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In the Stone Age, people hadn't discovered farming yet and they were hunter-gatherers. They had to catch or find everything they wanted to eat. They moved across the land following herds of wild animals from place to place in search of food.
These people didn't have metal yet and so they hunted with sharpened sticks. Later, they used bows and arrows and spears tipped with flint or bone. When the men went to hunt animals, the womenfolk went out into the countryside and gathered nuts and fruits and dug up roots which they cooked or used as medicine. They went fishing using nets, fish traps made of willow and bone tipped harpoons.
Stone Age people would prepare their food by slicing it with sharp stones and cook it on a fire. They made clothing from animal skins and plant fibres and used more plants fibres and leaves to make shelters. After a good day’s hunting people could feast on meat. But the next day they had to go out and find food again!
What animals lived in Stone Age Britain?
During the last two Ice Ages, Stone Age people hunted Woolly mammoths.
As the climate changed during the Stone Age, animal life went through several changes.
During the Ice Ages, Britain was covered by a thick glacier of snow and ice. Herds of reindeer and woolly rhinoceroses roamed across the snow and in the sheltered valleys and lowlands, bears lived in caves.
During the warm periods between the Ice Ages, Britain became as hot as Africa is today! The people hunted Elephants and even Rhinos as they all moved north across Europe.
The last Ice Age ended around 15,000 years ago and the British climate became very similar to how it is now.
This is the era of forests full of badgers, foxes and red squirrels. In the hills, wolves and bears lived.
At that time, the people could hunt and eat most of the species of birds, fish and shellfish we have in Britain today. Generally, people seem to have had a wide range of food to eat.
What kind of art did Stone Age people have?
You can go to many museums in Britain today and see examples of Stone Age Art. They date from around 12,000 to 8000 years ago. The people who made the artwork used sharp stones to scratch the outline of animals onto pieces of bone.
The Stone Age Britons also made necklaces and bracelets from sea shells and bones. We believe that at this time, people might also have drawn and painted patterns on their bodies, using a kind of paint made from ochre (a type of red clay).
Some People lived in caves and decorated the walls with pictures of animals. Carvings found on cave walls show giant bulls, stags, horses, bison and birds.
Currently, in Britain, we don't know of any cave paintings. But perhaps Stone Age Britons painted hunting scenes like the ones found at Lascaux in France. The Lascaux cave paintings were created around 14,000 years ago. They show animals as well as some human hunters.
Some historians think that Stone Age paintings were semi-religious, perhaps superstitious, to ensure good luck for the hunters when they went out searching for food.
Then, sometimes 4,000 years ago, people in Britain started living in a new way. Instead of spending all their time hunting and gathering, they began to set up farms. We think this was made possible because people from the continent came with new ideas and experiences, or maybe the Britons sailed to European countries and learned these new methods.
The early farmers started to clear all the forests so they could grow crops and vegetables. They learned how to keep cows, sheep and pigs.
People began to settle down in one place and build permanent homes, perhaps the first Roundhouses.
These farms marked the start of a new age in Britain – Arcaheologists call it the Neolithic period. As well as setting up farms and permanent homes, they also built massive tombs and giant stone circles. Some of the monuments and homes they built can still be seen today.
What were the first farms like?
After the forests had been cleared, the farmers made houses of wood. They also was used to build fires to keep warm at night.
By 3500BC people in many parts of Britain had set up farms surrounded by fields.
These early farmers grew wheat, spelt and barley, which they ground into flour. Some farmers grew beans and peas. Others grew a plant called flax, which they made into linen for clothes.
Neolithic farmers kept lots of animals. They had herds of domesticated cows. These anmals provided beef, as well as milk and cheese. Sheep and goats provided wool, milk and meat. Wild pigs were domesticated and kept in the woods nearby.
Dogs helped on the farms too. They herded sheep and cattle and worked as watchdogs. Dogs were probably treated as family pets, like they are today.
The early farmers still went hunting and gathered nuts and berries to eat, but they spent most of their time working on their farms.
What monuments did Neolithic people build?
There are Neolithic structures all over Britain today, you might surprised how close one is to you.
In Wales, the ancient people built a structure of stones called a dolmen. At Pentre Ifan in Wales there is a vast burial mound. When it was built, the stones would have been covered by a large mound of earth.
Neolithic people built grave mounds and stone circles. You cans till see many of the on Ordance Survey maps today. They also met for religious ceremonies on large, circular platforms that are known as causewayed enclosures.
People also built Longbarrows. In these special places, our ancestors stored the bones of the dead. These graves were built from stone and covered with a mound of earth. There is a very famous one at West Kennett in Wiltshire.
The graves had a central passage, with several side-chambers containing sets of bones. There were also smaller graves, with a single burial chamber.
During the Neolithic period, people started to build stone circles. This practice continued in the early Bronze Age.