scotland.

“The site, on a bluff near the junction of the River Forth and the River Almond, represents a classic Mesolithic camp location providing hunter-gatherers with access to a range of freshwater and marine foodstuffs. No animal bones survived in the site’s acid soils but pits, scoops and some 20 stakeholes suggested an encampment. According to Alan Saville, curator of early prehistory collections at the National Museum, the site provides the earliest date in Britain for the ‘geometric’ style of microlith tool manufacture – an advanced style traditionally regarded as a Late Mesolithic development, not found in England before about 7800 BC – thus raising intriguing questions about the origin and spread of the new technology. The site also raises questions about the early post-glacial climate in Scotland, an area traditionally regarded as uninhabitable until about 9600 B.C.

“At Sand, excavations by the Scotland’s First Settlers project based at Edinburgh University have uncovered the bones of red deer and birds, and shellfish (mainly limpet) shells in a midden outside a coastal rockshelter, along with numerous ‘pot-boiler’ stones used for cooking the food. Tools made of stone, bone and antler were found including part of an antler harpoon and bevel-ended tools for opening shellfish. Perforated cowrie shell beads and a boar’s tusk – both interpreted as items of jewellery – were found at Sand with lumps of ochre and a type of dog whelk which produces a purple dye. Some of the tools are thought to have been brought from the Isle of Rhum and from Staffin on Skye, underlining the ease with which people travelled by sea in this period.”

First British Farmers

Cheddar Man upper body

The first farmers arrived in Britain about 6,000 years ago. Their ancestors are believed to have originated in southeast Europe. Early farmers chopped down trees so they could grow crops and vegetables. They kept cattle, sheep and pigs. These people began to settle down in one place and build permanent homes. These also built tombs and monuments on the land, of which the most enduring and famous is Stonehenge, thought to have been a gathering place for seasonal ceremonies. Other Stone Age sites include Skara Brae on Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland. It is the best preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe, helping archaeologists to understand more about how people lived near the end of the Stone Age. [Source: “Life in the United Kingdom, a Guide for New Residents,” 3rd edition, Page 15, Crown 2013]

According to the BBC: “By 3500 B.C. people in many parts of Britain had set up farms. They made clearings in the forest and built groups of houses, surrounded by fields. The early farmers grew wheat and barley, which they ground into flour. Some farmers grew beans and peas. Others grew a plant called flax, which they made into linen for clothes. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Neolithic farmers kept lots of animals. They had herds of wild cows that had been domesticated (tamed). The cattle provided beef, as well as milk and cheese. Sheep and goats provided wool, milk and meat. Wild pigs were domesticated and kept in the woods nearby. Dogs helped on the farms too. They herded sheep and cattle and worked as watchdogs. Dogs were probably treated as family pets, like they are today. The early farmers still went hunting and gathered nuts and berries to eat, but they spent most of their time working on their farms. Clearings were made to create farmland and the wood was used to build fires to keep warm at night |::|

Neolithic people built grave mounds and stone circles. They also met for religious ceremonies on large, circular platforms that are known as causewayed enclosures. People stored the bones of the dead in large graves known as long barrows. These graves were built from stone and covered with a mound of earth. They had a central passage, with several side-chambers containing sets of bones. There were also smaller graves, with a single burial chamber. During the Neolithic period, people started to build stone circles. This practice continued in the early Bronze Age. |::|

Bruce Bower wrote in “Agriculture’s British debut occurred during a mild, wet period that enabled the introduction of Mediterranean crops such as emmer wheat, barley and grapes, say archaeobotanists Chris Stevens of Wessex Archaeology in Salisbury, England, and Dorian Fuller of University College London. Farming existed at first alongside foraging for wild fruits and nuts and limited cattle raising, but the rapid onset of cool, dry conditions in Britain about 5,300 years ago spurred a move to raising cattle, sheep and pigs, Stevens and Fuller propose in the September Antiquity. With the return of a cultivation-friendly climate about 3,500 years ago, during Britain’s Bronze Age, crop growing came back strong, the scientists contend. Farming villages rapidly replaced a mobile, herding way of life. Many researchers have posited that agriculture either took hold quickly in Britain around 6,000 years ago or steadily rose to prominence by 4,000 years ago.” [Source: Bruce Bower,, September 6, 2012 ~|~]

