Neil Oliver continues his tour of Britain's past with the arrival of metals and how they ushered in a new age of social mobility, international trade and village life.
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This is the story of how Britain came to be.
Of how our land, and its people, were forged over thousands of years of ancient history.
This Britain is a strange and alien world.
A world that contains the hidden story of our distant, prehistoric past.
'We began as hunters who followed the herds across Europe before Britain was an island.'
Fantastic, after 14,000 years, to get a glimpse
of the way at least one individual was thinking.
'Then the first farmers came,
'building monumental tombs to their ancestors...'
Nothing like this had ever been seen before in Britain.
'..before turning to the heavens
'and creating some of the greatest monuments of the ancient world.'
'Now the journey continues, with the next chapter in our epic story...'
That is magic.
'..an age of bronze, and a whole new way of living.
'The rise of individuals controlling trade and wealth.'
'The beginnings of a practical, domestic, almost modern Britain.'
Britain, 2500 years BC.
This is the height of the Stone Age.
People live by farming the land - growing crops, keeping animals.
There's little evidence of fixed villages, permanent settlement.
Instead, they seek out fresh grazing land and fresh soil, season by season.
Everything they have, clothes, tools, food, is gathered from the world around them.
One material lay at the very heart of their world, as it had done for thousands of years...
And it was needed in vast quantities.
Look at this.
It's a moonscape of deep hollows and depressions.
There are literally hundreds of them.
These aren't the product of ancient farming or ancient settlements.
All of this was created by ancient industry.
Each one of these hollows is the remnant of an ancient mine shaft,
and there are 433 of them.
Some of the mine shafts have been excavated, so it's possible to enter
the very ground that was worked by our prehistoric ancestors.
It's a bit deeper than I thought!
Each shaft leads to a network of tunnels,
hacked from the chalk bedrock with basic tools.
This is red deer antler, hunted or collected in the forests above.
And then it's been used, just as the shape suggests, as a pick.
You can see just how cramped the conditions are down here.
And some of
the tunnels are so small,
it's believed that as well as men working down here,
there must have been children because some of the spaces
are just too small to believe it was grown-ups.
Now, here's what all the effort
is in aid of.
This black stuff here, this is flint.
They would have found a complete floor, like a black floor of flint,
as if a black liquid had flowed in and solidified.
Looks like glass, or treacle toffee.
In any case, this
is what this mine was all about.
Flint, the lifeblood of the Stone Age.
If you were going to fell a tree, build a house, shape wood,
make a dug-out canoe, you needed an axe like this.
But Britain, and its ancient dependence on flint, was about to change.
In 2500BC, a radical, unimaginable new technology was about to hit Britain - metal.
We take it for granted.
It's quite literally the scaffolding that holds up the modern world.
So much of what we have, what we depend on, is made of metal.
But 4,500 years ago, no-one in Britain had ever even seen it.
Yet it was about to catapult us out of the Stone Age and into a whole new chapter.
The arrival of metal would bring a social as well as a technological revolution,
the beginning of community life
and a world that begins to look increasingly like our own.
All this change in an era that we call the Bronze Age.
The story of how metal first came to Britain begins much further west,
in the hills of South West Ireland,
because the rocks around this stretch of water in County Kerry are rich in copper ore.
And it was copper from here that was used to make the first metal objects back home in Britain.
Archaeologist Billy O'Brien has spent decades here
discovering evidence of ancient copper workers.
The typical rock I'm seeing is dark with white veins through it.
That's what miners would call the country rock.
It's limestone, with pieces of calcite veining running through it,
but there's no copper minerals in that piece, I'm afraid.
So, when I think about copper, I'm thinking of a green colour.
You're right. Copper oxidises on the surface and becomes green and blue.
-And it's bright colours like that you're looking for.
-Oh, look. What about that?
-Yeah, that's got a lot of copper minerals.
You can see the green staining.
You can see the bright, sparkly silver and gold of the copper sulphide minerals.
Yeah, you can see the green instantly.
And there's even... There's even sparkling.
It's like glitter.
And it's the glitter that's actually the copper.
-That would become the copper?
-It's the copper minerals against the limestone.
How on earth would you know it was there?
Surely to the average person thousands of years ago,
a stone is a stone is a stone. How does anyone realise
there's a completely different material hidden in here?
We know there was a history of Stone-Age settlement in this area going back thousands of years.
At some point, they would have noticed that the limestone rocks on this part of the lake
were streaked with copper minerals. They wouldn't have known what to make of this knowledge.
But at some point, they came in contact with people from outside of Ireland
who were metal prospectors, and the two would have come together
and with that outside expertise, they eventually started to mine here.
-So it was a foreign expertise that was required to trigger it all.
The very first copper mines were dug in the Balkans, far to the south, nearly 6,000 years ago.
By 3000BC, pockets of copper technology were appearing
further west, in northern Italy and along the Mediterranean coast.
But it wasn't until around 2500BC that copper spread through North West Europe.
And prospectors came looking for ore further north still,
And all of this was cut out by human labour?
There's good scientific evidence from things like isotope analysis that indicate that the first copper
from Ross Island came from this trench. It's called Blue Hole Mine.
And this copper was produced very early on,
and it circulated all over Ireland and then into western Britain.
So when you find the earliest copper tools in Britain,
wherever you find them, the metal for them has come out of this hole?
Certainly the ones in Ireland and western Britain.
Many of the ones in places like Wales and Scotland,
some of the very earliest copper axes came out of this hole.
It's just extraordinary to be able to track a story like metalworking,
like copper, all the way back to one hole in the ground.
