CRAFTSMEN IN METAL
Late in the Neolithc period, about 2,000-1,800 B. C., consider able groups of pastoralists and prospectors began to immigrate into southern Britain. They came from the Low Countries across the narrow seas to the lands around the Thames and East Anglian estuaries. Soon afterwards other waves of related immigrants came up the Atlantic route to south-west England and South Wales. The distinguishing feature of their equipment was the drinking vessel known as a beaker. It was often of good red ware and more finely fashioned than earlier Neolithic pottery. Bell-shaped beakers usually come in with the early beaker immigrants. Later waves of settlers brought in more richly ornamented ones and over the next three hundred years beakers spread throughout much of Britain. Some type of beaker, such as those with a long neck, may have evolved here.
The Beaker people were distinct, both in physique and culture, from the Neolithic peoples who were already living in Britain. They were more robust and often taller than the slightly built megalith builders and secondary Neolithic folk, and had more prominent facial bones and broader skulls. Intermingling with the native peoples eventually produced a mixture of physical types and long skulls are found in some Beaker burials. But the physical characters of the Beaker people, and their capacity for leadership and organisation, have survived in the population of Britain.
The Beaker people were pastoralists with considerable mobility. Some of them prospectors: they introduced copper and gold. Recent finds of Beakers in Ireland lie near to copper deposits and many traces were left en route to Ireland, notably on or near the south and north coasts of Wales. The Beaker people hammered out copper daggers and flat axe blades, but only one in twenty of the Beaker graves of Britain contains metal. Much of their prospecting must have been unsuccessful and the scarce metal was replaced by more plentiful flint. Finely chipped and shaped copies of flint of copper daggers are found in some Beaker burials. Both metal and flint daggers would be useful tools for hunters.
Although the Beaker people still inhumed their dead, they were concerned neither with elaborate burial rituals nor with months and years of tomb-building as were the builders of passage- and gallery-graves. The Beaker dead were usually trussed into a foetal position and placed, singly, as “crouched burials” in cists, and relatively small round barrows were erected over these. Beaker burials were also inserted into many of the long barrows built by earlier Neolithic peoples.
The centuries from 3,000 to about 5,000 B. C., in the Sub-Boreal Period, were warm and became gradually drier. They were years when life on upland pastures was more agreeable than it now is. Trading and hunting by land and sea would also be affected by fewer storms. The Beaker and Bronze Age peoples were able to take their flocks and the limits of cultivation upslope into the high hills. Hunting with barbed and tanged arrowheads could be carried on extensively there. As the Bronze Age progressed, ridgeways were tramped out along the hill crests of both highland and lowland Britain and the round barrows of the Bronze Age, which often lay along them, stand out in silhouette today. The population steadily increased, trade routes ramified, and Wessex, at the junction of transpeninsular, riverine and, beyond them, sea routes, became in the Middle Bronze Age the magnificent centre of a flourishing culture dominated by aristocratic chiefs.
The Beaker people settled or wandered among the native people of Kent and Sussex, Wessex, East Anglia (especially the Breckland) and South and North Wales. Expansion and further waves of immigration from the Rhineland brought Beaker folk to the limestones of the Peak District, to the Yorkshire Wolds and Moors, and to the limestone fringes of the Eden valley east of the Lake District. The Beakers of these later migrants were characteristically short-necked. Many areas along and behind the Northumbrian and east Scottish coasts were now settled and in western Scotland the new migrants frequented the coasts and islands around the mouth of the Clyde. Both ends of the Great Glen route have Beaker burials. In north Britain, long-necked beakers, developed locally, are the most common form and bell beakers are very rare. Beaker immigrants to Scotland may have sought, and found, the copper ores of the Loch Ness area and of the Ochils and Leadhills on the margins of the central valley of Scotland. Metal is, however, very rare until the late Bronze Age on Scottish sites. It is also doubtful whether the Beaker folk found the gold of the Lowther Hills around the source of the Clyde, though beaker finds occur in the area.
Throughout Britain there are signs that the Beaker people, like their Bronze Age successors, moved along ridge routes such as the Icknield Way and back and forth along the Jurassic Way between the Cotswolds and the Yorkshire Moors. They also used the larger river valleys as routeways, probably moving along the scrub-covered gravel terraces when the rivers ceased to be navigable. Several of these valleys contain their great ceremonial monuments.
In all these areas they sought pasture for flocks and land for tillage. We cannot say whether beakers were made to contain beer or milk. Barley was widely cultivated by the Beaker people; a beaker found in a round cairn on Moel Hebog in Caernarvonshire had been placed before firing on a hut floor where both barley and wheat grains were pressed into wet clay. The huts of the Beaker people rarely survive, but those which do are round or oval; on Easton Down in Hampshire their huts were, at most, only ten feet across and were partly subterranean. Warmth, and freedom from constant rain, probably made permanent shelters less necessary for these pastoralists.
The majority of the tanged copper daggers found in Beaker graves occur in Wessex. Copies in flint are more common elsewhere. Wessex was already trading via the Avon valley through the Cotswolds and along the South Wales coast to Ireland. Copper, gold, and products made from both came from Ireland along this route. Ireland, with rich reserves of metal and a relatively dense population surviving from the Neolithic, exported to many British centres across the Irish Sea. Her exports of finished goods in the early Bronze Age included flat axes, often richly decorated, and the crescent-shaped gold collars, or lunulae, which were distributed in Britain and to the Bronze Age peoples of the European mainland.
