British history

Early British history

A farming settlement in Britain about 3000 years agoA farming settlement in Britain about 3000 years ago The first people to arrive in Britain did so at least 850,000 years ago. At that time, Britain and Ireland were joined together with the continent of Europe (they did not become separate islands until around 6500 BC). At this time, the world was in the grip of the Ice Ages: on eight occasions, most of Britain became covered in a deep layer of ice and was completely uninhabitable. Its people then moved south to live in warmer lands. Around 11,500 years ago, the climate warmed up for good. By around 4500 BC, Britons had started to farm the land, make weapons and tools, and build houses and other buildings.

Boxgrove man butchering a rhinoBoxgrove man butchering a rhino 

The first Britons

Preparing and cooking fish about 20,000 years agoPreparing and cooking fish about 20,000 years agoThe first people to arrive in Britain walked across the land bridge from the European continent around 850,000 years ago. These early people were a type of early human known as Homo heidelbergensis (Heidelbergs) and lived by hunting wild animals and eating fruits, berries, nuts and edible plants. They wore animal skins and lived in caves and simple shelters made of branches. Neanderthals arrived in Britain possibly around 130,000 years ago, then disappeared about 30,000 years ago. Modern-day humans, Homo sapiens, first arrived in Britain from mainland Europe 41,000 to 44,000 years ago.

Using axes and antlers to chip flint out of the rockUsing axes and antlers to chip flint out of the rock

Farming people

People began to farm in Britain around 4500 BC. These early farmers cleared space in the forests that covered most of the land to provide farmland for their sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. They grew wheat and barley and harvested fruit and other crops. They built simple stone or wooden houses, made tools out of flint and stone, wove reeds into baskets, and made pottery out of clay.

Teams of workers haul a standing stone in place Teams of workers haul a standing stone in place


Stonehenge stands on Salisbury Plain in southern England and consists of a circular ditch and bank. Inside this are two circles of 82 standing stones, one circle inside another, with large capping stones on top. Some of these stones weigh up to 4 tonnes each and were dragged all the way from the Preseli Mountains in southwest Wales, 240 kilometres (150 miles) away.

Stonehenge as it may have looked in 2200 BCStonehenge as it may have looked in 2200 BCWork began on Stonehenge around 3000 BC and finished around 2200 BC. It is not known who ordered Stonehenge to be built or what exactly it was built for, although it was a major burial site. It is probable that the site had great religious significance and might well have served as some form of healing centre.


Celtic Britain

A Celtic hill fortA Celtic hill fortDuring the 6th century BC, people speaking a Celtic language began to settle in Britain from Europe. These people were fierce warriors and lived in easily defended hill forts, which were circular earthworks enclosing wooden houses built on the tops of hills. They farmed the land, growing wheat, barley and a wide range of vegetables. They were also skilled metalworkers, making weapons, tools and jewellery out of iron, copper, bronze and gold.

Consultant: Philip Parker

See also in History

See also in Prehistoric

In 2000, a flint handaxe was found in Norfolk, England, which experts have dated to between 550,000 and 700,000 years old. It is the earliest known object made by humans in Britain.

The early inhabitants of Britain lived side by side with cave lions. They died out around 12,000 to 14,000 years ago.

Britain’s earliest known rock art is a reindeer engraved on a cave wall in Gower, south Wales, around 14,500 years ago.

In Celtic Britain, the average life expectancy was 25 years old. If you survived to the age of 5, your life expectancy went up to around 30 years old.

The Celts thought obesity (being extremely fat) was shameful and fined any man who was overweight until he slimmed down again.

Coins first appeared in Britain around 150 BC They were made of gold and featured a head on one side and a horse on the other.

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