“Stevens and Fuller compiled data on more than 700 cultivated and wild food remains from 198 sites across the British Isles whose ages had been previously calculated by radiocarbon dating. A statistical analysis of these dates and associated climate and environmental trends suggested that agriculture spread rapidly starting 6,000 years ago. About 700 years later, wild foods surged in popularity and cultivated grub became rare. Several new crops — peas, beans and spelt — appeared around 3,500 years ago, when storage pits, granaries and other features of agricultural societies first appeared in Britain, Stevens and Fuller find. An influx of European farmers must have launched a Bronze Age agricultural revolution, they speculate.” ~|~

Stone Monuments in Britain and Ireland

Numerous prehistoric sites between 4000 B.C. and 1500 B.C. have been discovered around Britain and Scotland. The most famous site is Stonehenge, which dates back to 2500 B.C. . In 1997, scientists found a site twice as large as Stonehenge, with stone circles remains of timber temples, at Stanton Drew in Somerset.

On the Orkney Islands of Scotland, near Skara Brae are the standing stones of Stenness and the 5,000-year-old Maes Howe burial mound, described as the best preserved chambered tomb in Western Europe.

Carrowmore, Ireland is the home of the world's oldest megalithic cemetery. The cremated bodies in the cemetery were buried between 4800 and 3200 B.C. About a mile away a cemetery dating back to 4000 B.C. was found with uncremated bodies and chert arrowhead unlike those found at Carrowmore. Archaeologist Göran Burenbult told National Geographic, "This opens up a much more complex picture than we could have imagined. It's as if two separate people with different social and religious traditions lived very close together at the same time."

Engraved Rocks from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages

Neolithic flint point

More than 6,000 prehistoric carved rocks have been recorded across Britain, with around 2,500 of them found in Scotland. Dalya Alberge wrote in the Observer: “Most have patterns based on cup marks – circular depressions in the surface, often surrounded by concentric rings, with lines or grooves that extend from them – and are thought to date from 4000 to 2000 B.C.. Their original purpose and significance remain a mystery. Among other theories, academics have speculated that they may be territorial markers, fertility symbols, astronomical signs, or simply prehistoric doodles. [Source: Dalya Alberge, The Observer, September 17, 2016 ^^^]

“The designs and symbols appear to have been shared across Europe, Barnett said. “The cup-and-ring symbol, almost a universal symbol, is found in almost every country – France, northern Spain, Switzerland, northern Italy, Sardinia, Scandinavia. It seems that we were all in contact in pre-EU days, which is a nice thought.” She praises Currie’s solo efforts as a contribution “to scholarship, protection and conservation”.^^^

George Currie, 66, a musician and teacher, has located more than 670 Neolithic and Bronze Age carvings over the past 15 years. On finding them, he told the Observer: “In many respects, winter is the best time because the sun is lower in the sky and the light produces more shadows. That makes it easier to see rock art. It’s possible to look at a surface at midday in summer and you won’t see anything. You look at the same surface at 10am on a winter’s morning and, all of a sudden, you’re seeing something that’s entirely different. Caves are few and far between, even in the Scottish hills. It’s always a bit of a puzzle why one [rock] should be chosen over another. You might imagine that a smooth surface would be ideal to make an engraving, but very often it’s rough surfaces … Sometimes the markings actually use the contours, cracks and fissures as part of the ornamentation. It’s almost as if the engraver is working with the material and that’s really influencing their decisions.”

Bronze Age Britain Revealed in ‘Britain’s Pompeii’

Bronze Age weapons

Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, England has been compared to Pompeii. It was occupied only a few months when it suddenly burnt and the circular, oak buildings sank into a river which helped to preserve them. down Despite this, archaeologists say the site gives an “exquisitely detailed” insight into everyday Bronze Age life, including evidence of fine fabric-making, varied diets and vast trading networks. [Source:, July 14, 2016 /~]

The BBC reported: “At least five circular houses raised on stilts above the East Anglian fens have been found. David Gibson, of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, University of Cambridge, said the site allowed researchers to “visit in exquisite detail everyday life in the Bronze Age”. “Domestic activity within structures is demonstrated from clothing to household objects, to furniture and diet,” he said. “These dwellings have it all, the complete set, it’s a ‘full house’. /~\

“The people living here made their own high quality textiles, like linen. Some of the woven linen fabrics are made with threads as thin as the diameter of a coarse human hair and are among the finest Bronze Age examples found in Europe, Other fabrics and fibres found include balls of thread, twining, bundles of plant fibres and loom weights which were used to weave threads together. Textiles were common in the Bronze Age but it is very rare for them to survive today.

