Age of Ancestors A History of Ancient Britain


Age of Ancestors

Neil Oliver continues the epic story of how Britain came to be. He focuses on the great social transformation: a change from hunting and gathering to farming.


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Transcript


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This is the story of how Britain came to be.

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Of how our land, and its people, were forged over thousands of years of ancient history.

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This Britain is a strange and alien world...

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A world that contains the hidden story of our distant pre-historic past.

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The occupation of Britain began with hunters, battling for survival through the Ice Age...

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It's fantastic, after 14,000 years, to get a glimpse of the way at least one individual was thinking.

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..and continued into a new age that came after the ice.

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Instead of hunting mammoth and reindeer in the snow,

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he hunted red deer in the wild wood.

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Now the journey continues...

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..with the next chapter in our epic story...

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Nothing like this had ever been seen in Britain.

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..the invention of farming and the massive social revolution that came with it.

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A brave new world that shaped our land and the way we lived...

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..forever.

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I'm going back 10,000 years, to a wild and untamed Britain.

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The Ice Age was over and a new Britain had emerged

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blanketed with trees - birch, alder, hazel and finally oak.

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Across the whole of our land,

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perhaps no more than a few thousand nomadic hunters

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lived by drawing everything they needed from that landscape.

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They had flint for tools.

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Red deer provided meat, antlers for picks and harpoons and needles,

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hides for shelters and clothes.

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These people didn't just live close to nature, they were part of nature.

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10,000 years ago Britain was still attached to mainland Europe,

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as it had been throughout the Ice Age.

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Now though, sea levels were rising and a new Britain was emerging.

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Gradually, Britain was becoming an island.

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Much of the land that had been home to nomadic hunters for thousands of years

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was disappearing beneath the waves.

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Here on the south coast, just off the Isle of Wight,

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there's a relic of that ancient world.

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Evidence of people who lived here just as all this was becoming sea.

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10,000 years ago there was no Isle of Wight.

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It was part of the English mainland to the North

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and still joined to Northern Europe and France to the South.

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And all of that out there, the Solent, was dry land.

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Which should mean out there, underneath the water,

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are the relics of a lost world and of the people who lived on it.

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It's a world that's being explored by archaeologist Gary Momber.

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And I'm going to join him.

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'I'm about to go back to a time when rising sea levels were turning land into tidal marsh,

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'when Britain was an island in the making.'

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The site is 8,000 years old, a time archaeologists call the Mesolithic,

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or middle stone age.

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It's opening a picture of the Mesolithic period

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that we're not getting from sites on land.

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So when the sea level was lower, we're further back in time,

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and we're finding the well-preserved remains.

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So it's actually the sea that's going to make it awkward for us

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is what has preserved what we're going to see..

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If it wasn't for the sea, it wouldn't be there.

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We're doing a final diver check.

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Diver's ready for the water.

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Once this was home to a coastal community of hunter gatherers

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living a way of life that had barely changed for thousands of years.

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What's been discovered here is more than an ancient hunting camp.

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It's the oldest boat building yard in the world.

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And it contains fragile evidence of the sophistication of the people who once lived here.

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-That was fantastic.

-It was. I could stay down there for hours when it's like that.

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So this piece of timber is how old? How long is it since it was worked?

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It's over 8,000 years old.

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It has come up in association with other bits and pieces,

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and one piece of timber in particular,

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which we believe may be part of a logboat.

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See those grooves, how clearly defined they are?

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-So that's woodworking? That's not natural erosion?

-No, that's woodworking.

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That's obviously part of something, with the grooves either side.

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So someone 8,000 years ago was working with a stone tool to create these grooves.

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You don't, as a general rule, you just don't see organic material coming out of Mesolithic sites.

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You get the stone tools, but to see what those stone tools were being used for,

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it's the other half of the equation.

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It's pretty unique and pretty special.

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The logboat is an extraordinary insight into the lives of the hunters who once lived here.

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Mesolithic life might have been nomadic,

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but it was largely carried out

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around the shorelines of Britain's coasts and rivers.

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The forested land of the interior was a dangerous, forbidding world.

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But all that was about to change.

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And all because of these - tiny grains of barley.

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Like the Solent boat builders, these are around 8,000 years old.

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But these aren't from the Isle of Wight.

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These are from more than 2,000 miles away to the south-east, what's now Syria.

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This is evidence of a new way of living, a world not of hunting, but of farming.

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When this new technology arrived in Britain

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it would nudge us towards a whole new era in our history,

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what we call the Neolithic - the new stone age.

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By producing food, farming communities could provide for bigger families, more children.

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And that meant better chances of survival for the whole group.

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Instead of hunting the wild herds, now farmers had new, domesticated breeds of cattle and sheep.

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Instead of gathering wild nuts and berries, farmers could grow most of what they needed from seed.

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The Neolithic revolution was to utterly change the way we thought about food and survival.

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But it was much, much more than that.

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It was also to profoundly alter our sense of ourselves as human beings, as part of the natural world.

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In a sense, as well as domesticating livestock,

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we were also domesticating ourselves.

