EARLY IMMIGRATIONS AND HUSBANDRY
While Britain was still peopled by Mesolithic hunters and collectors, groups of families had settled down to till the fertile ground along great rivers like the Euphrates, Tigris and Nile. They also grouped themselves around perennial springs like those which watered the oasis of Jericho. This relatively low land, curving from the Tigris-Euphrates delta round to the lower Nile valley, is often called the Fertile Crescent. In it, and in the mountains which surround it, wild forms of wheat and barley, and the wild ancestors of cattle, sheep, goats, dogs and pigs, could all have been found when Mesolithic families hunted and gathering their food there. What probably happened is that dogs in search of carrion attached themselves to these groups, lambs, kids and calves were captured and reared, and women discarded wild grass seeds and watched them germinate. At more fertile camp-sites the young [plants would have thrived and increased and a more settled life with an assured food supply would gradually have replaced nomadism.
The wild grasses of the genus Triticum, from which our wheats evolved, gave rise to einkorn (T. Monococcum), widely cultivated in Neolithic times, and to the more productive emmer (T. Dicoccoides). By the Iron Age bread wheat (T. Aestivum), a cross between emmer and the wild grass Aegilops, was sustaining increasing populations in much of Europe and Western Asia. Its relative club wheat (T. Compactum) was grown by Neolithic farmers, notably those of the Swiss lake-side villages. Spelt (T. Spelta), still a bread wheat in remote parts of the Balkans, was probably first grown and harvested in the Bronze Age.
Both two- and six-rowed barley grew wild in Palestine and were cultivated throughout Neolithic Eurasia. They were evolved by Neolithic farmers into Hordeum tetrastichum, the ancestors of modern varieties of barley, oats and rye may have grown as weeds in the corn patches of many Neolithic cultivators. They appear as food grains in late Bronze Age and Iron Age deposits in parts of Central Europe where, during the cool wet summers which characterised the Iron Age, it may have been realised that they were a more profitable crop than wheat or barley.
By 7,800 B.C. a Mesolithic settlement, centred on a platform which was probably a shrine, existed at Jericho. The Neolithic people of Jericho. The Neolithic people of Jericho developed corn plots in their oasis and by 7,000 had built on the Mesolithic site a considerable village sustained by the waters of springs. At Jericho and at Jarmo in Iraq, in the hills east of Kirkuk, wheat and barley were grown. This wheat was emmer and at first both it and the varieties of barley grown were very like the wild forms. Seed was stored in stone bowls and leather bags. There was no pottery in these Fertile Crescent villages of the 7thmillennium B.C. In Egyptian villages like those of the Fayum, dated at 4,500 B.C., seed corn was stored in pits carefully lined with basketry.
The leather containers were not necessarily made from animals which had been hunted down. The Mesolithic Natufians of Jericho had tamed the dog and their Neolithic successors kept goats. At Jarmo both sheep and goats were kept, the sheep being the Asiatic mouflon. Elsewhere, at Anau in Turkestan, for example, the urial was the local wild sheep and this too was tamed. Pigs appear in Neolithic Iraq and Iran, and, later, at the Fayum and in Neolithic Switzerland. Cattle, then much larger beasts than our domesticated breeds, would be more difficult to domesticate and mch more demanding in their pastures. Bos primigenus, the aurochs of Pleistocene Eurasia and North Africa, or smaller breeds which developed from it, may have been domesticated in the Fertile Crescent about 5,000 B.C. These long-horned breeds were taken throughout the Near East and Europe by Neolithic herdsmen. In the late Bronze Age they were largely replaced in Western Europe by Bos longifrons, the short-horned ancestor of our modern cattle.
Animals attached to settlements, perhaps tethered in the fields or grazing on stubbles, would provide manure in return for more nutritious pastures than those which they usually found in the wild state. Relatively safe from carnivores, their young would more readily survive. Thus both human and animal populations increased more rapidly as the Neolithic progressed.
Mixed farming, combining tillage with the rearing of animals, thus developed as early as the 7th millennium B.C. in the Fertile Crescent and spread westwards through the Mediterranean lands and north-westwards along the European steppes. There wind-blown loess, fertile, porous and less densely wooded than heavier soils, was farmed as Neolithic man spread. The loess lands were beginning to be settled around 4,000 B.C. The oldest Neolithic houses so far located in Bulgaria date from 3,600 B.C. although the Danube basin in north-east Bosnia has Neolithic settlements which are said to date to about 4,400 B.C.