“Animal remains suggest they ate a diet of wild boar, red deer, calves, lambs and freshwater fish such as pike. The charred remains of porridge type foods, emmer wheat and barley grains have been found preserved in amazing detail, sometimes still inside the bowls they were served in There were areas in each home for storing meat and a separate area for cooking.” /~\

“Even 3,000 years ago people seemed to have a lot of stuff. Each of the houses was fully equipped with pots of different sizes, wooden buckets and platters, metal tools, saddle querns (stone tools for grinding grains), weapons, textiles, loom weights and glass beads. Archaeologists say beads found at the site originally came from the Mediterranean or Middle East.” /~\

Racton Man: Bronze Age Warrior-Chief Killed in Battle

Racton Man — a 4,000-year-old skeleton found on farmland in 1989 near Westbourne, West Sussex — was probably a warrior chief who was killed in battle, scientists said in 2014. Tests on the Bronze Age skeleton showed he was over 45 when he died, probably grew up in southern Britain around what is now West Sussex, and was 6ft tall. The skeleton was found by archaeologist James Kenny. It is named Racton Man after the place where he was found. It is now on display at The Novium Museum in Chichester. [Source: BBC December 15, 2014 |::|]

Racton Man was discovered with one of the earliest known bronze daggers in the UK, leading scientists to believe he was a tribal chief. Experts said that wounds to his upper arm made around the time of his death which had never healed suggested he had died during a fight.

Specialists from England, Wales and Scotland analysed the skeleton's teeth, bones and weapon to learn about the man. He suffered from a number of conditions including spinal degeneration, thought to be due to his age, a chronic sinus infection and tooth decay and died between 2300 and 2150 B.C. |::|

Dr Stuart Needham, a Bronze Age specialist who took part in the study, told the BBC Racton Man would have been "someone of great seniority". "We don't understand the social structure of this time, but he would have been a very prominent member of society," Dr Needham said. Isotope analysis on the skeleton's teeth revealed where he had grown up while radiocarbon dating showed he lived during the Bronze Age. |::|

Bronze-Age Scottish “Frankenstein” Mummies

Erin Mullally wrote in Archaeology: “Instances of deliberate mummification in Europe are rare, but, while performing excavations in 2001 at Cladh Hallan, a Bronze Age settlement on the island of South Uist in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, archaeologists found a pair of 3,000-year-old skeletons that fit the bill. [Source: Erin Mullally, Archaeology, December 6, 2012 |||]

“Both skeletons, one male and one female, were buried in the fetal position. Tests indicated they had been intentionally preserved for some time in nearby peat bogs, where microbes prevented them from fully decomposing, before they were eventually retrieved. “Mummification has been surprisingly widespread throughout world history, but this is the first time we’ve seen clear evidence that it was employed during the Bronze Age on the British Isles,” says University College London archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson.|||

“Further examination of the remains led to another startling discovery. The male skeleton is actually a composite. Its torso, skull and neck, and lower jaw belong to three separate men. New DNA tests prove that the female skeleton is also a composite formed from a male skull, a female torso, and the arm of a third person, whose gender has yet to be determined. Carbon dating indicates that the skull of the female mummy is probably 50 to 200 years older than the torso.” |||

Archaeologists have yet to agree why these remains were mummified and then mixed together. “The mixing of remains could have been designed to combine different ancestries or families into a single line of descent,” Parker Pearson explains. “At the time, land rights would have depended on ancestral claims, so perhaps having ancestors around ‘in the flesh’ was the prehistoric equivalent of a legal document.”

Iron Age “Toilet” from the Shetland Islands Actually a Cooker

Archaeologists in Shetland Islands off Scotland found an object in 2009 that at first they thought but after a more careful look they realized that it is probably an Iron Age‘Rayburn’ cooker. British Archaeology reported: “The object of all this colourful interpretation is a simple stone box, roughly 1.5m long and less than 1m high, which was found during excavations of a late Iron Age broch and village at Old Scatness. The box has a circular hole cut into the top slab. [Source: British Archaeology, February 2000 ^+^]