There was four types of axe made in Britain during the fourteen centuries of the Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age. A similar sequence, from copper daggers through rapiers to long slashing swords, parallels this development of the less warlike axe. Whereas flat copper axes and primitive copper daggers could be hammered out, the later bronze implement demand, firstly, the correct proportions of ten per cent tin and ninety per cent copper, and then casting of the resulting bronze. The most common form of casting was cire perdue (wax lost) in which the bronze axe or sword was modelled in wax. Clay was then moulded around this model and as the clay was fired and hardened the wax ran out. Molten metal, poured into the hardened mould, took the form of the model axe or sword and, after it cooled, the clay was split open. Bronze became plentiful in the Late Bronze Age and socketed axes made during its final centuries are much more numerous than other types of axe. The Beaker people traded limited numbers of the early type, the flat axe.
Beaker folk, possibly as organisers of groups of the late Neolithic population, initiated the henge monuments of Britain. They are unique to Britain and reflect her position as a wealthy provider of metals. A henge, in the sense of a stone gallows, a lintelled copy of stone of a wood prototype, is found only at one of the finest of the henges, Stonehenge itself. There are about fifty henges in Britain and their distinguishing feature is a bank with an inner ditch which encloses a roughly circular ceremonial area. This area may contain stone uprights, as at Stonehenge, stone uprights of which have been deliberately thrown down by later peoples as appears to be the case at Arbor Low, or wooden uprights of which only the postholes survive. This is the case at Woodhenge where six concentric circles of posts lay within the ditch. Woodhenge and the sanctuary were roofed ceremonial temples and were initiated before most large henge monuments. At Woodhenge, Windmill Hill pottery was found at the base of the ditch.
Henges are found from Cornwall to Orkney. There are a pair in Wales at Llandegai, near Bangor, and several have recently been identified in Ireland. Some Irish examples lie with the great passage-graves in the bend of the Boyne. Henges usually occur on relatively flat land, whether it be low plateaux or river plains spread with gravel. Their builders needed reasonably spacious sites, at nodal points of routeways, on land in which great ditches and banks could be readily dug by large labour forces. Henges are often close to streams to which evenues lead, suggesting that water may have played some part in the ceremonies carried out at them. Many have burial mounds around them; Stonehenge, for example, is surrounded by Bronze Age cemeteries. Other ceremonial monuments, sometimes associated with them, but earlier than the henges, are the cursus monuments which take the form of long rectangles enclosed by parallel banks and ditches. They may have been processional ways and sometimes aligned on long barrows. The banks and ditches of the Stonehenge cursus are 400 yards apart; this cursus starts half a mile north of Stonehenge and runs towards Woodhenge. Stukely, who discovered it in 1723, gave these monuments their name, assuming that they were racecourses. The Dorset cursus, a stupendous work six miles long, stretches from Thickthorn Down to Bokerly Dyke. At Thornborough in Yorkshire a cursus underlies the middle henge in a line of three. A cursus is associated with the Llandegai henges and several occur on the upper Thames gravels around Dorchester among henge monuments. It is likely that more cursus and henge monuments will be discovered, like many in the past years, by air survey.
Henges date from about 1,900 to 1,500 B. C. And can be roughly divided into those which are relatively small and have only one entry, and the larger ones which have two entries facing each other. In the heart of metropolitan Wessex, Stonehenge, Woodhenge, and, immediately north of it, Durrington Walls, form a spectacular group of henges. Durrington Walls is 1,500 feet in diameter and one of its entries lies near the Wiltshire Avon. Farther north-west in Wessex, Avebury, six miles west of Marlborough, rivals Stonehenge in splendour. It is encircled by a far more impressive bank, 1,400 feet in diameter, faced under the turf with chalk blocks. In Dorset there are four henges: one at Knowlton near Cranbourne and another at Eggardon, one east of Dorchester, and another south of it which the Romans used as an amphitheatre. The three Cornish henges include the Stipple Stones near Bodmin. Near Wells the four Priddy Circles are a line of henge monuments with their banks built within the ditch as at Stonehenge, and not outside it, as was the usual practice. Gorsey Bigbury henge lies near Cheddar in the Mendips and is one of the small types with only one entry which probably comes early in the series.
The best-known East Anglian henge is at Arminghall near Norwich. Set among Beaker burial mounds, it had inner and outer ditches and, within them, in a horseshoe setting 40-50 feet in diameter, eight enormous upright timbers. Wide river valleys like those of the Welland and Trent have several henges and some Yorkshire valleys also have these ceremonial centres. Near Ripon there are three at Thornborough whose banks are coated with gypsum, possibly to imitate chalk. Two more Yorkshire henges lie on Hutton Moor, and in the Peak District are Arbor Low and the Bull Ring. From Ripon, valleyways lead through the limestones of Wensleydale past Castle Dykes henge nearAysgarth, or through Swaledale past Maiden Castle henge, into the Eden valley. Near the lowlying confluence of the Eden and Eamont lies the small known as the Round Table and the larger Mayburgh one where, formerly, a rectangle of larger stones lay within the surviving high bank of gravel boulders.