Over the centuries families spread more widely, the men and their flocks sought land for grazing and the women needed new ground to sow seed. Woodland would be fired, and the ashes made the ground temporarily easier to work. Shifting cultivation by slashing and burning began to leave its mark. On the forest margins the flocks would eat or uproot saplings and slow down regeneration. In Mediterranean lands the goat began what J. L. Myres called its age-long nibble up the mountainsides. The early Neolithic in Italy dates from the fifth millennium B.C. Deforestation has a very long history in Mediterranean lands.
There would still be much hunting and gathering to supplement food supplies, especially in autumn and winter. Large crab apples were gathered and dried by the women of the Swiss lake-side villages, and wild animals would provide furs for the cloaks which they made. Neolithic women grew flax; linen cloth occurs in early levels (c. 6,500 B.C.) at Jarmo, at the Fayum in 4,500 B.C. and in the Swiss lake-side villages. Flax is not common farther north in Neolithic Europe though it may have grown there for both fibre and seed.
Tillage demands a settled life and the building of homes. Small, usually rectilinear, houses spread throughout Europe. Though they often had some stone foundations, timber was frequently used in building them and trees had to be felled and dressed for this purpose.
Maglemose men of the Mesolithic had already fashioned tree felling axes with transverse cutting edges from chipped flit. This raw material was obtained from beach deposits, or, on land, from glacial gravels. Neolithic men used more efficient axes of polished stone and were able to rely not only on flint but also on a variety of fine-grained rocks of greater geological age and wider distribution. Experiments with polished stone axes have shown that 600 square yards of birch forest can be felled by three men in 4 hours. An axe-head is effective on about one hundred trees and then needs to be replaced or sharpened. Tools made by grinding and polishing included the axes with which men attacked the forests and the hoes with which women cultivated. Digging sticks with their points hardened by fire and weighted with stones were probable also used by women and children. When they reaped their corn, cutting of the ears with a flint sickle, Neolithic women dried it in clay ovens to harden the grain and ground it in saddle querns, rubbing it with a rounded stone against a larger grit slab.
Many Mesolithic men had lived by seas or rivers which provided much of their food, and had made boats and wooden paddles. Neolithic man in the Fertile Crescent would be a fisher and fowler in the rivers, lakes and deltas. He would use boats on the rivers and on the Mediterranean and in them he and his successors slowly spread coastwise or between islands which were often intervisible. Some craft must have been driven from the tideless Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibralter into the wider Atlantic. Out there he would try to keep to the coast. Voyagers gradually spread around the Iberian coast, or they went overland, using one of the great trans-peninsular routes, that from Languedoc to the Gironde estuary. They went northwards to Brittany and Normandy. From northern France Neolithic families came to south-west Britain about 3,500 B.C. and, lured on by lands projecting into the Irish Sea, and seldom out of sight of land in good weather, they moved up the west coast of Britain to the Shetland Isles. This was the Atlantic route which, with varying significance, influenced the settlement pattern of Britain throughout prehistory. On present evidence it appears to have brought in Neolithic settlers more speedily than the Central European overland route between the Fertile Crescent and south-east England. But early Neolithic families with their beasts and seed corn came not much later across the English Channel from the chalklands of northern France to augment the farming groups of Britain.
The diffusion through Europe of Neolithic seafolk and farmers occurred during the Atlantic Period which is roughly dated from 5,000 to 3,000 B.C. It was warm and damp, a climate which, in Western Europe, fostered the growth of mixed deciduous woodland in which oak was dominant. Pollen analysis shows that elm and alder were also common trees. It also shows that, in Brittany and elsewhere, weeds of cultivation like plantain and mugwort increased after 3,500 B.C. From this date elm pollen decreases, and this decline is thought to result from constant feeding of young elm shoots, the most palatable constituent of mixed oak woods, to tethered cattle. Neolithic settlements in Brittany antedate 3,000 B.C., while cultivation levels examined in Finistere have been dated by C14 anaysis to at least 3,200 B.C. Early Neolithic finds in Holland appears to be contemporary and to be linked with settlements on the Central European loess lands. Immigration into Britain from the Low Countries and the north French chalklands was probably occurring around 3,000 B.C.
