Stone Age

The Stone Age (750,000BC - 2,500BC)

Moel Ty Uchaf Stone Circle overlooking the Dee Valley

Prehistoric Britain

The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period during which humans and their predecessors and contemporaries widely used stone for toolmaking. Stone tools were made from a variety of stone. 

For example, flint and chert were shaped (or chipped) for use as cutting tools and weapons, with sharp edges or points, while basalt and sandstone were used for ground stone tools, such as quern-stones. Wood, bone, shell, antler and other materials were widely used, as well. 

The subdivision into the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods that still is in use today, was made in 1865.

The Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age)

Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) Britain is the period of the earliest known occupation of Britain by humans. This huge length of time saw many changes in the environment, encompassing several glacial and interglacial periods that greatly affected human settlement in the region. The inhabitants of the region at this time were bands of hunter-gatherers who roamed Northern Europe following herds of animals, or who supported themselves by fishing.


Recent scientific evidence regarding DNA sequences from ancient and modern Europe has shown a distinct pattern for the different time periods sampled in the course of the study. Despite limitations regarding sample sizes, the results were found to be non-random. As such, they indicate that, in addition to populations in Europe expanding from southern refugia after the last glacial maximum, evidence also exists for various northern refugia.Last Glacial Maximum refugia were ice free areas where people, animals and plants survived during the last glacial
period in the northern hemisphere.

Lower Palaeolithic (up to 250,000 years ago)

Pebble Tools

Europe was populated by species of Homo from 900,000 years ago including Homo erectus, associated with the pebble-tools technology, named because the blanks chosen for their production already resemble, in pebble form, the final product. They are sometimes subdivided into types, such as chopper, scrapers and pounders, as these appear to have been their main uses and later to the Acheulean technology (since 300,000 BC).

     Acheulean Hand Axe                                              Biface Knife Blade

 Middle Palaeolithic (180,000 to 40,000 years ago)

European Homo erectus evolved through a series of intermediates including Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis into the species Homo neanderthalensis (from around. 200,000 BP) associated with Mousterian technologies. Our ancestors Homo sapiens also participated in this tool-making technique for a long time and they may have first settled Europe at this time

          Mousterian  Bone Tools                                          Mousterian Stone Tool    


Upper Palaeolithic (around 40,000 – 10,000 years)

The bearers of most or all Upper Palaeolithic technologies were Homo  sapiens

Ancient Upper Palaeolithic (40,000- 24,000 years ago)

The advance of these technologies was made by the Aurignacian culture. The origins of this culture can be located in Bulgaria (proto-Aurignacian) and Hungary (first full Aurignacian). By 37,000 years ago the Aurignacian culture and its technology had extended through most of Europe. The last Neanderthals seem to have been forced to retreat during this process to the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula.

The first works of art appear during this phase.
Figurines have been found depicting mammals now extinct. 

A flute made from the hollow wing bone of a Giant Vulture, and fragments of Ivory flutes are the oldest musical instruments ever found.

     Aurignacian Lion Man

Aurignacian Tools

Middle Upper Palaeolithic: 24,000 to 19,000 years ago

Around 24,000 years ago two new technologies/cultures appeared in the south-western region of Europe: Solutrean and Gravettian. They might be linked with the transitional cultures mentioned before, because their techniques have some similarities and are both very different from Aurignacian ones

Though both cultures seem to appear in the south-west, the Gravettian soon disappeared there, with the notable exception of the Mediterranean coasts of Iberia. Nevertheless, it finds its way to other regions of Europe (Italy, Central and Eastern Europe), reaching even the Caucasus and the Zagros mountains.

The Solutrean culture, extended from northern Spain to south-east France, and included not only a beautiful stone technology but also the first significant development of cave painting, the first use of the needle and fish hook, and possibly that of the bow and arrow.

A collection of Solutrean tools

The more widespread Gravettian culture is no less advanced, at least in artistic terms: sculpture (mainly Venuses) is the most outstanding form of creative expression of these peoples.
       Venus Figurine and a Gravettian Burin ( Chisel pointed tool)

Late Upper Palaeolithic: 19,000 to 10,000 years ago

Around 19,000 years ago Europe witnessed the appearance of a new culture, known as Magdalenian, possibly rooted in the old Aurignacian one. This culture soon supersedes the Solutrean area and also the Gravettian of Central Europe.