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This revolution, when it finally reached our shores, would change everything.

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It would change the land, the things we ate.

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It would change our relationship with time.

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It would change our beliefs and the way we understand our place in thee universe.

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This change, the jump to farming,

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was the single greatest social revolution there's ever been.

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HORN BLARES

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To try and understand what happened when the radical new world of agriculture

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collided with the ancient world of the hunter,

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I'm leaving England behind and crossing the Channel to France.

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By 5,000 BC, Neolithic culture was spreading into Western Europe.

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For the hunting communities of Northern France, the new ways must have been completely baffling.

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In Brittany, there's a unique set of monuments -

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line upon line of ancient standing stones.

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These were not erected by Neolithic farmers, but by Mesolithic hunters,

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just as the first farmers started appearing on their doorstep.

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This place is just extraordinary.

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I've known about it for years, I've seen photographs of it countless times, but this is my first visit.

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And the impact of the stones is just breathtaking.

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Everywhere you look there are more of them.

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They're in every direction, line after line of them.

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When you look at any one of them, they weigh at least tens of tons.

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Some of them look like they weigh even more.

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They completely dominate the landscape, everywhere you look.

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We use extraordinary to describe a lot of things, but a place like really deserves the word.

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What we're looking at is the result of a collision,

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not just of cultures, but of two completely different belief systems.

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All of this might be the result of a monumental tipping point in human history.

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The hunters hauled the stones into place to demonstrate their strength

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in the face of people they didn't understand.

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But theirs was the "old" world.

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In just a few hundred years Neolithic culture took over.

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And many of these great standing stones became building material for something new...

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Neolithic stone tombs.

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Archaeologist Serge Cassen has studied them for over 20 years.

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Is there a connection between the change from lines of stones

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to tombs like this, and the change to farming?

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Yes. It is probably linked with this new process, this new economy,

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this full Neolithic, where life of animals,

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life of plants are very important inside this life-cycle.

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Inside one tomb, excavated by Serge,

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this decisive fork in history is marked by some remarkable rock art.

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So these are the old style Mesolithic hunting weapons,

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almost like a primitive boomerang to kill birds?

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-Exactly.

-So this is the old world, very male, very phallic.

-Yes.

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'One carving in particular brings it all home.'

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We can observe now carvings...

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Another throwing stick.

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Yes, the same shape, the same weapon, the same presentation, and under,

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we have the arcs from the Neolithic period, with this handle.

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-So this triangular shape.

-Yes.

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So you've got the new technology of the axe,

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on top of and even cutting into the old world.

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Yes.

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This is almost the moment, it's depicting the moment when the

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old world and the new world collide

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and after that collision, the new world is dominant over the old.

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Exactly.

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We may never fully understand a site like Carnac.

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We might never hear what those hunters were trying to say with the stones

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but to me, apart from anything else, they are a statement of defiance.

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They're saying to the farmers,

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"Come in. Bring your crops, bring your animals,

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"but be aware that we are here, that we've always been here.

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"We're part of this landscape and we belong to it."

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They're saying,

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"We may not last forever.

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"Our way of life may not last forever, but we will be remembered.

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"Not just for now but for all time."

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The age of the Mesolithic was coming to an end.

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By 4500 BC, the Neolithic revolution had conquered almost all of Europe.

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But around here, it came to a halt because of that.

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Farming might have swept across the land mass of Europe

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but the last few watery miles presented a different challenge.

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It would take hundreds of years, but that final leap across the Channel and into Britain was inevitable.

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Exactly how the new stone age came to Britain and what the local hunters made of it

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remains one of the greatest mysteries in all of our prehistory.

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The first farmers must have come to Britain by boat, bringing their families, domestic cattle and grain.

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These were pioneers, undertaking a perilous journey to a new and unknown land.

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And direct evidence of some of those first farmers can be found here in Kent.

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Wait till you see what's up here.

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Nothing like this had ever been seen before in Britain.

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This is one of the very earliest stone tombs.

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This is Neolithic behaviour.

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The people who built this were amongst the first

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to come and farm our land,

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and we're talking about 6,000 years ago.

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Today, the rich soil of Kent is still prime farming land.

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And together with its proximity to mainland Europe,

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you can see the attraction for the earliest farmers coming over.

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You have to remember that 6,000 years ago,

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when the first people arrived with the intention of farming here,

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all of that would've been woodland,

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so first of all they had to clear the trees, cut them down,

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burn them down,

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and then they had to build their homesteads.

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You can only imagine what the local hunters thought.

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Unlike the of Mesolithic hunters who hugged the coastline and river valleys,

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the first farmers began to break into the interior of Britain.

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And what they found was a wild and wooded place.

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For thousands of years, forests of oak and birch had grown, blanketing the landscape in green.

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This was home to red deer and elk.

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In the undergrowth, bears and wild pig.

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But this wild and ancient Britain was about to be transformed...

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..forever.

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The new farmers were technologists.

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This wasn't living off the land like the Mesolithic hunters

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but shaping it, adapting it, making IT work for THEM.