As farming was transferred northwards in Europe to more boisterous climates than those of the Mediterranean, tillage may have assumed a role subordinate to the tending of flocks. Both demanded land free from forest, or so lightly that it was easy to clear. In Britain, shores swept by strong winds and salt spray, gravel deposits on raised beaches or river terraces, and land underlain by chalk and limestone provided this desirable land, and there Neolithic families settled. They found Mesolithic families already roaming over the coastlands and river gravels and, eventually, native, British Neolithic cultures arose from their fusion with these groups. This merging, and the expansion of the Neolithic population, occurred between 3,000 and 2,000 B.C., in the Sub-Boreal Period. It too was a time of warmth, but it was drier than the Atlantic Period.
The equipment of the western Neolithic settlers included, in addition to their polished axes and hoes, round-based pottery based on leather bags, and leaf-shaped arrowheads which they used when hunting. Broken yew bows dating from c. 2,600 B.C. have been found preserved by peat in Somerset.
Bag-shaped round-based pottery has been found at Windmill Hill near Avebury and at other causewayed camps of the southern chalklands. The first of these causewayed camps to be built appears to have been the most westerly one so far discovered, that at Hembury in Devon, dated by C 14 analysis to c. 3,200 B.C. The building at Windmill Hill itself dated to c. 2,900 B.C. other C 14 dates for the early Neolithic suggest that south-west Britain and Ireland, in the mainstream of the Atlantic route, were settled earliest and that, on present evidence, Neolithic farmers then spread eastwards in Britain. They also suggest that the spread of settlement up to and past Northern Ireland, perhaps by groups swept along by the Irish Sea tides, was relatively rapid. Neolithic occupation sites in Co. Antrim and in Cumberland are dated before 3,000 B.C.
The causewayed camps of Neolithic farmers were set within incomplete ditches and banks which were not built for defence. If surmounted by brushwood palisades they could have served as cattle corrals. The ditches were not continuous; causeways crossed them between pits into which waste food and bones were thrown. Causewayed camps may have been mainly used for autumn feasts, when, for das or weeks, cattle were rounded up and, excepy for the breeding stock which could be fed through the winter months, were slaughtered by pole-axing. Autumn fruits and nuts accompanied the feats of meat. Cooking-pots used during the feasting were bag-shaped. Many are plain, like similar pots from north-east France, others have lugs by which they could be held and these suggest that people from Brittany could have influenced their style. Windmill Hill people were clothed in fur and in the hides of their cattle. The women dressed the skins with flint scrapers and used bone awls and flint perforators before they sewed them with leather thongs. They were not wholly dependent on their cattle for food but made gruel and bread from wheat (emmer and einkorn), and barley, whose growth on porous soils would be encouraged by the warmth and the damp. Barley forms only about a tenth of the food grains of these early British farmers. Their cattle were small longhorns related to Bos primigenius, their sheep, descended from the urial, were the turbary sheep of Swiss lake-side villagers, and they also kept small pigs and dogs. Horses were lacking; they did not spread through Europe until the Bronze Age.
The distribution of causewayed camps suggests that Neolithic farmers, landing in Devonshire, Dorset and Sussex, spread with their flocks along the chalklands and intermingled in Wiltshire. Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs became a focus of prehistoric Britain and remained so for thousand years. From the downs of Wiltshire, the Chilterns were settled and the Ridgeway and Icknield Way may then have been tramped out by men and herds as they served as droveways for the builders of the causewayed camps.
Flimsy wooden Neolithic farmhouses have naturally not survived for five thousand years. Their postholes have occasionally been found under later tombs. In western Britain, where plentiful surface stones made it easier to build foundations or walls, a few Neolithic huts have been recovered. Such are the house at Haldon, in Devon, a timber-framed rectangular house with wattle-and-daub walls, at Mount Pleasant overlooking Porthcawl in Glamorgan, a smaller though similar structure, the houses at Rhos y Clegyrn, three miles south-west of Fishguard, and Clegyr Boia near St. David`s where a rectangular house twenty-four feet long and a smaller round structure were found. The Clegyr Boia pottery was of a basic round-bottomed type found in Ireland and at Carn Brea in Cornwall. At Carn Brea early farmers had rough shelters on a site which later became an Iron Age fort. Other Neolithic shelters have been found on Hazard Hill near Totnes, in Flintshire, at Storrs moss near Lancaster (a lake dwelling), and near flint mines.