                           Magdalenian Horse and Bison

With the Magdalenian culture, Palaeolithic development in Europe reached its peak, reflected in art, owing to previous traditions: paintings in the West and sculpture in Central Europe

           Magdalenian tools and weapons

As well as flint tools, the Magdalenians are best known for their elaborate worked bone, antler and ivory which served both functional and aesthetic purposes including perforated batons. Examples of Magdalenian portable art include batons, figurines and intricately engraved projectile points, as well as items of personal adornment including sea shells, perforated carnivore teeth (presumably necklaces) and fossils.


Magdalenian Horsehead carving

The Mesolithic (around 10,000 to 5,500 years ago)

This was a transition period in the development of human technology between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic. The term is mainly applied to the western part of Europe. The period began around 11,500 years ago and ended with the introduction of farming, the date of which varied in each geographical region.

Regions that experienced greater environmental effects as the last glacial period ended have a much more apparent Mesolithic era, lasting millennia. In northern Europe societies were able to live well on rich food supplies from the marshlands created by the warmer climate. Such conditions delayed the coming of the Neolithic to as late as 6000 years ago in northern Europe.


Neolithic (around 4000 – 2000 BC)

The Neolithic was the period of domestication of plants and animals. 

Analysis of the DNA of modern European populations shows that over 80% are descended in the female line from European hunter-gatherers. Less than 20% are descended in the female line from Neolithic farmers from the Middle East and from subsequent migrations. The percentage in Britain is smaller at around 11%

Ancient Neolithic (c. 4400 BC – 3300 BC)

The construction of the earliest earthwork sites in Britain began during the early Neolithic in the form of long barrows used for communal burial and the first causewayed enclosures, sites which have parallels on the continent

Middle Neolithic (c. 3300 BC – c. 2900 BC)

The Middle Neolithic saw the development of cursus monuments close to earlier barrows and the growth and abandonment of causewayed enclosures, as well as the building of impressive chamber tombs. The earliest stone circles and individual burials also appear.

Late Neolithic (c. 2900 BC – c.2200 BC)

Different pottery types, such as Grooved ware, appear during the later Neolithic. In addition, new enclosures called henges were built, along with stone rows and the famous sites of Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill, the building of which reached its peak at this time. Industrial flint mining began, along with evidence of long distance trade. Wooden tools and bowls were common, and bows were also constructed


Britain in the Stone Age
Britain has been intermittently inhabited by members of the Homo genus for hundreds-of-thousands of years and by Homo sapiens for tens-of-thousands of years. DNA analysis has shown that modern humans arrived in Britain before the commencement of the last Ice Age and then as the ice encroached from the north, the first humans living in Britain then retreated to Southern Europe when much of the continental land mass became covered with ice or frozen as tundra.

Because so much of the Earth's water was trapped in ice, the sea's level was about 127 m (417 ft.) lower than it is today. Britain was joined to Ireland by an exposed "land bridge," making transit between those regions more practical as boats were not needed for the journey. The lowered sea level also joined Britain to Continental Europe by an area of dry land, known today as Doggerland. After the end of the last Ice Age (around 9500 BC), Ireland once again became separated from Britain due to the rising tides. Later (around 6500 BC), Britain was also cut off from the rest of Europe

Homo sapiens reoccupied Britain by approximately 12,000 BC, as the climate became warmer and more hospitable. By around 4000 BC, the island was populated by people with a Neolithic culture.

However, no known written language of the pre-Roman inhabitants of Britain has survived. Because there is no literature of pre-Roman Britain, its history, culture and way of life are known mainly through archaeological finds and a growing amount of genetic evidence, which continues to change. There is also a small amount of linguistic evidence, from river and hill names.

Archaeological evidence shows that ancient Britons were involved in extensive maritime trade and cultural links with the rest of Europe from the Neolithic onwards, especially by exporting tin that was in abundant supply.

Located at the fringes of Europe, Britain received European technological and cultural achievements much later than Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region did during prehistory.

Many of the changes in British society found in the archaeological record are thought to be the effects of the native inhabitants adopting foreign customs rather than due to invasion and conquest

The end of the Stone Age

Innovation of the technique of smelting ore ended the Stone Age and began the Age of Metals 

The transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age was a period during which modern people could smelt copper, but did not yet manufacture bronze, a time known as the Copper Age, or the Chalcolithic, "copper-stone" age.