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The First People

History of Britain. Half a million years ago, there were man-like creatures roaming the erth. They were probably able to make and use stone implements; they almost certainly knew how to build fires. According to one estimate, there were about two hundred of them in Britain.

Thwo hundred and fifty thousand years later, these ancestors of present day man had become more recognizably members of our onw species. We know this from pieces of a human skull that were discovered in a quarry at Swanscombe in Kent one day in 1936. Some fragments of flint were also found. They had probably been used as axes.

How didi these people from the early morning of history live? They moved from one forest clearing to the next; from one cave to another. Life was a never ending search for food. They hunted the woolly rhino, the mastodon (a hairy elepahnt) and wild horses.

Between the Ice Ages
Left : Between the Ice Ages, the climate of Britain was quite mild. Giant elephants and wild horses roamed the Thames valley. In modern times, the remains of a man have been discovered at Swanscombe in Kent. Experts say they are 200.000 years old.
For the rest of their diet, they lived off roots, berriers and insect. By trial and error, they discovered what was poisonous, and what was not. When there was no other meat, they probably became cannibals.

They manufactured their weapons by chipping bits off large lumps of stone. Somehow they communicated with one another by signs and grunts. They could not speak, for they had no language.
ax fighter
Our ancient ancestors were hunters, but soon they were fighting. They discovered that weapons, such as these battle axes (1800-1400 BC), were very useful.

Britain, still joined to Europe, was visited by parties of hunters from elsewhere. They too, explored the heathlands and the forests, searching for food. In about 20.000 BC the last of the Ice Ages began to melt away. In the wake of the cold, enormous pine forests grew up. No sun shone in these places; there was very little game to be found.
The Beaker Folk
The Beaker Folk were buried on the edges of settlements: each in his own grave - with his beaker for drinks after death and an arrow head in case he might need it.
At last-by about 12.000 BC- the ice finally receded. People were now learning how to make tools and weapons from bones as well as flints; to cover their nakedness with skins. They even carved female figures frome stone, which had, or so they bilieved, the power of magic. What was more important, people had now learned how to speak.

Roughly 5000 years ago the land link with Europe was broken. The Straits of Dover were created, and the pines began to yield to deciduous trees such as oaks. It had taken a long, long time; but so many things now became possible.

Man copped down trees, cleared space in the forests and learned how to grow crops. They dug mines from which to quarry flint. And they built homes.

The home was a hut, nearly always circular. The floor was sunk beneath ground level; a pole in the middle supported the roof. When two or three or four of these crude coottages were built in one area, the result was a village.

Many villages had small forts, build from earth, as deferences. Work on the largest, Maiden Castle in Dorset, was begun in the year 3000 BC. Read previous : Britain is Born, or read the next article : The Early Settlers
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