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These people weren't simply fitting into the world alongside nature.

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They were going to rule OVER it.

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Incredibly, some of those pioneers, the very mothers and fathers of this brave new world, have survived.

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Around 17 individuals were interred in that Neolithic tomb in Kent

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and these are the bones of just a few of them.

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There's a whole age range represented amongst the dead.

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These pelvis bones, this is a baby, and an older child through to

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older people, and old people in Neolithic terms is somebody my age.

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Somebody in their 40s would be pensionable.

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We often talk about the Neolithic revolution and the farming revolution

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and the effect it had on Britain and on the landscape.

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But what you also see here, and you have to remember all the time, are REAL people.

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This is part of a man's skull.

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These individuals are part of the most profoundly affecting

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living experiment that's ever been attempted.

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They trust their future

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to planting a few seeds in the spring in the hope of a harvest in the autumn.

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They keep some animals

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in the hope that that meat will be enough to sustain them and their families.

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It's a gamble, so whatever else you might want to imagine

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about this...man,

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he was certainly brave.

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It's traditionally been thought that farming gradually spread north

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and west from its first foothold in the south-east.

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But new evidence suggests this could be wrong.

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This is a piece of a bone from a domesticated cow -

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a classic Neolithic indicator.

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What makes this one unique, however, is that it wasn't found in the

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south-east of England, but in the deep south-west of Ireland.

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It may date from as early as 4,300 years BC.

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That's hundreds of years before the first trace of the Neolithic lifestyle in Kent.

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So far, no one has been able to explain what it's doing there.

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And the unexplained cow bone isn't the only evidence that's challenging

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the accepted story of how Neolithic culture spread through Britain.

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As far north as Orkney, there's also evidence of early farmers - in the shape of prehistoric voles.

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So here's a group of skulls. You can see characteristic skull shapes.

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This guy here is the field vole.

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This is the vole found most commonly in the UK mainland.

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This guy here is actually much more interesting.

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This is the vole that's found

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in Orkney, but is not found, importantly, in the UK and Ireland.

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Microtus arvalis - the Orkney vole -

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only lives on a few islands off the north-east tip of Scotland.

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The evidence of ancient vole bones shows

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that they first appeared at least 5,500 years ago.

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The question is, how did they arrive?

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The closest relatives that we have genetically to the Orkney vole

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population are from the Rhine valley in Germany,

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and maybe in Brittany.

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It's clear the voles aren't swimming from Europe to Orkney on their own,

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which means that humans are involved.

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It's thought the voles came amongst grain carried by early farmers.

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Not from the British mainland, but direct from France.

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It seems that the early settlers in Kent might represent only one route Neolithic culture took from Europe.

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There are also those earlier Neolithic expeditions to south-west Ireland,

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and the mysterious vole-carrying voyages direct to Orkney.

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What's emerging is something much more complex

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and subtle than the traditional view of the Neolithic revolution.

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Many people would have continued with a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle,

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supported by a few domesticated animals.

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And that way of life would have continued for hundreds of years at least.

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And then there were the settled farmers themselves.

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They would have continued to hunt to supplement their diet.

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However people took up the new ways, it's now thought that Neolithic culture

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in some form swept across the whole of Britain in just a few generations.

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But, with just a few fragments of evidence from 6,000 years ago,

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exactly how it all began might forever remain a mystery.

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What's more, across the whole of Britain there's precious little evidence of how those early farmers

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actually lived, which is why I'm leaving our shores yet again, headed this time for Ireland.

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Welcome to the west of Ireland, one of the wildest, most spectacular landscapes I've ever seen.

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In Britain,

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archaeologists have only discovered fragments of early farming.

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But here something's been preserved on a truly massive scale.

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What's special about this place is the ground.

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This landscape is blanketed in peat bog - slowly decaying vegetation that builds up layer upon layer.

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It takes thousands of years. But what has drawn me here isn't the bog itself,

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but what's hidden beneath it, as much as four metres beneath my feet.

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Just drive it in.

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It's like a knife through butter!

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Archaeologist Seamus Caulfield has been probing this bog with simple metal rods for over 40 years.

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So just about here.

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Put it in straight, vertical.

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'He's using them to map ancient stone walls, made by the Neolithic farmers who once lived here.'

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So that's the old ground surface coming on and then...

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You can hear that you are hitting stone now.

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It's beginning to look like it.

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CLUNKING

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-That's amazing.

-Listen to that again.

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Yeah, knock, knock.

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5,500 years ago, someone lifted a stone in place,

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and now we're hearing it for the first time.

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So how much have you found? How extensive is the wall?

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Something over 100 linear kilometres at this stage.

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-100 kilometres?!

-Yeah.

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You're joking! That's jaw-dropping.

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The scale of it, 5,500 years ago.

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Yes, it's just sitting there under the bog as it was.

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By probing every inch of this land, Seamus and teams of helpers

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have revealed far more than some buried walls.

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What they've found is the biggest Neolithic field system in the entire world -

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cattle enclosures that stretch almost as far as the eye can see.