There are nine sites on the Sussex Downs where bands of flint were sought by miners, and others are known in Wiltshire and Hampshire. At Durrington near Stonehenge the workings seem to have been open-cast. The best-known Neolithic flint mines are, however, those of Grimes` Graves cover thirty-four acres and there are 346 mine shafts, some of them thirty feet deep. Galleries lead along the flint seams from the mine bottoms into darkness which was relieved by the miners` chalk lamps. Neolithic miners used red deer antlers to lever out the flints and the shoulder-blades of cattle to shovel them up. Their axes would cut through the softer chalk. In one gallery where good flint had not been found at Grimes` Graves, an “alter” of flints, with antlers and a miner`s lamp set around its base, was erected to ensure future fertility. Before this alter was a statuette of a pregnant goddess and a phallus of chalk. Figurines and phalli had been carved for many years by the causewayed camps.
Grimes` Graves appears to have been first worked around 2,000 B.C. and is a relatively late Neolithic site. It lies in an area where Peterborough pottery is fairly common. This pottery, which takes its name from Peterborough across the Fenland, is also characteristic of the Thames valley, of much of the chalkland where the early Neolitihic finds occur, and of north-east and south-east Wales. It is coarse, round-bottomed and heavy lipped. In its profuse ornamentation it appears to imitate basketry. Many of the areas in which it occurs had from fusion with nomadic peoples who carried their goods in baskets and leather bags, which were lighter containers than heavy pottery. Other distinctive heavily ornamented pots were made by native cultures which developed in Britain. They include the flat-bottomed Rinyo-Clacton wares, which combine the names of Rinyo in Orkney and Clacton in Essex.
Orkney and Shetland have the best-preserved Neolithic houses in Britain. In Orkney they occur in small clusters, in Shetland they are isolated like modern crofts. All are semi-subterranean for protection from gales. Driven by storms, primitive seafarers on the Atlantic route could have made landfalls on Orkney and from it, y the Fair Isle stepping-stone, could have reached Shetland. They could also have come by the Great Glen route or up the eastern coast of Britain, reaching the islands across the calmer Moray Firth. Orkney and Shetland, thinly forested but plentifully supplied with driftwood, gashed with creeks sheltered by high cliffs and yielding a rich harvest from the sea, attracted settlers from the Neolithic to the Viking Period. Their Neolithic peoples were fisher-farmers, their economy based on sea and land like that of the Shetland crofter to-day.
The Orkney houses, at Rinyo on Rousay and at Skara Brae on Mainland, were built of the local flagstone. Its thin slabs needed little dressing and from them thick-walled square houses were built in groups around a central hearth. A larger house in each group suggests that they were the dwellings of a patriarch and his kin. The flagstones allowed box-beds, dressers and keeping holes (small wall cupboards) to be built into the thick walls. Stone tanks stopped with clay which would have contained live fish and shellfish were let into the floor. The roof may have been of skins or reed thatch supported by whale-rib rafters. Around the semi-subterranean cluster, sheep, cattle and goats grazed, but no grain was grown. These were flesh-eaters akin to the Eskimo. In Neolithic Shetland the women grew barley and dried it over fires. The men tended flocks and fished. Small fields, some of which may be cattle pens, can still be seen scattered over the cultivable lowland fringes of the islands. Nearly sixty oval farmsteads have been found in the Shetland Isles: many were probably still used in the Bronze Age.
The Mesolithic element contributed nomadic strains to the native Neolitihc cultures which developed in Britain. They were evident in groups of primarily travellers and traders, who carried the products of the Neolithic axe factories over long distances. Polished axes, roughed out at factories in areas of old igneous rocks in western Britain, were traded widely, especially in areas where newer rocks like chalk supported many early farmers but could not provide them with durable raw materials other than flint. The axe factories often overlook the sea and that near Penzance, which has not been located, may even have been submerged by it. The trade in greenish polished axes were carried on by the sea, down rivers and along ridge routes, notably the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way. The most vivid green mineral, jadeite, was brought in from Brittany for votive rather than every day use. To the Wessex chalklands came axes from all the sites
so far identified.