Northumberland has two henges and in Scotland there are about a dozen. Three of these are simple and small with only one entry, and lie in Dumfries, Berwickshire and Fife. The larger Scottish henges are scattered between Dumfries (Broadlee), Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Argyll, Aberdeenshire, Ross and Cromarty and Orkney. Among the best-known sites is Cairnpapple Hill in West Lothian where three huge boulders set in a circle of upright stones were replaced by a henge containing an oval setting of stones which marked Beaker burials. The site shows continuity of sanctity accompanied by changes in beliefs, for the henge was replaced by a cist burial surmounted by a kerbed cairn which was subsequently enlarged for the insertion of later Bronze Age and Iron Age burials. Orkney retains, in the neighbourhood of the great Maes Howe passing-graves, near Strommes, the impressive henge known as the Ring of Brodgar where twenty-seven tall uprights survive out of the original sixty. It lies on a low isthmus between two lochs. Of the stones of Stennes, not far away, only four stones remain within the henge. The Ring of Brookan, the third in this group, lacks an outer bank but has central stones which may be the ruins of a burial chamber or of a cove, such as that at Avebury.
Several henge monuments embody traditions of building in great stones; circles of standing stones were built near some of them. The large circle known as Long Meg and her daughters lies near Mayburgh. At henges like Arminghall huge upright timbers stood within the banks. At other henges such as Avebury stone uprights were used. Here about a hundred large sarsen blocks formed a great circle in which two smaller circles, each of about thirty stones, were placed. The more southerly of these inner circles contains the setting of stones known as the Cove, a feature, also, of Arbor Low. The two wood and stone building traditions fused at Stonehenge with such splendid results that it has been suggested that a master builder directed operations.
But when the building of Stonehenge started about 1,800 B. C. neither stone nor wooden uprights were used inside the monuments. Professor Atkinson has suggested that the great bank, 380 feet in diameter, was built then, the earth being cast up from the ditch on its outer side. Fifty-six pits, the Aubrey Holes, placed within the bank, acted as cremation pits. The entrance to this cremation cemetery led to the Heel Stone, a rough sarsen boulder. Sarsen stones used later at Stonehenge were dressed by battering them with stone hammers.
The Beaker folk, in their journeys through South Wales, may have used the ridgeway along the crest of the Presely Mountains which commands wide views over the Irish Sea, over Milford Haven and over the ridges which lead down to it. The crest of Presely culminates in natural cairns of igneous rock which weathers into columns. Columnar surface boulders are liberally scattered around. The Beaker people hauled about sixty of them down to the upper reaches of Milford Haven and rafted them coastwise up the Severn Sea, and, probably, up the Bristol Avon. Their route to Stonehenge could hence have been up the Frome River, overland to near Warminster, on the Wyle River, and down it to its confluence with the Wiltshire Avon. The bluestones could have been rafted up this river to the end of the Stonehenge Avenue near Amesbury and then hauled up the Avenue. Between 11,650 and 1,500 B. C. a double circle of bluestones were erected in the centre of the sacred area at Stonehenge and then, possibly when new leaders took over, it was dismantled.
By 1,500 B. C. the warriors chiefs of Wessex, probably descended from Beaker leaders, were wealthy traders with contacts not merely with Ireland but, over a complex network of trade routes, with the Aegean area and Egypt. These aristocrats, and perhaps their master builder who may have come from Mycenae or Minoan Crete, planned the magnificent monument whose remnants stand at Stonehenge today. Eighty sarsen blocks, many weighing 20-30 tons, were manhauled by organized gangs from the gentle slopes of the Marlborough Downs, and the sarsen stones were then set up in an outer circle of paired uprights topped by a continuous ring of lintels. Five pairs of lintelled uprights were set in a horseshoe within the circle. the Mycenean dagger on one of the sarsens may be the mark of the master builder. Subsequently, over twenty of the bluestones were dressed, grooved and lintelled and set up within the sarsen horseshoe. These bluestone trilithons were later converted into a horseshoe of upright pillars. Changes in ideas, and perhaps loss of wise guidance, became increasingly apparent; an intention to erect bluestones in the Z and Y holes were partly implemented and then abandoned. They were finally set up in a circle inside the sarsen circle. A great sandstone pillar, now fallen and called the Alter Stone, came from Cosheston where, near Pembroke, Milford Haven changes to an east-west course.
Much astronomical argument has raged around Stonehenge. From 1,500 B. C. the axis of the monument was aligned on the point were the sun rose on Midsummer Day, and there are other indications in their grave goods that the Wessex aristocracy were sun worshippers. Powerful leaders of the trading and religious centre of Britain, they adorned themselves with god plates engraved with sun symbols, with gold-bound amber beads like those of Knossos and with gay faience beads from the great civilisations of the eastern Mediterranean. Turquoise-green faience, made by firing lime and quartz crystals with copper compounds, is a Mesopotamian invention of the 5th millennium B. C. Large quantities of faience were made during the eighteenth dynasty in Egypt (1,580-1,314 B. C.) and it was also manufactured in Mycenean Greece. In addition, the Wessex chiefs wore necklaces of amber, the fossil resin which came from Yorkshire or Denmark, and a variety of gold plates, some lozenge-shaped, may have been sewn on their clothing.
Their luxury goods may have been the envy of other British leaders. Trade in faience extended from south-east England to the Scilly Isles and up to north-east Wales, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Wolds. A fine amber cup was buried near Hove with a Sussex chief, and a beaker of corrugated sheet gold comparable to the gold cups of Mycenae was found in a barrow adjoining the Hurlers stone circle near Liskeard. This Cornish leader was buried with his dagger as was a Norfolk chief at Little Cressingham whose gold and amber ornaments were as rich as those of most Wessex Chiefs.