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What are the fields for?

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It's a dairy economy. They have to wean the calves

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from the milk cows, separate the dry stock from the milking animals.

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There's herd management...

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is what is involved.

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-So they need lots of separate areas to keep bull calves and milking cows and all the rest?

-Yes.

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Typically in Ireland, the weather turns foul.

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But I'm determined to uncover some of this wall for myself.

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And here on the bog, there's only one way to do it.

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Clean the blade.

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Is this all just used locally, Seamus?

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This is just for folk to burn?

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That's 90% water at the moment, but it dries out, and that is the fuel we use all the time.

0:29:190:29:24

So this is all for fuel?

0:29:240:29:26

NEIL LAUGHS

0:29:300:29:31

All I can say is, don't give up the day job.

0:29:320:29:34

You're right!

0:29:340:29:36

Look, there it is! Look at that.

0:29:410:29:43

That is the wall.

0:29:470:29:50

That's amazing.

0:29:500:29:52

Come here. Look at this. Look.

0:29:520:29:54

That's the top of a wall which is about a metre high.

0:29:540:29:57

It extends down about a metre beneath my feet.

0:29:570:30:00

The sun has risen and set two million times since these stones last saw the light of day.

0:30:000:30:06

The last hands to touch these before mine

0:30:060:30:09

were those of a Neolithic farmer 5,500 years ago.

0:30:090:30:14

Even on a foul day like today - and this is truly foul -

0:30:140:30:18

the sight of these, the touch of these, makes it worthwhile.

0:30:180:30:22

Doesn't it? Just about!

0:30:220:30:24

It does. It still does.

0:30:240:30:27

Amazing.

0:30:290:30:31

The Ceide field structures are a hidden wonder of the world.

0:30:380:30:42

But the walls aren't the only secret,

0:30:420:30:45

because the peat itself can reveal just what this world was like

0:30:450:30:49

5,000 years ago, and even what was being farmed.

0:30:490:30:54

-OK, you've got the top.

-Yeah.

0:30:570:31:01

The peat is preserving the record of human activity,

0:31:030:31:07

vegetation etc through time,

0:31:070:31:11

so it is like a history book of thousands of years.

0:31:110:31:17

By studying pollen grains preserved in the peat, Michael O'Connell

0:31:170:31:21

can identify what was growing in the ancient landscape.

0:31:210:31:25

This particular pollen grain comes from pine,

0:31:300:31:34

and pine was the dominant tree in Ceide Fields before farmers came.

0:31:340:31:37

At the early part of the Neolithic, the pollen totally changed

0:31:370:31:43

from being tree pollen-dominated to being herb and grass-dominated.

0:31:430:31:48

The change to grassland pollen shows that the trees were cut down

0:31:490:31:54

and replaced with pasture for grazing cattle.

0:31:540:31:57

But in amongst the grassland pollen, Michael has made an even more startling discovery.

0:31:580:32:04

We were really excited about these results.

0:32:060:32:09

This particular sample has quite a number

0:32:090:32:11

of cereal pollen, and of course this is really important

0:32:110:32:15

because it shows wheat and maybe also barley were grown.

0:32:150:32:18

So this was a really interesting and significant find.

0:32:180:32:24

Cereals and domestic animals transformed society,

0:32:290:32:33

but there was also a third Neolithic invention...

0:32:330:32:36

pottery.

0:32:360:32:38

Together, all three created a completely new diet,

0:32:390:32:44

a feature of Neolithic life studied by Jacqui Wood.

0:32:440:32:47

This is actually just wheat, just boiled - another new thing for the Neolithic.

0:32:470:32:53

-Some bread.

-A flatbread.

0:32:530:32:57

-That is so flavoursome.

-Now, this is a bit of prehistoric stew.

0:32:570:33:00

-Slow cooking?

-Slow cooking, absolutely.

0:33:000:33:03

Butter was a big thing in the Neolithic.

0:33:030:33:06

Bread and butter - what could be more quintessentially British?

0:33:060:33:10

I tell you what, absolutely everything is so substantial!

0:33:100:33:14

You wouldn't need much of anything, would you?

0:33:140:33:17

It sticks to your ribs - and everything else!

0:33:170:33:20

The new food might have seemed good, but human remains show evidence

0:33:200:33:23

of farmers being less healthy than hunters, with their diet of fresh fish and red deer.

0:33:230:33:29

No more, I beg of you!

0:33:290:33:32

And there was another price to pay.

0:33:320:33:36

This is actually a real quern - a Neolithic quern.

0:33:360:33:39

This is the genuine article?

0:33:390:33:41

This is the genuine article.

0:33:410:33:43

Put some grain on first.

0:33:430:33:45

-So this is some thousand years old?

-That's right.

0:33:450:33:47

What's the action?

0:33:470:33:49

Spread up and down, like that.

0:33:490:33:52

That sound is the sound

0:33:520:33:56

of the Stone Age, basically.

0:33:560:33:58

I'm doing this for a minute, but if you were put to work like this

0:33:580:34:02

on a daily basis, what kind of a toll, physical toll, would this have had on people?