Christian forms of burial, with inhumation and often with memorial stones, date back nearly two thousand years. The tombs of Neolithic man were built over a similar period and some of the most important ones, uch as West Kennet near Avebury, were in use for a thousand years. Like Christianity, Neolithic beliefs originated in the Fertile Crescent. They were centred on a goddess of the earth, a source of fertility for crops and animals. She appears in the finest tombs as a crude figure, or stylised as an eye goddess. She watched over the dead, from capstones or from the upright stones which supported them, as they lay with tools at their side and with their food in pots for use in the after-life. It may have been sought that only their souls would be released from the earth-covered tombs, and rounded holes or other openings were sometimes left for this.
On the chalklands of Britain the tombs were usually long earthen cairns and there is evidence from Dorset, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire that the bodies decayed first in mortuaries and that only the skeletons were buried. Earthen barrows were rectangular or wedge-shaped; extremely long ones occur in Dorset. Some, like Fussell`s Lodge barrow, built near Salisbury about 3,200 B.C., covered long timber houses which enclosed the bones of the dead. White chalk would form barrows which could be kept outstandingly white by scouring. In western Britain white quartz pebbles were sometimes laid on the mound (as in passage-graves in the bend of the Boyne in Co. Meath), or were heaped within it (as in the Isle of Man), recalling the giving of white stones in the Revelation of St. John, chapter 2, verse 17. Built of the great stones which give them their name, hundreds of megalithic monuments still bear witness in Ireland and western Britain to the importance of burial rites in the life of Neolithic man.
There are two main types of megalithic monuments in Britain and Ireland. It is a pattern related to the Atlantic route and to a seaborne dispersal of tomb styles which reached these islands from Spain and Brittany. The small group of late graves around the Medway are related to tombs found in Holland and north-west Germany and are the only ones which originated across narrower seas. Dutch megaliths date from about 2,600 to 2,000 B.C.
Up the Atlantic route, to land fronting on to the sea or linked with it by navigable rivers, seafarers brought two basic forms of tomb. One consisted of building galleried tombs set in long cairns and the other of having a passage leading to a burial chamber set in a round cairn. Groups followed the tomb style of the homelands they had left. Where the farming population was relatively numerous, as it was on both sides of the Severn estuary, or in the northern half of Ireland, tombs multiplied over the centuries and the knowledge of how to erect them was not lost. There is considerable uniformity in tomb styles in these areas. Both were magnets which drew in many early settlers to the exclusion of peninsulas like Cornwall, Pembrokeshire and Llyn. Although all these lie athwart the Atlantic route the megalith builders seem to have settled them at most in small groups in the early stages, and only increasingly later.
South-west Scotland and the Isle of Man were linked with Northern Ireland in their tomb styles. Islands attracted early settlement. Anglesey, the Isle of Man and Orkney all have examples of the primary tomb styles. But in Orkney and Shetland folk memories of the basic building styles seem to have died out and on the quite densely settled shores of Shetland and Orkney, and from Caithness down to the southern shores of the Moray Firth, a variety of massive tombs were later built which are unlikely any elsewhere. Penetration of inland areas, occurring later, also produced some strange isolated tombs. In the Peak District, and beyond it to a number of late gallery-graves. Where settlements developed on small patches of raised beach by little used sea routes, as they did in some of the western Isles, communities isolated by mountains could have lost the traditional skills of tomb-building and replaced them by new ideas. Local leaders everywhere could express their individuality and it is fruitless to try to assign a place for every megalithic tomb in an orderly sequence of development.