After about 1,300 B. C., Wessex, like Mycenae, declined. The vigorous trade along the Atlantic and Mediterranean routes in metals and ornaments decreased as the copper lodes of Central Europe contributed increasingly to European metallurgy, but where Wessex lost its supremacy its influence was felt by Middle Bronze Age communities who lived by the Upper Thames, in East Anglia and in well-drained uplands in western and northern Britain. In northern areas circles of standing stones, or isolated pillar stones, or rocks surfaces ornamented with spirals or cup and ring markings are found. Ilkley Moor and the fringes of the Lake District have such ritual stones where sun worship may have been practiced. On the Atlantic coast of Scotland, Galloway and Kintyre also have ornamented ritual monuments set among burial mounds.
Bronze Age round barrows in highland Britain cover a variety of grave goods. In northern Britain the native peoples placed food vessels, probably their best household pots, with the dead during the first half of the Bronze Age. The influence of Secondary Neolithic traditions, such as those of the makers of Peterborough pottery, is apparent in these heavily ornamented pots. Around the Irish Sea, Galloway, Cumberland, the Isle of Man, West Wales and eastern Ireland have a distinctive type of food vessel, while in Yorkshire and eastern Scotland these have larger rims. Necklace of jet beads accompanying the burials in east Yorkshire where jet is found and in North Wales to which it was traded.
By 1,500 B. C. cremation was the most usual funerary rite among a population which was increasing and spreading throughout Britain. Settled conditions and active trade spread the fashion of placing the ashes in an urn almost uniformly throughout Britain. Hills in central Wales, northern England and eastern Scotland were probably first peopled in these Middle Bronze Age centuries. In the fourteenth century B. C., pygmy cups, perhaps for incense, were placed in graves. Travelling tinkers and smiths circulated larger numbers of Bronze axes among the farming population. The native Neolithic, Beaker and Food Vessel peoples, now welded together in the settled centuries of the middle Bronze Age, were increasingly tied to land which they cultivated.
Permanently occupied farmsteads can be recognized in many areas of lowland and highland Britain from about 1,000 B. C. They are found in areas where cultivation continued into the Iron Age. Small fields surrounded farmsteads, and collectively they denote extensive forest clearance by a relatively large population well equipped with metal axes. Species of snails from Neolithic sites belonged to woodland habitats, while those from Iron Age sites are snails of open grasslands.
From the twelfth century B. C. folk movements resulting from unrest in Central Europe spread outwards. Within two centuries displacement of peoples through the Rhineland and northern France pushed bands of migrant farmers into south-east England. These were people whose name come from the Deverel and Rimbury barrows in Dorset. In their cemeteries they buried characteristic globular and barrel-shaped urns. The Deverel-Rimbury people spread throughout south-east England, avoiding clay-capped downland in Sussex and the Chilterns, and also westward into Cornwall. In highland Britain the native urn folk continued to farm. Though their farming system is not always so clearly imprinted on the landscape as that of the Deverel-Rimbury people, they practised some arable farming and offerings of corn sheaves were sometimes placed in their graves.
In southern England square or rectangular fields, were laid out in these and subsequent centuries. These fields often did not exceed half an acre and were scratched out with a light plough or ard drawn by teams of two tosix oxen. The plough probably lacked a coulter to cut the turf in front of the share, and turned only a shallow furrow, so that the fields often had to be cross-ploughed. Trackways link these fields to farmsteads, springs and streams. Flocks were important in the farming economy and enriched fields with their dung. On the chalklands of Wessex, deep V-shaped ditches were dug to demarcate tribal grazing grounds or big ranch-like farms. Cattle movements could be controlled along them, and long ditches like that north of, and parallel to, the Berkshire Ridgeway may have been used for droving over longer distances. Farmhouses were both isolated and nucleated. A Bronze Age hamlet of c. 800 B. C. on Itford Hill, in Sussex, consisted of thirteen round huts of which four were dwellings and nine storehouses or workshops. The women dried barley and ground it in saddle querns, and wove cloth on upright looms; their looms weights and bone weaving combs have been found. There is evidence that the people lived mainly on beef and mutton, on wheat and barley bread, and on porridge, that they collected wild fruit, nuts and shellfish and hunted with slingstones. At Brentford on the Thames, however, and on the rivers of Essex, waterside villagers may have been more interested in fishing.
The hillsides of Atlantic Britain, lovely under high cloud at mid-summer, must have enjoyed many more such days in the Bronze Age than they now do. By the Iron Age, days of mist and low cloud would have been common. But in the late Bronze Age, before the climate deteriorated, pastoralists set up many villages there, notably on Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Pastoral peoples, far more numerous than the present permanent population of upland Dartmoor, left on the landscape many ceremonial circles and avenues of standing stones and lived in stone huts which were sometimes surrounded by large cattle-pounds. Some of the huts have separate living and work rooms, and sleeping-quarters with box beds. The fields around the settlements may cover many acres. Near Widecombe, Foales Arishes had twenty-five acres of fields which expanded and gradually coalesced in the Iron Age with those of neighbouring villages. This conversion of large areas of pasture into arable between c. 1,200 and c. 450 B. C. involved much toil with primitive ploughs and spades. The ploughs are thought to have been crook ards, similar to those of contemporary Denmark, in which a bent bough had its tip hardened by fire before being equipped with a plough-share. The farmsteads lay on the edges of the fields, and cattle from them used trackways which led up to the open moor. Villages of nearly a hundred huts had developed in Dartmoor by the Iron Age. The villagers were peaceful farmers. One or two smiths provided metal goods for farm work and some tools, such as socketed axes ornamented with rib markings, were acquired from Glamorgan.