“The thing did indeed look like a toilet. A tongue-in-cheek report in The Scotsman referred to it as ‘the venerable thunderbox’ and described the archaeological quest for ‘the lifestyle of the long-dead defecator’. Val Turner, archaeologist with the Shetland Amenity Trust, supported the interpretation by citing a similar late Iron Age toilet discovered some years ago near a broch at Howe in Orkney. The previous find was a stone slab with a circular hole in it, resting over a low cupboard which was thought to have contained a ‘potty’. ^+^

“Now, however, the interpretation of the new find has changed – to something almost as surprising. Recent work has established that the clay-lined inside of the Scatness chest was subject to intense heat, and ash has been found around the base outside. According to Ms Turner, the new evidence suggests the chest was used as a Rayburn-type oven, with hot stones fed in through a hole in the base of one of the sides, and food placed on the stones through the hole in the top.” ^+^

“The Iron Age oven is not the only unusual find made during last season’s excavations. A miniature dagger about 10cm long, thought to be a toy, may date from about the 8th-9th centuries. Carefully carved out of local siltstone, with a trefoil hilt end, the dagger may have been discarded because of its broken point.” ^+^

Pre-Roman Britain

Based on finds at Silchester Iron Age in Hampshire, pre-Roman Britons were more advanced than previously thought. For instance they had olives.Maev Kennedy wrote in The Guardian: “ A single olive stone unearthed at the ancient town of Silchester is among the extraordinary finds that are leading archaeologists to rewrite British history. Many of the plant seeds are familiar from Roman sites across Britain, as the invaders brought the flavours and the medical remedies of the Mediterranean to their wind-blasted and sodden new territory, but there is something extraordinary about the seeds from the abandoned Iron Age and Roman town of Silchester. [Source: Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, July 31, 2012 ==]

“The banal seeds are astonishing because many came from a level dating to a century before the Romans. More evidence is emerging every day, and it is clear that from around 50BC the Iron Age Atrebates tribe, whose name survived in the Latin Calleva Atrebatum, the wooded place of the Atrebates, enjoyed a lifestyle that would have been completely familiar to the Romans when they arrived in A.D. 43. ==

“Their diet would also be quite familiar to many in 21st-century Britain. The people ate shellfish — previously thought to have been eaten only in coastal settlements – as well as cows, sheep, pigs, domesticated birds such as chicken and geese as well as wild fowl, and wheat, apples, blackberries, cherries and plums. They ate off plates, again previously thought a finicky Roman introduction, and flavoured their food with poppy seed, coriander, dill, fennel, onion and celery. They had lashings of wine, imported not just in clay amphorae but in massive barrels, and olive oil. And they had olives. One tiny shrub in the herb garden represents the recent discovery, news of which went round the world: a single battered, charred olive stone excavated from the depths of a well, the earliest ever found in Britain. All the Atrebates needed for the perfect pizza was tomatoes to arrive from the new world. ==

“They had other luxury imports, too: glass jugs and drinking glasses, gold from Ireland, bronze jewellery and weapons from the continent, beautiful delicate pottery from Germany and France. They also had town planning, another presumed later introduction. The Romans were undoubtedly better road engineers; in the torrential rain earlier this summer, their broad north-south road, built with a camber and drainage ditches, stayed dry, while the Iron Age road turned into a swampy river. But the evidence is unarguable: the Iron Age people lived in regular house plots flanking broad gravelled roads, aligned with the sunrises and sunsets of the summer and winter solstices, in a major town a century earlier than anyone had believed. ==

“They feared gods who demanded sacrifices as startling as anything in a gothic novel. Ravens have been found buried across the site, as well as dozens of dog burials, not just slung into a well or cesspit but carefully buried, often with other objects, one with the body of an infant, one standing up as if on guard for 2,000 years. Another tiny skeleton, no bigger than a celebrity’s handbag dog, was one of a handful ever found in Europe from such an early date: the evidence suggests it lived for up to three years, and was then laid curled as if asleep into the foundations of a house. Only last Friday the skeleton of a cat turned up, carefully packed into a clay jar. “==

Professor Michael Fulford of the archaeology department at Reading University, one of the leaders of the Silchester excavation, believes Silchester “was founded around 50 B.C. by Commius, an Atrobates leader once a trusted ally of Julius Caesar, who then joined an unsuccessful rebellion against him and had to leave Gaul sharpish. Whether Commius headed for an existing Atrobates settlement at Silchester, or started to build on a greenfield site, a defensible hill with excellent views, near the navigable Kennet and Thames, is, Fulford suggests, “a million-dollar question – why here?” They have found nothing earlier than 50 B.C. – yet.” ==

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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