France has over five thousand megaliths and it was tomb styles derived from them which were brought to the British Isles. The megalithic gallery-graves of western France repeat in hard free-standing stones the plans of south French rock-cut tombs. These could be easily cut only in relatively soft rocks like those of Mediterranean lands. The passage-graves of Brittany, n the other hand, are related in plan and ornament to those of southern Spain. One French form of gallery-grave, that with pairs of chambers facing each other like transepts across the gallery, was brought from the lower Loire basin by settlers who landed on the Severn estuary. The earliest form of passage-grave also has rectangular side chambers, but these open off the rounded central chamber into which the passage leads. One chamber faces the inner end of the passage and the two other side chambers face each other across the main chamber. The finest group of these cruciform passage-graves is in the bend of the Boyne in Ireland, a site of great prehistoric sanctity which is notable for the New Grange and Knowth passage-graves and several henge monuments. New Grange, is a superb example of this tomb form, but it is matched in Orkney by the cruciform passage-grave of Mae Howe, splendidly built of local flagstones. Both these tombs have corbelled roofs like Mediterranean tholoi and their consummate workmanship suggests that they are the tombs of revered leaders who may have pioneered migration over long distances. Meas Howe was pillaged by Viking raiders, later seafarers with long voyages to their credit who buried their leaders in great splendour.
Cruciform passage-graves are most numerous in Ireland, at the cemetery in the bend of the Boyne, at Loughcrew west of it, and at Carrowmore and Carrowkeel in Co. Sligo. Later small groups spread across the sea to Anglesey and built two passage-graves there. In Ireland they spread to the Wicklow Mountains, to the uplands of Northern Ireland and to hills in the north of Antrim which overlook the North Channel and the seaways along the west Scottish coast. From this coast passage-grave builders may have learnt that the Great Glen route would take them more safely north-eastwards than the seaway around Cape Wrath. They used it and settled and multiplied along the great valley. Passage-graves are relatively numerous at its north-east end. This Clava group has primary corbelled passage-graves in round cairns which recall Spanish passage-graves, though is also has locally developed variants including annular cairns which enclose a ceremonial area which may not have been roofed.
The passage-graves of Orkney and Cromarty are very varied. There are primary tombs like Maes Howe but, as at Cava, provincial styles of tomb developed under burial cairns which are either round or long. Some elongated mounds cover burial compartments in the form of stalls separated by large flagstones. The Camster cairn, which gives its name to a tomb group in Caithness, is a tholos with an antechamber which could have been built by settlers from Spain.
Shetland has heel-shaped tombs set in small oval cairns with curved facades. Passages lead from the centres of these facades to cruciform or oval chambers. There are hints in the Northern Isles and in the north Scottish mainland both of direct links with the Mediterranean, and of intermixture of peoples and cultures which produced hybrids between passage- and gallery-graves. At Stanydale and Yoxie, in Shetland, two heel-shaped temples have concave forecourts which open out into enclosures off which lead well-built recesses. The Stanydale temple is the equivalent in size and form of the Mnaidra temple in Malta. Both these Shetland temples have small houses nearby. The larger house with a ritual forecourt 100 yards from the Yoxie temple has been interpreted as a priest`s house similar to those found near the Maltese temples like Mnaidra and Hal Tarxien ; from the floor of a small Maltese temple comes material which by C 14 analysis is dated at 2,700 B. C.
The Northern Isles were obviously more attractive to megalith builders than the Western Isles of Scotland. On Skye and the Outer Hebrides, and in pockets of lowland on the western mainland, passage-graves were built with oval or polygonal chambers and several of them may be late date. But a Neolithic settlement in Harris has produced an unusual C 14 date of 4,000 B. C. and hints at very early pioneering of a section of the Atlantic route which may not have been much used later.
Two main foci of gallery-graves builders are found along our western seaways. One imported the transeptal gallery-graves style of southern Brittany, while the other built the court cairns of the Clyde-Carlingford group and is found around landings of seafarers who were swept up the Irish coasts. Carlingford Lough was one of the entries. Both north-west and north-east Ireland have many court cairns and the coasts around the lower Clyde, those of south-west Scotland and the Isle of Man, intervisible in good weather, have smaller numbers of them. Court cairns, in which the gallery leads into the long cairn from a crescent-shaped facade of tall stones, seems to have evolved in Northern Ireland. They are most numerous there and it has been suggested that they evolved around Carlingford Lough or in Mayo and Sligo. They then spread inland and are widely distributed in the northern half of Ireland. Related groups built similar cairns above landings in the east of the Isle of Man, in Galloway and in islands and peninsulas off the mouth of the Clyde.