On hillsides in northern England and southern Scotland similar villages, based on mixed farming, were built in the Late Bronze Age and in the Iron Age. Hillsides in the North Pennines, underlain in limestone, have many of them. On hillsides above the Eden valley in Westmorland / Cumbria there are half a dozen villages with clearly marked field systems and trackways. The fields and folds of three villages around Crosby Garrett cover 160 acres, while Cumberland/ Cumbria and Northumberland had similar settlements. In the Southern Uplands of Scotland stock-farmers built settlements which were numbered in hundreds by the time the Romans arrived there. As in northern England, small rectangular fields were associated with them especially in Roxburgh and Peeblesshire. The farmsteads were often built on platforms cut into the hillsides and sometimes had a timber framework covered with wattle screens. Groupings of up to four round houses, built, perhaps, by a kinship group, are found within a palisade. In the Iron Age, ditches were dug round stone huts for drainage. In Perthshire and elsewhere groups of round stone huts probably date from the early Iron Age. As in southern Britain, repeated ploughing of hillsides began to carry the soil downslope and lynchetted fields were formed. Thus began in Scotland the development of self-sufficient villages, set among small fields dotted with storehouses and folds, which are exemplified in St. Kilda.
Iron ore, more widely distributed than tin and copper ores, was used sporadically in Mesopotamia and Egypt between 3,000 and 2,500 B. C., but the Hittites of Central Turkey were the first people to work it commercially. This they did around 1,500 B. C. By 1,000 B. C. iron was in use in Greece and two hundred years later was being worked in Central Europe. By 700 B. C. iron-using Hallstatt peoples there disturbed, as did the gradually rising waters, the peaceful lake-side farmers of the Alpine valleys. They set in motion waves of migration, accompanied by warfare, which reverberated in Britain; Hallstatt invaders, equipped mainly with bronze swords, reached south-east England about 500 B. C. when the cool wet Sun-Atlantic Period was beginning. They brought with them the iron A culture which was succeeded in centuries of deteriorating climate which caused migration to lower and better lands, by Iron B and, shortly before the Roman Conquest, by Iron C peoples. Later Iron A immigrants came in smaller numbers up the Atlantic route, Iron B (Le Tene) immigrants came from both north-east France and Brittany, while the Belgae of Iron C came mainly from north-east France to lowland Britain.
Iron is more malleable than bronze and does not require casting. It can be reheated after smelting and, while red hot, hammered into shape on an anvil. It can be repaired more readily in the forge than bronze. Furnances, forging pits and quenching pits for purifying iron, and anvils, have been found in Iron Age smithies in southern England. Much heavier tools could be made, including coulters and ploughshares, and heavier land could be cleared and cultivated. Earlier Iron Age ploughs were probably drawn by pairs of oxen, four being sometimes yoked abreast. The equipment brought to Britain by successive Iron Age immigrants made possible advances in the standard of living, and because of the greater variety and efficiency of iron weapons, particularly swords wielded by horsemen, it also increased the mortality rate.
Iron A settlers of the fifth and fourth centuries B. C. were, however, more interested in tillage than warfare. They intermarried with the Bronze Age farming families and added field to field. Many of their farmsteads were bigger than the Bronze Age huts but, like them, they were round, timber-framed on stone footings and had wattle-and-daub walls and thatched roofs. Little Woodbury Cross and Boscombe Down settlements typify the Iron Age villages of the chalklands. With more rain falling on its arable and pastures, a chalkland settlement like Boscombe Down could expand to cover seventy-six acres in the eight centuries between Iron A and the end of the Roman Period. The dampness of the Sub-Atlantic Period so favoured cereal cultivation in the chalklands that the Romans were able to take them over as a productive granary with an exportable surplus, and they carved out large estates there.
Wheats (emmer and spelt) were grown and sheaves of both were hung on corn-drying racks. Spelt grains are so tight in their husk that they can be satisfactory threshed only after the grain is loosened by baking. Grains of wheat and six-rowed barley are baked in clay ovens and were either then ground in saddle querns or stored in clay-lined pits, but when these became too damp they were used as rubbish pits. There were about three hundred and sixty of them at Little Woodbury. Herding and hunting were carried out with horses and dogs, and slings and iron spears were used in the chase.
In Atlantic Britain, Bronze Age villagers continued to farm from their round stone huts with little disturbance, but a few Iron A migrants came up the Irish Sea and settled the more fertile coastlands. Here, for example in the Vale of Glamorgan, they built stockade farms and tended cows and sheep. Huts were clustered inside low banks on the hills of North Wales and there are similar settlements in Cornwall. These are not the heavily fortified camps of Iron B but, rather, cattle corrals. In northern England existing villages and fields expanded on the limestone hillsides, notably those of the Yorkshire Dales, such as Wharfedale, near Grassington.