0:34:020:34:07

We can actually see that it did have a toll.

0:34:070:34:10

In the archaeology, we find some skeletons where the parts of the

0:34:100:34:13

vertebrae are quite worn because of repeatedly doing this grinding.

0:34:130:34:18

You need to grind for a good hour every day to make enough bread for a family - every day.

0:34:180:34:25

So the daily grind, basically.

0:34:250:34:29

Despite all the individual hardships it brought, it was the sheer productivity

0:34:350:34:40

of farming that made it irresistible as a survival strategy.

0:34:400:34:44

'This is where our working lives began -

0:34:510:34:55

'invented by the first farmers of the Neolithic.'

0:34:550:34:59

This was a point of no return.

0:34:590:35:02

Farming was productive, so people could have more children

0:35:020:35:06

and open up more land and the population increased.

0:35:060:35:10

And there quickly came a day when they couldn't go back to hunting

0:35:100:35:13

even if they wanted to because there were simply too many people around.

0:35:130:35:17

And it wasn't just the daily grind.

0:35:220:35:24

This new age would usher in the idea of land ownership - and conflict.

0:35:240:35:30

The Neolithic would completely change how we thought about ourselves -

0:35:330:35:38

in this life and the next.

0:35:380:35:41

The Neolithic revolution changed our mindset.

0:35:470:35:50

Not only towards work, but the idea of the land and our relationship to it.

0:35:520:35:58

It changed our beliefs,

0:36:010:36:03

and evidence of these new beliefs can be found in massive stone tombs,

0:36:030:36:09

some of which mark our countryside even today.

0:36:090:36:14

One of the most impressive is in Wiltshire.

0:36:180:36:21

This great long mound was created by digging thousands of tons of chalk rubble from ditches on either side.

0:36:280:36:35

Some of the stones weigh 40 tonnes, and they were hauled here from as much as a mile away.

0:36:350:36:42

This is the work of a whole community, not just one family,

0:36:420:36:45

and its people, for whom the creation of this mattered as much

0:36:450:36:48

or more than anything else they were doing.

0:36:480:36:51

And these were busy farmers.

0:36:510:36:53

This isn't just a tomb.

0:36:530:36:55

This isn't simply about remembering a loved one.

0:36:550:36:58

This is about creating an entire world - one built

0:36:580:37:02

by the community of the living for the community of the dead.

0:37:020:37:05

And wait till you see what's inside.

0:37:050:37:07

About 40 people were buried here

0:37:110:37:14

around 3600 BC over a period

0:37:140:37:19

of maybe just 25 years or so.

0:37:190:37:22

What we think happened was, when someone died, if it was

0:37:220:37:26

deemed appropriate that they become part of this place, their body would be laid out,

0:37:260:37:33

maybe nearby, maybe even in here in the passageway, and then the natural process

0:37:330:37:38

of decomposition would begin and animals and birds would remove the flesh over a period of time.

0:37:380:37:44

And then, once there was little remaining, but the skeleton, the bones,

0:37:440:37:50

they would be gathered up and placed in the chambers.

0:37:500:37:54

Now, there was a particular logic to this place.

0:37:540:37:57

Old people and young people in separate chambers on either side of the passageway.

0:37:580:38:05

And then, further in, maybe adult males and females, again separated on either side of the passageway.

0:38:050:38:12

And then, all the way at the back,

0:38:120:38:16

just the remains of adult males.

0:38:160:38:18

They weren't laid out as individuals, as intact skeletons.

0:38:180:38:24

You would have a pile of skulls,

0:38:240:38:27

then a separate neat pile of vertebrae, then another pile of long bones.

0:38:270:38:33

That was important, because what is going on is a process by which

0:38:330:38:38

the loved ones cease to be just individuals, members of the community.

0:38:380:38:45

They become part of one collective presence, the ancestors.

0:38:450:38:51

Strangely, though, tombs like this weren't sealed, but left open.

0:38:530:38:59

In some ways they were more akin to temples

0:38:590:39:02

which you could enter to commune with the spirits of the dead.

0:39:020:39:07

And imagine what that felt like

0:39:070:39:09

for people who truly believed that their loved ones,

0:39:090:39:13

as well as the ancient dead, were somehow in here,

0:39:130:39:17

that their will was in here and that they were watching them and that they were aware.

0:39:170:39:23

So you would come in here

0:39:230:39:25

with great reverence and great respect, with the hairs going up on the back of your neck

0:39:250:39:30

and all over your body, as you wondered what would happen next.

0:39:300:39:35

But these great structures also had an earthly function.

0:39:430:39:47

All around us is rich and fertile farmland, highly valued.

0:39:490:39:53

By building this here, the people are laying claim to it.

0:39:530:39:58

This long barrow forged a permanent link between the community,

0:39:580:40:02

their ancestors, and the fields they had farmed for generations.

0:40:020:40:07

This is about the arrival of something new in our history, the concept of ownership.

0:40:070:40:14

But the notion of ownership, the idea that a place, a territory,

0:40:160:40:21

belonged to the tribe and their ancestors was to have consequences.