These megalith builders were a restive and virile people. Dissatisfied with the limited patches of good land which they found around the Irish Sea, or perhaps, as the centuries went by, driven from it by land hunger, families with some of their beasts took to the seas and rivers and ventured coastwise and inland. Their boats would provide quicker transport than overland travel through the forests. Such diffusion explains a passage-grave at Calderstones in Liverpool and the court cairn called the Bridestones on the western fringe of the Peak District. This tomb may be the burial place of families which came up the Mersey and its tributaries.
The builders of transeptal gallery-graves settled around the Bristol Channel, the Severn Sea of older maps. Their landings were made in southern Gower, along the Vale of Glamorgan coast and along the east shores of the Severn estuary below the steep scarp of the Cotswolds. There, on heights commanding the Severn Sea by which they had come, they and their successors built tombs like Hetty Peglar`s Tump. These large long barrows may contain as much as 5,000 tons of the local oolite limestone. Both megaliths and small thin slabs of Cotswold stone were used for the walling of facades, galleries and chambers. The skilled work of Cotswold masons in this beautiful building stone has a very early beginning.
Expansion from the Cotswolds took the builders of transeptal gallery-graves eastwards into the Marlborough Downs of Wessex, possibly already developing as the metropolis of prehistoric Britain, the land of a more settled population which had lost its urge for seafaring. Residual sarsen stones lying on the chalk surface provided a limited supply of building stone for tombs, and Wessex has about 160 long barrows built of earth and small stones. The majority have no burial chambers. In Wessex, eastwards along the chalk downs to Sussex and northwards to the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire Wolds, megalithic tombs are replaced by earthen long barrows.
As the megalith builders spread from the Cotswolds towards Wessex they built one of their transeptal gallery-graves at Lanhill near Chippenham, and on the fringe of the Marlborough Downs they built West Kennet cairn near Avebury. This was built in the first half of the third millennium B. C. And was finally blocked up in 1,600 B. C. During this millennium of use, some of the builders of the successive forms of the Avebury henge monument could have been among the forty-six individuals who were buried in it. The cairn at West Kennet is 350 feet long and eight feet high and it has a concave forecourt. Two pairs of chambers lead off its gallery and sarsen boulders were used in building its burial chambers. As in most sizeable gallery- and passage-graves a large organised labour force was needed for building the tomb and for carrying stone and constructional timber. Several West Kennet stones bear the marks of grinding where axes have been sharpened on them for more efficient dressing of timber.
From the Cotswolds the builders of transeptal gallery-graves spread across the Severn and up the Usk valley to the western slopes of the Black Mountains of Breconshire. Here, in forest clearings on patches of glacial gravel, which they could enlarge by slashing and burning, they settled and eventually built Cotswold tombs. These people also spread to North Wales, possibly along rivers routes up the marches of Wales, and on the eastern slopes of the Conway valley a late version of a transeptal gallery-grave was built at Capel Garmon. In an area where rocks were much harder than those of the Cotswolds, they had not abandoned their traditions of using both upright stones and dry walling. It may have been the axe factory at Graig Lwyd which lured this group northwards.
In West Kennet and most of the early tombs of Neolithic settler round-based pots were placed with the dead for use after rebirth. These are pots of primary types, Windmill Hill near West Kennet providing a name for two of the main forms. The earlier Irish and Scottish passage-graves and gallery-graves have all produced round-based pottery. Some of it is ornamented, unlike the plain Windmill Hill ware. In the Alcala passage-graves of southern Spain and in early graves in Brittany, round-bottomed pots were buried with the dead. Leaf-shaped arrowheads were placed in the tombs, perhaps with men who had been good hunters. Axe-heads were sometimes placed with the dead, and at Cairn Holy in Kirkcudbright a jadeite axe from Brittany was included as an offering. Beads and pins adorned the corpses but metal is never found in primary deposits in passage-graves or gallery-graves in Britain. Nor is it found in Brittany, but copper occurs in Iberian passage-graves like those of the Los Millares group. It would seem either that some taboo had developed against this usage, or that copper, if the megalith builder had found it, had become something to be traded back along the Atlantic route rather than worked up in Britain.