During the third centuty B. C., continental disturbances pushed Iron B intruders into Britain. These were Celtic tribesmen and when their chiefs were not leading them into tribal skirmishes, they tended their flocks and fostered craftsmanship in metal. Their culture originated in the Alpine heart of Europe and one of their tribal centres was Le Tene, between Lake Bienne and Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. The warrior groups which came to south-east Britain were from the Marne basin of France. These Marnians sought similar country here and, taking native women as wives, they became dominant in East Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Essex; by 150 B. C. they were working the ores of the Weald. They also settled the Yorkshire Wolds where they founded the Parisi tribe, and on dying, were buried with the two-horse chariots which they had brought to Britain. In western Britain, west of the Isle of Wight, Le Tene invaders who had been in contact with the Marnians in France came in along the Atlantic route. This seaway was well-known in the classical world, and Mediterranean merchants like Pytheas, who came up it to Britain about 330-325 B. C., brought wine northwards and took back tin ingots from Cornwall. The Veneti of Brittany were among the mariners who used the route and their trade links embraced Britain and Iberia. Trade and invasion brought in fine metalwork, debased classical motifs on pottery, and new forms of fortification.
The distinctive western pots of Iron B have a mainly coastal distribution in Devon and Cornwall, and are found on and behind both shores of the Severn Sea. A few finds have been made along the shores of Cardigan Bay, and forde`s excavation of the great fort on Pen Dinas, which towers over Aberystwyth, produced some sherds. These pots are also found in the castors of north-west Spain and Portugal where a stylised duck ornaments them. In British pottery this duck, as imitated by native women, has been reduced to an S-shaped scrawl. Mediterranean coinage, too, suffered the same fate as classical bird ornament and coins founded on those of Philip II of Macedon show a similar decline in skill when Iron B peoples attempted to imitate them in their mints.
These were households goods, or coins, which perhaps had to be reproduced quickly and in quantity. La Tene objects which were designed for the adornment of warrior leaders and of their horses and chariots show much more skill and beauty. They were often in bronze and included elaborate pins to fasten clothing, shields with brilliant enamel inlay, bronze bridle and harness pieces, horse armour like the pony`s cap from Torrs, in Kirkcudbright, and bronze furnishings for two-wheeled chariots. By the time the Romans invaded, such objects were circulating throughout lowland and highland Britain. Groups who were either fleeing from the Romans, or making votive offerings to Celtic gods, cast La Tene metalwork, their most precious possessions, into lakes. The Torrs pony cap was such an offering, and the rich hoard from Llyn Cerrig Bach, in Anglesey, was another. La Tene metalwork had been found along several North Wales routeways. It includes the Cerrig y Drudion bowl and the Capel Garmon firedog, from the Dee-Conway route. Oxheads on this firedog remind us of the basically pastoral economy of the La Tene peoples. The Clwyd valley and its hills have also produced a few of their fine pieces. For seasonal feasts, held perhaps after autumn cattle killings, they made sheet-bronze cauldrons and tankards. The tankard from Trawsfynydd in Merioneth has their characteristic curvilinear ornament. The remains of a later shield, from Cader Idris in the same country, may have been hidden under a rock by a smith who meant to melt it down. North-west Wales had obtained gold torcs from Ireland for adornment in the Late Bronze Age and some of the La Tene goods also came across the Irish Sea. Several of the Welsh finds may have been lost by intinerant craftsmen from lowland Britain, the area in which their beautiful products are most numerous. But it was western Britain which supplied the copper and tin for the craftsmen, and some of the iron for objects like the Capel Garmon firedog.
Iron B peoples left stronger imprints on the British landscape than any other prehistoric people, in the form of great hill-forts, often still marked by a series of grass-grown or dry-stone ramparts. Originally stockade, much higher, and flanked by deeper ditches, they are still impressive features of the hill-tops, hill-brows and promontories of Britain. Some of the smaller forts with weaker ramparts may have been built by Iron A people for defence against the Iron B invaders. But the largest hill-forts are the tribal capitals of the Marnians, Veneti and the British peoples with whom they intermarried. Some, like the Llanbedr-y-cennin fort above the Conway valley, or Craig Gwrtheyrn above the Teifi, near Llandysul, are surrounded by a chevaux de fries, a fringe of protruding sharp stones to halt attackers outside the ramparts. This is a feature if Iberian castors, or fortified camps, and of forts built by the slingsmen of Brittany. It antedates by two thousand years the iron “horses,” spikes which were set similarly by Frisian infantry to deter cavalrymen. Heaps of waterworn pebbles, placed ready for slingsmen, are often found behind the ramparts of hill-forts. Over twenty thousand were found at Maiden Castle in Dorset.
Early Iron B invaders probably threw up single defensive ramparts to make small camps when they arrived in Britain. They and succeeding settlers multiplied the banks of later forts. Both types are scattered throughout English uplands south of the Pennines. Iron B peoples built relatively few ports in northern England, though there are some large tribal fortresses there, like Stanwick in Yorkshire and Yeavering Bell in Northumberland. The largest forts, with close-set multiple ramparts, like Maiden Castle in Dorset, Hembury in Devon, Carn Brae in Cornwall, Bagendon in Gloucestershire or Tre`r Ceiri in Caernavonshire, became the oppida (tribal capitals) which imitated the defended towns of Celtic Central Europe. They expanded until the Romans invaded Britain and were often centres of resistance. To-day their ramparts survive in areas which the Romans were sometimes forced to hold only lightly.