0:40:210:40:26

Up on top of this hill

0:40:370:40:39

is the site of one of the earliest examples of a great watershed in British history -

0:40:390:40:46

armed conflict.

0:40:460:40:48

SHOUTS AND BATTLE CRIES

0:40:490:40:51

Look at that for a view.

0:41:080:41:10

That's the Severn Valley down there.

0:41:100:41:13

Over there, ghostly in the mist, the Malvern Hills.

0:41:130:41:18

Over in that direction, the Forest of Dean.

0:41:180:41:21

Beyond that the Black Mountains, and onwards into Wales.

0:41:210:41:24

That's modern day Gloucester down there.

0:41:240:41:27

But of course, 5,500 years ago

0:41:270:41:31

that landscape would have been predominantly woodland

0:41:310:41:34

with the occasional farmstead and cleared field.

0:41:340:41:38

And in a sense, whoever controlled this high ground controlled the landscape below.

0:41:380:41:45

So if you wanted to lay claim to all of that valuable land, you had to take this, the top of Crickley Hill.

0:41:450:41:53

And what's been found up here is testament to that.

0:41:530:41:57

Look at these.

0:42:010:42:03

These are half a dozen flint arrowheads

0:42:030:42:05

and they're from a collection

0:42:050:42:07

of around 450 complete arrowheads or fragments

0:42:070:42:10

that were found scattered all across the top of Crickley Hill.

0:42:100:42:15

To my eye,

0:42:170:42:19

these are just the most beautiful things.

0:42:190:42:22

They're so symmetrical,

0:42:220:42:24

so beautifully shaped.

0:42:240:42:26

Look at the profile of that.

0:42:260:42:29

Look how fine it is.

0:42:290:42:31

How much effort has gone into taking off infinite numbers of tiny flakes

0:42:310:42:35

to produce that tear-shape arrowhead.

0:42:350:42:40

But as well as appreciating the beauty of them,

0:42:400:42:44

and some of these could be jewellery,

0:42:440:42:48

as well as appreciating that,

0:42:480:42:49

you have to appreciate that this is

0:42:490:42:52

also evidence of the cruel intention to kill.

0:42:520:42:56

5,000 years ago, the longbow was state-of-the-art technology.

0:43:060:43:11

What we've got here is a Neolithic longbow.

0:43:120:43:15

This particular piece of wood is ash.

0:43:150:43:18

It was cut down a year ago,

0:43:180:43:19

so it's not carrying too much moisture.

0:43:190:43:22

That makes it nice and springy.

0:43:220:43:23

Now, we've made a fairly heavy bow here.

0:43:250:43:29

If it bends and it works,

0:43:310:43:33

I hope your guy Neil has some strength behind him, because this...

0:43:330:43:38

..is no kids' bow.

0:43:420:43:44

Pine resin makes a strong Neolithic glue to fix the arrowheads.

0:43:460:43:51

And for the flights, crows' feathers.

0:43:530:43:57

So that is ready to go.

0:43:570:44:00

In the attack on Crickley Hill, the Neolithic bow proved decisive.

0:44:100:44:15

Right here, 5,500 years ago, the defenders were routed.

0:44:160:44:21

I'll show you how to use it, then see what you're like as an archer.

0:44:240:44:28

We're always looking for good archers on English territory.

0:44:280:44:31

Not Scots, surely!

0:44:310:44:33

You don't want that.

0:44:330:44:35

-Ooh, dead centre!

-So...

0:44:390:44:40

I'll do the Robin Hood shot

0:44:420:44:45

and I'll split that shaft.

0:44:450:44:47

I think I'll go for three fingers.

0:44:490:44:51

-Right-o.

-OK.

0:44:510:44:53

Put some shoulder behind it.

0:44:560:44:58

-NEIL LAUGHS

-Give me another arrow.

0:45:010:45:03

Go for it. I'm sure there's a lucky one in here for you.

0:45:040:45:07

That looks more like it. It was clearly the arrow that was wrong as opposed to my technique.

0:45:070:45:12

-Oh!

-Yes!

0:45:360:45:38

Even in the hands of a beginner, this weapon is lethal.

0:45:410:45:46

An arrow fired from 30 metres would have gone straight through any medium-sized animal...

0:45:460:45:50

..or human.

0:45:530:45:54

-What's the damage?

-Well, as I think you're going to see...

0:45:570:46:02

Check that out, right the way through.

0:46:020:46:05

That's flesh and bone. That's what these things are capable of.

0:46:050:46:10

Of course, up here on Crickley Hill it was being used against more than sides of pork.

0:46:100:46:14

Human beings were the prey that day.

0:46:140:46:18

-You wouldn't want it in your leg, would you?

-I would not!

0:46:180:46:21

Back at the Natural History Museum, there's direct evidence of this violent world.

0:46:280:46:34

Look at this poor chap.

0:46:360:46:37

The condition of his teeth suggests he died probably in his mid-20s, no older than that.