Magaliths continued to be built throughout the third millennium in the British Isles and we have seen that, locally, distinctive forms developed from primary passage- and gallery-graves.
Cruciform passage-graves lost their side chambers but the central round or oval chamber, off which they led, survived. This chamber is V-shaped in some Irish passage-graves and from it the so-called entrance-graves of Co. Waterford and the Scilly Islands may have developed. These are passage-graves in which the inner end of the passage forms a chamber only slightly wider than the passage. They lie under round cairns.
The latest forms of both passage- and gallery-graves are single chambers. They were still communal burial places, unlike later cists which covered burials of individuals. Great burial mounds and long galleries or passages ceased to be built and the curved facades of court cairns and transeptal gallery-graves were replaced by a pair of portal stones set across the entrance to a single chamber. Even these portals were discarded by some builders and late megaliths consist of a simple chamber under a massive capstone. The supports and capstone may be a considerable length and weight. These later megalith builders had not lost their skill in tomb-building and though the single chambers were usually covered by cairns, now that they are free-standing they are among the most impressive monument of western headlands in Britain. Such are some of the Cornish and west Welsh single-chambered tombs and many Irish dolmens. Where the single-chambers are polygonal in forms, like that at Longhouse near the shores of north Pembrokeshire, they are thought to be vestiges of passage-graves. Rectangular chambers, of which there are god examples on the Land`s End peninsula, may have been built by the descendants of gallery-grave builders.
The last vestiges of megalith-building, the tombs of degenerate or poor groups, were the earthfast chambers in which an overhanging rock and one or two small uprights supported the capstone. The coasts of both North and South Wales provide examples of these makeshift megaliths. Both areas have fine tombs like the passage-graves of Anglesey, or Tinkinswood gallery-graves in Glamorgan, and also have many single-chambers.
Tomb-building as practised by Neolithic peoples is reminiscent of the carving and erection of massive statues by another group of navigators, those of Easter Island. Thor Heyerdahl`s experiments showed that considerable organisation was needed to erect one of the statues. Mrs. E. M. Clifford estimated that the transeptal gallery-graves at Rodmarton in Gloucestershire embodied 5,000 tons of stone which could have been provided in 250 days by 100 men. She calculated that the preparation of the site of the tomb and its erection would have occupied most of the following year. When prehistoric man transferred his loyalties from an earth goddess to a sun god and built the great henge monuments of the Bronze Age, we know that he brought similar skills and organisation to the building of his temples.
One may speculate on the forces which took megalith builders out of the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic route. They were not unique in this since Pacific and Viking peoples repeated their voyages and exploits. West European megaliths, set under great mounds, are very different from the early burial places of Mesopotamiam and Egyptian peoples, but the impetus may have come from the Fertile Crescent. There, in the fifth and fourth millennia, great civilisations developed, elaborate tombs were built and burial rites centred on a belief in the afterlife. Good tone was not always available by the great rivers, and bricks were often used for tomb, building. Pottery, stone axes, copper daggers, figurines and beads were placed in tombs there and in Mediterranean islands like Crete. An ideology centred on committal to the earth and on rebirth may have spread westwards. Around the Aegean, settlement by builders of early tholoi and rectangular stone chambers may have been followed by expansion over the islands and coastlands. Tomb forms may have evolved there into more elaborate tholoi and rectilinear tombs. Far away in north-west Europe a different sequence developed from early tholos tombs but grave gods and forms of ornament such as spirals suggest that the builders of British passage-graves and the men who built the later tholoi of Greece had some beliefs in common.
Islands like Malta, at the crossways between the eastern and western basins of the Mediterranean, became centres of the megalithic religion. South Spain and south France were settled and, subsequently, the cult was carried across isthmuses and coastwise to the British Isles. Some have argued that priests like the later Celtic saints led these movements. There was an urge to voyage, settle and survive and a preoccupation with elaborate burial rituals in graves built by and for the community which appears to have obviated warfare. Whether prospectors, pilgrims or priests, and perhaps all of these were found among them, they and the builders of the eastern barrows had peopled many British shores by 2,000 B.C., had settled a great deal of our downland and were spreading into such upland regions as could profitably be tilled by their primitive tools.