Other types of enclosure in southern and western Britain are set on hill-slopes and have widely spaced ramparts. Commanded from the hill-sides above them, they have little defence value, but they could have been built by villagers who rounded up their cattle there and kept them temporarily between the ramparts. Iron B peoples also sought steep-sided spurs or coastal promontories which could be defended with the minimum of fortification. These promontory forts are common, for example, on the South Wales coast, and were defended by isthmian lines of banks and ditches. The fortified entrances of promontory forts, and those which are encircled by multiple ramparts, often have elaborate outworks and are incurved to form a tunnel, while within them are the foundations of the villagers` huts. Here they lived, either permanently or in times of war. Huts are also found outside the ramparts.
The settlement pattern represented by Iron B forts suggested occupation of coastlands by people who kept their links with the seaways, and were reinforced by immigration along them. Expansion up major valleys followed in the west. It may have been in full swing about 100 B. C. Hill-brows above the Severn, Usk and Wyevalleys, for instance, then provided sites for many large and heavily defended forts. East of the lower Wye the iron of the Forest of Dean was made into currency bars, trade goods from which a sword could be made. Several have been found in the hill-forts of the Cotswolds and were traded southwards from them. There are about a thousand hill-forts in western Britain. Their distribution suggests that the stormier climate had forced people and flocks to desert the high hills, occupied in the Bronze Age, for hill-brows at medium heights. Their pastures may have been upslope of the forts but their arable fields were probably downslope nearer the valley bottom. Lowlands and cliff-tops were also occupied where sites could be readily defended.
Not all Iron B peoples lived in hill-forts. There must have been many isolated undefended farmsteads, as in Iron A, and there were also groups which relied on water defences. Because of the preservative properties of peat, we get the best impression of an Iron B culture from the lake villages of Somerset. The Meare and Glastonbury villages were crannogs built on timber platforms linked with dry land by log causeways, and were communities of prosperous traders and craftsmen, dating from about 150 B. C. into the first century A. D. At Meare there were sixty huts and workshops on each of the two crannogs. At Glastonbury there were eighty-nine on a two-acre site. Their La Tene metalwork, glass, shale and jet ornaments, bone combs, wooden containers, and their textiles, have all been preserved. The lakes provided them with fish and fowl and nearby hillsides with land for their animals and for tillage.
The last of the stormy Iron Age centuries brought Belgic invaders into southern Britain to settle, for the most part, in lowland Britain. The Celtic-Germanic confederacy of the Belgae had resisted the Romanisation of Gaul. Thrusting and resentful, they came as large bands of refugee families from north France to Kent and east Essex in 75 B. C. Here they built an oppidum at Colchester. Some of them rapidly spread to Hertfordshire where they began to build Wheathampstead town about 70 B. C. They fortified their towns with great banks and V-shaped ditches. Expansion towards Welwyn and Baldock extended their territory into the scarplands, and into the riverine sites which they preferred. The Veneti of Brittany were defeated by the Romans in 56 B. C Soon afterwards refugee Veneti families came to West Sussex, Wessex and the south-west peninsula. In these areas, forts like Maiden Castle and Hembury were more heavily fortified. The Iron C incomers set themselves up as powerful leaders of large tribal groups. Maiden Castle became the capital of the Durotriges, Colchester (Camulodunum) of the Trinovantes, Wheathampstead (and, later, Verulamium) of the Catuvellauni, and Bagendon of the Dobunni.
In the century between the Romanisation of Gaul and the Claudian invasion of Britain in 43 A. D. Rural life in Britain improved under the leadership of the Iron A Celts. They dominated Lowland England east of the Jurassic scarp between Lincolnshire and the Severn estuary. Belgic equipment included not only chariots but wheeled carts for trade and farming. Their ploughs had efficient coulters which cut the turf before it was turned by broad-bladed ploughshares, and their ox teams were guided by iron-tipped goads. They used the potter`s wheel so that potting could gradually become an industry and ceased to be entirely a household craft. Women could grind flour by turning the handle of a rotary quern, in which one stone pivoted on another. Excavation of their towns has produced much of this equipment. At Bagendon, two and a half miles north of Cirencester, were also found the women`s spindle whorls and loom weights, their bronze brooches, bracelets and mirrors, and the nails of the men`s saddles and some of their fishing tackle. These, and imported pots from Italy, were usually found in the half-timbered houses which partly occupied the 200 acres within the defences. The Bagendon mint produced coins showing a triple-tailed horse. It is usually less recognisable as a horse than the splendid galloping animal which crowns the Berkshire Downs at Uffington. This, the oldest of our white horses, also dates from the later centuries of the Iron Age.
Perhaps some of the Dobunnic coins were included in the tribute exacted by Caesar after he tested the strength of the Belgae in 55 and 54 B. C. This tribute lapsed on his death, but it must have been obvious to the Belgae that the peace which was broken by the Claudian invasion was a very uneasy one. But Belgic kings increased their splendour, and, both in life and death, were equipped with costly goods. Many burials were in elegant pedestal urns. Cunobelin, of Colchester, king of the Catuvellauni, died about 40 A. D. And the mound at Lexden may be his tomb, it was Cymbeline`s heirs who, by their aggressiveness towards the Atrebates of Hampshire, precipitated the Roman Conquest.