0:46:400:46:46

And he died because someone smashed his skull in

0:46:470:46:53

with a blunt object, maybe a stone axe, or a stone hammer.

0:46:530:46:58

And the wound was inflicted with such force that it caused

0:46:580:47:03

this fracture line

0:47:030:47:06

to radiate right round to the other side of his skull.

0:47:060:47:10

He would have been killed instantly.

0:47:100:47:12

And the violence

0:47:140:47:16

at that time wasn't limited to the men.

0:47:160:47:19

This is a woman's skull.

0:47:190:47:22

There's a wound here towards the front,

0:47:220:47:26

and then,

0:47:260:47:28

much easier to see, another dimpled wound

0:47:280:47:32

to the back of her head,

0:47:320:47:33

but she survived the attack that caused these wounds.

0:47:330:47:40

We know she survived because she lived long enough

0:47:400:47:43

for the wounds to heal over.

0:47:430:47:44

She also lived long enough to have lost all of her teeth

0:47:440:47:48

by the time she finally gave up the ghost.

0:47:480:47:50

What we can say about this is really quite shocking.

0:47:540:47:57

It means that if you lived in those first centuries of the Neolithic,

0:47:570:48:01

at least between 4000 and 3000 BC, people would have known about,

0:48:010:48:06

they would have witnessed, and they might even have experienced extreme physical violence.

0:48:060:48:11

There was a lot of it about.

0:48:110:48:13

In just a few hundred years, the population of Britain exploded

0:48:200:48:24

from just a few thousand hunters to perhaps 100,000 farmers.

0:48:240:48:30

As contact between groups became more frequent, people needed to find new ways of coming to terms with it

0:48:300:48:38

without always killing one another.

0:48:380:48:40

They also had to lay the foundations of a kind of local politics as well.

0:48:410:48:46

It was as if they were saying, "It's not enough to change the way we live, the way we work,

0:48:460:48:51

"we'll have to invent society as well."

0:48:510:48:54

This need to co-operate, to get along, gave birth to monuments on a truly grand scale.

0:49:070:49:14

The very act of hundreds or even thousands of people collaborating

0:49:150:49:19

would have bound Neolithic communities together.

0:49:190:49:23

The earthworks they created are so vast they remain etched into our landscape even today...

0:49:290:49:35

..despite the ravages of thousands of years of wind and rain.

0:49:360:49:41

One of those giant monuments can be found here in Wiltshire.

0:49:430:49:47

The trouble is it's so big that up close you can't even see it.

0:49:480:49:54

I'm right in the middle of something archaeologists call a cursus.

0:50:040:50:08

This one is 3km long and 150m wide.

0:50:080:50:14

Some are even bigger.

0:50:140:50:16

To be honest, you could be forgiven for walking right past it without even noticing.

0:50:190:50:25

Down there is the remains of a ditch.

0:50:250:50:28

It's very shallow now but it stretches almost as far as the eye can see.

0:50:280:50:33

It's barely perceptible, but in its original form, it would have been

0:50:330:50:37

quite distinct - chalky white soil against the green of the grass.

0:50:370:50:42

It would have marked out the interior as a very long, thin, lozenge shape.

0:50:420:50:48

These were originally called cursuses

0:50:480:50:50

because they were thought to be the remains of Roman racetracks.

0:50:500:50:54

But of course we now know that they're much, much older.

0:50:540:50:58

This thing was built by Neolithic farmers 3500 BC.

0:50:580:51:04

Today, the only way to really get a sense of the shape of monuments like this is from the air.

0:51:120:51:20

Even from up here, it's not that easy to see.

0:51:210:51:24

But after a while, you get your eye in

0:51:240:51:26

and you begin to see what it is you're supposed to be looking at.

0:51:260:51:30

From one end, the cursus can be seen cutting through a bank of trees,

0:51:300:51:35

almost like a gigantic runway disappearing off into the distance.

0:51:350:51:39

RADIO CHATTER

0:51:420:51:44

What you're struck with, more than anything,

0:51:490:51:51

is the scale of the thing.

0:51:510:51:53

And what hits you is the level of effort that was involved,

0:51:530:51:58

not to mention the sheer determination.

0:51:580:52:00

Of course, the big question is what does this shape symbolise?

0:52:010:52:06

Is it a boundary?

0:52:060:52:08

Is it a processional way?

0:52:080:52:10

Is it even a narrow vessel designed to contain the dead?

0:52:100:52:16

Perhaps it's a bit of all those things.

0:52:160:52:18

But the simple truth is, we don't know.

0:52:180:52:21

But there are other monuments we do know more about -

0:52:240:52:28

massive earthworks known as causewayed enclosures.

0:52:280:52:32

And there's one.

0:52:340:52:36

Three concentric circles,

0:52:360:52:37

like three necklaces looped around the hill, right down there.

0:52:370:52:42

These monuments are meeting points where people

0:52:450:52:48

came for large gatherings, perhaps at special times of the year.

0:52:480:52:52

For archaeologist Alasdair Whittle, they reveal the beginning of Stone Age society.

