What Happened in Prehistoric Britain?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Wheat, which was grown in prehistoric Britain.
Wheat, which was grown in prehistoric Britain.
Wheat, which was grown in prehistoric Britain.

Prehistoric Britain refers to the period of time prior to the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE, though a few historic references exist before this. The island of Britain has been occupied intermittently by members of the genus Homo (such as Homo erectus) for hundreds of thousands of years, and modern humans for tens of thousands of years. DNA analysis has shown that humans lived in Britain before the last glacial maximum, more than 20,000 years ago, though only south Britain would have been habitable at the time, north Britain being completely covered by glaciers. A very long time (500,000 years) ago, prehistoric Britain had elephants, rhinoceri, and hippopotami which were hunted by the natives. These natives were not Homo sapiens but Homo heidelbergensis, a pre-human ancestor.

The orientation of Stonehenge, a megalithic site in Great Britain, aligns with the sun during the solstices and equinoxes.
The orientation of Stonehenge, a megalithic site in Great Britain, aligns with the sun during the solstices and equinoxes.
The orientation of Stonehenge, a megalithic site in Great Britain, aligns with the sun during the solstices and equinoxes.

During the last glacial period, up until 12,000 years ago, the world's sea levels were lower and Britain and Ireland were both connected to each other and the mainland. Archaeological finds have indicated that man reoccupied Britain after the glacial period by 12,000 BCE. None of the pre-Roman occupants of Britain had a written language or literature, so they are only known from archaeological finds. These occupants of prehistoric Britain left large mounds and hill forts, some of which would have required thousands of man-years of work, indicating a level of social organization in prehistoric Britain that there is no record of.

Prehistoric megalithic burial sites, known as dolmens, dot the Irish countryside.
Prehistoric megalithic burial sites, known as dolmens, dot the Irish countryside.
Prehistoric megalithic burial sites, known as dolmens, dot the Irish countryside.

About 2,500 BCE, cup-smelting techniques were brought to Britain from Spain and Portugal, and the natives set about mining tin and copper which they exported all over Europe. Beginning in 2,150 BCE, the inhabitants learned to make bronze by combining copper with a small amount of tin, which ushered in the Bronze Age in Britain, finally replacing stone tools. The British people were wheat farmers, and also engaged in the manufacture of salt.

The Iron Age in Britain began around 750 BC, and the iron-tipped plough revolutionized agriculture, allowing population growth like never before. The modern age of cities became concrete around this time, with many enclosed villages. In 600 BC the Celtic culture spread across Britain, giving it the title "Celtic Britain," and resulting in the creation of many trinkets which have been discovered by archaeologists. Prehistoric Britain was written about by the Greek historian Pytheas in 325 BCE, when he explored the island's coasts, and Julius Caesar wrote about Britain in 50 BC, about a century before it was conquered by his descendants. This brought a close to the prehistoric age of Britain.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Wheat, which was grown in prehistoric Britain.
      Wheat, which was grown in prehistoric Britain.
    • The orientation of Stonehenge, a megalithic site in Great Britain, aligns with the sun during the solstices and equinoxes.
      The orientation of Stonehenge, a megalithic site in Great Britain, aligns with the sun during the solstices and equinoxes.
    • Prehistoric megalithic burial sites, known as dolmens, dot the Irish countryside.
      Prehistoric megalithic burial sites, known as dolmens, dot the Irish countryside.