In south-west England the Iron B tribes grouped themselves as the Dumnonii. The South West were collectively known as the Silures and Demetae occupied south-west Wales, to which they gave the name of Dyfed, while the Ordovies of north-west Wales had their refuge in Gwynedd (Snowdonia), and the Deceangli were centred on north-west Wales. The Pennines and the tributary valleys of the Ouse supported the Brigantes, a warlike tribe who stemmed more from native pastoral peoples than from the displaced continental Celts who had found refuge in southern Britain. Early in the first century A. D., the Brigantes started to build their tribal capital at Stanwick, six miles south-west of Darlington. Its defences enclose 850 acres and could also have sheltered some of their numerous herds. Bones of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and dogs, and of the deer and hare which they hunted, far outnumber signs of arable farming. Only one fragment of a quernstone was found at Stanwick and querns are generally rare in Iron Age settlements in northern England.
These were pastoralists with the independence born of mobility and of a hard life in hill country. Like other non-Belgic tribes they hated the Belgae. They also feared other non-Belgic Celtic tribes. Tacitus commented on Celtic disunity: “Seldom is it that two or three states meet together to ward off a common danger. Thus while they fight singly all are conquered.” Some tribes defied the Romans with great bravery. Some made alliances with them, though they may later have revolted. In Wales the Demetae and Deceangli submitted readily to Roman control, while the Silures and Ordovices separately resisted fiercely. South and North Wales have often dealt differently with intrusive cultures.
Scotland, where the good lands are also separated from each other by mountain masses, was also occupied by diverse peoples. The peoples of the Southern Uplands shared the pastoral economy of northern England and lived in similar villages of round huts. Beyond the Forth-Clyde isthmus were the groups of tribes who became the Picts. Hill-forts had been built in Scotland since the third century B. C. they show the same range of size as those of England and Wales, and were also built on hilltops, hill-brows and promontories. But they were often timber-laced, a special feature found only occasionally outside Scotland. The timber-laced walls of Scottish hill-forts are from ten to forty feet thick and would have meant considerable forest clearance in their localities. When their timber gate-towers and lean-to houses caught fire they must have burnt fiercely on the windy hilltops or coasts. Firing of the interlacing timbers produced great heat, and vitrification of the stone in the ramparts. The vitrified forts of Scotland occupy the south-west coastlands and the islands and peninsulas off the mouth of the Clyde and are found near the south-west end of the Great Glen, though they more numerous at its north-east end. There are other groupings of vitrified forts round the Tay and Forth estuaries. These are all lands which have been singles out by Bronze Age farmers. On Traprain Law and Eildon Hill North are large forts comparible to the oppida of southern England. Traprain Law lies two miles south-east of East Linton, in East Lothian, and was the capital of the Votadini. Eildon Hill North, the oppidum of the Selgovae, is situated a mile south-west of Melrose in Roxburghshire. The capital of the Damnonii of Strathclyde may have been on Dumbarton Rock.
The defended settlements of pre-Roman Scotland had numerous lean-to or round huts and excavation suggests that the people`s wealth lay mainly in their herds, but saddle querns denote a limited amount of tillage, and La Tene ornaments indicate native craftsmen or trade, or like the Roman material from abandoned bases, pillage. Beasts and men were hunted with swords, spears and slings. Several Scottish forts show occupation into the fourth century A. D.
In the south and east of the Southern Uplands the Iron Age farmers previously described seem to have continued their peaceful life on the hillsides. Beyond the Great Glen, the frontier zone of the builders of vitrified forts, the Iron Age peoples began to build, in the first century B. C., the fortified farmsteads known as brochs. A few outlying brochs are found in southern Scotland where they may have been built by mercenaries rewarded with land by the Romans. One is in Votadini territory, and a few lie in the uplands south of it, but nearly five hundred brochs lie north of the area in which hill-forts were built. Brochs are usually found on the best patches of coastal land and their density increases on good farmland as one goes northwards. There are forty-four in the Western Isles, 239 on the northern mainland, mostly in Caithness and Sutherland, 102 in Orkney and ninety-five in Shetland.
Brochs are stone towers whose walls were twenty to forty feet high and up to eighteen feet thick at their base. Cattle were stalled on the ground floor and work like threshing, corn-grinding, weaving and metalworking was carried on there. The broch people fished and hunted seals and would store their tackle there too. The living-quarters were on the upper floor in mural chambers in the thick wall which was penetrated by one entrance passage, flanked by guard chambers, on the ground floor, and by a staircase between the floors. Many brochs were still occupied in the first century A. D. but, after Agricola`s penetration, and in the relatively calm of the second century, many were dismantled, and their stones were used to build undefended wheelhouses, often on the same site.
Many broch-builders farmed land by the sea which had been tilled by Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples. At Jarlshof on Sumburgh Head, the southern tip of Shetland, successive villages and farms, separated by layers of blown sand, span the three thousand years between the Late Neolithic and the Viking Periods. Oval Neolithic and Bronze Age huts are succeeded by round huts, with radial partitions and souterrains for storage. Iron A pottery was found in them. As the first century B. C. ended, and this in its turn gave way to wheelhouses built in the courtyard. Equipment would have improved over these centuries, but the economy of the Bronze and Iron Age peoples, tied to their windswept land and sea, can have altered little. Shorthorns were stalled in the huts and brochs, seals were hunted with massive clubs, fish came from the sea and shellfish from the rocks, corn was grown in large trough querns and dung was collected from the stalls and spread on the sandy soil. Thus they continued the rough pastoral life which had persisted in the Northern Isles since Neolithic times. Broch-builders may have gathered in awed groups to watch the Roman fleet as it circumnavigated northern Scotland in 83-4 A. D., but they were happily a long way from Rome and from the administrative headquarters of Roman Britain.