0:52:590:53:04

Causewayed enclosures are very exciting places and all sorts of things go on at them.

0:53:060:53:12

They could settle disputes, or meet husbands and wives,

0:53:120:53:17

marry people off?

0:53:170:53:19

I think all these things would have gone on.

0:53:190:53:22

Do we have the artefacts, do we have the things left behind?

0:53:220:53:27

We have lots of artefacts. That's one of the big things about these sites.

0:53:270:53:30

They're rich in material and we have lots of artefacts.

0:53:300:53:33

So, here we've got the top of the skull and the horns

0:53:330:53:41

-of a domesticated cow or ox.

-So how old is that skull?

0:53:410:53:46

A little over 5,500 years.

0:53:460:53:49

That's a hugely significant find for me to see something like that.

0:53:490:53:55

That's so early in the story of farming.

0:53:550:53:59

The thought that that beast was here when this

0:53:590:54:01

-was a shining white monument, looking out over woodland.

-Yes.

0:54:010:54:04

And it met its face, perhaps it was sacrificed, it was probably eaten.

0:54:040:54:09

Then we can look at this pot here.

0:54:090:54:11

Again, is this of a comparable age to the ox bone?

0:54:110:54:18

This is the same age. So we're looking at about 5,500 years old.

0:54:180:54:24

It's so redolent of everything the Neolithic is about.

0:54:240:54:28

The domesticated animals, the new ceramic, the new foods that were made possible because of this.

0:54:280:54:35

I keep thinking of a time capsule. Is this a conscious effort for people to remember

0:54:350:54:40

where they came from, how far they've come?

0:54:400:54:43

I think it is. I think memory's very important.

0:54:430:54:46

And coming to terms with a huge change.

0:54:460:54:50

Coming to terms with a really big change in existence, which has been

0:54:500:54:55

played out over these opening centuries of the Neolithic.

0:54:550:54:58

The early monuments of the new Stone Age are about people coming to terms with a whole new world.

0:55:010:55:08

Not only with each other, but the land itself...

0:55:080:55:12

..and their place within it.

0:55:130:55:15

This place encapsulates what these people who lived in Britain,

0:55:170:55:21

these early farmers, were trying to work out and to understand.

0:55:210:55:26

And discoveries made here

0:55:280:55:30

go some way towards summing it all up.

0:55:300:55:33

Look at this.

0:55:330:55:35

This is the ankle bone of a domesticated cow.

0:55:350:55:40

It was found buried within the ditch that encircles the topmost, innermost part of this hill.

0:55:400:55:48

That's where all the pottery was found as well.

0:55:480:55:50

What it represents is the world that the farmers were trying to create

0:55:520:55:58

- a safe, domesticated, controllable world.

0:55:580:56:04

By contrast, look at this one.

0:56:040:56:08

This is the ankle bone of a wild cow, an undomesticated animal.

0:56:080:56:13

You can see right away how much bigger it is than the bone from the domesticated cow.

0:56:130:56:20

Now, this wasn't found up here.

0:56:200:56:23

Instead, this was buried right at the base of the hill.

0:56:230:56:26

Down there, out there,

0:56:260:56:29

is the dangerous world.

0:56:290:56:31

The wild world. The uncontrolled, undomesticated world.

0:56:310:56:37

To me, there's something a little bit sad about that,

0:56:370:56:40

because it's the wild world,

0:56:400:56:42

that the old way of life of the hunters was so in tune with,

0:56:420:56:47

and yet it was that world

0:56:470:56:49

that the farmers were trying to be separate from,

0:56:490:56:51

to cut themselves off from.

0:56:510:56:54

Here, around 3,800 years BC,

0:56:540:56:59

the farmers were trying to make sense of all of that in their own minds.

0:56:590:57:05

Just where was the boundary between the wild and the domestic?

0:57:050:57:10

Where had the brave new world that they'd created actually brought them?

0:57:100:57:16

It's as though

0:57:160:57:19

they realised that now they had made their bed and that they would have to lie in it.

0:57:190:57:24

And to some extent, so must we.

0:57:240:57:28

'Next time my journey continues...'

0:57:330:57:37

Of course, what everybody's waiting for is the sunrise.

0:57:370:57:40

'..As I discover a whole new age.'

0:57:420:57:46

Which one can I have?

0:57:460:57:47

Take them all.

0:57:470:57:48

'A time of elite travellers.'

0:57:490:57:52

-To actually feel it working.

-Feel it. I wanted to hear it. I wanted to feel it.

0:57:520:57:56

That's a bit good.

0:57:560:57:58

'Vast, cosmic constructions.'

0:57:580:58:01

I see why you don't have this place open to the public.

0:58:010:58:05

'And the very invention of heaven itself.'

0:58:050:58:09

When some people died, they were to be sent to a new place, a different place.

0:58:090:58:14

Not down into the earth, but up into the sky.

0:58:140:58:18

Neil Oliver continues the story of how today's Britain and its people were forged over thousands of years of ancient history. It's 4,000 BC and the first farmers arrive from Europe, with seismic consequences for the local hunter-gatherers.


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