It's like following a river right back to a spring, the source.
Next to the mine, workers would have begun to process the rock.
How do you know all of this?
How do you know that this was the process and it was done here?
We know because of the tools we found in the site.
The excavation of this work camp and the surrounding mine site produced thousands of these stone hammers.
You can see they've got grooves around the centre.
That's because there were usually handles put on them like this.
-They've been worked, picked away at.
The purpose of the groove was to grip a handle like this so that you could use it with more force.
-So they had more sophisticated tools than I've got.
-Much more sophisticated.
'Most sophisticated of all, the secret of how to transform the rock into gleaming copper.'
Smelting copper ore required cutting edge technology...bellows,
to create fire that was hotter than anything ever seen in Britain before.
If you look at the colour of your flame.
Experience tells you that I know it's ready.
I can see it's ready.
For the locals, the new people who could create glowing metal from rock must have seemed like magicians.
Look at that!
That is magic. Wow.
That's magic now, what was that like 4,500 years ago?
Look, it's actually turning green.
You can see how it reacts straight away with the air as soon as it's out.
Imagine if someone had turned up in your village and said,
"I'll show you something", and then went through that process,
and then to see that, to see that liquid leap in there
and then turn into a recognisable object...
Yeah, it's magic.
That's pure copper.
-I love it.
So, amazingly, it's the raw materials in these hills
and the technology that transformed it into copper
that are, in many ways, the foundations of our modern world.
The people who brought this technology also brought a new and very different culture
that was to spread throughout Britain and transform society.
They made and used a distinctive kind of pottery.
This piece was actually found here.
Before it was broken, it was part of a vessel
that looked a bit like this one.
We call these beakers, and the people who made these,
used these and were often buried with them
alongside them in their graves,
are called the Beaker people.
Around 2500BC, Beaker people first arrived in Britain...
..bringing their new metalworking skills and a whole new culture.
And we know that, at least partly,
because of an early Beaker man who was buried here
on land between this school and that housing estate 4,500 years ago.
And here he is.
We've got beakers here.
Real ones this time.
Terrified at the prospect of even touching them, because
these are some of the oldest, earliest beakers in Britain.
This fragile lovely is a beaker classic.
Now, also in amongst this dazzling array of grave goods
There are copper knives in here.
And this isn't just any metal.
Look at this. Here's one of them.
It's a copper knife that would have had a wooden handle coming out to give you a grip on it.
There's the cutting edge.
These are the oldest metal objects found so far in Britain.
And alongside the earliest copper,
and I can't believe I'm about to touch this,
is the earliest gold.
This is the earliest gold jewellery.
It's been wrongly described previously as an earring,
but it's not. It's a decoration for hair.
You would put it on the end of pleated hair, a braid of hair,
just for decoration. Look at that.
Look at how fine it is.
It feels as fragile as the foil on a Terry's Chocolate Orange.
I feel as if with an uncontrolled nervous twitch,
I might crush it flat. But look at it.
Put it down.
Taking a tooth from the Amesbury Archer,
scientists could discover where this new metalworker had come from.
First time we'd ever had a tooth that old in our hands.
It was amazing to be holding something that old from another human being.
Teeth contain traces of atomic elements, strontium and oxygen.
And the pattern of these traces can reveal where someone spent their childhood,
even after thousands of years.
We were absolutely overwhelmed with the results.
It was absolutely amazing.
This guy didn't come from Britain.
The Amesbury Archer wasn't just an early Beaker man,
but one of the original pioneers,
born a thousand miles away in the Alps of Central Europe.
You just can't possibly think of somebody walking all that way.
I was amazed. I was just totally amazed.
And I was absolutely over the moon, because he was different.
You see so many individuals who were just like everybody else, and then
all of a sudden, here's one guy who's just totally different.
After travelling a thousand miles,
the Amesbury Archer ended his days here in Wiltshire,
buried alongside the things that were important to him in life.
All of this, so far, makes him fascinating and compelling.
But there's one last item in here
that makes this individual crucial to our story.
It's this item here.
This is called a cushion stone.
It's used for working and finishing metal.
Look at it. It's seen years of use.
Look how smooth it is.
You would have used the smooth surface of this one to cold work metal
and give it the finishing shape and finishing touches.
So this individual, this pioneer from Europe,
he didn't just own metal things.
He knew how to get metal, how to make metal and how to work metal.
The arrival of Beaker people in Britain was a tipping point in the history of our land.
Before the new people arrived, all our materials were simply collected from the natural world.
Stone, bone, shell, wood, antler, animal sinew.
All of these and more had been used in countless ingenious ways.
And of course, people had been making pottery for over a thousand years.
But the Beaker people had brought something completely new.
Not just copper technology, but gold jewellery,
and the trappings of status, perhaps even wealth.
Metalworkers like the Amesbury Archer were pioneering a new
and very different world to that of the ancient past.
This was nothing less than the end of the Stone Age
and everything that went with it.
Stone-Age Britain had reached its peak with the creation
of massive, cosmically aligned, communal monuments.
Even in death, the ancestors shared a world,
often buried or cremated in communal tombs.
But now, just a few incomers from Europe had brought very different ideas
about how people fitted into society and the world around them.
The Beaker people brought a whole new sense of "self",
Unlike most burials in the Stone Age,
the Amesbury Archer was laid to rest on his own.
He was also buried with possessions - things that showed what he did, who he was.
An acknowledgement of his status, if you like.
For the Beaker people, all of this mattered.
But for British people in the Stone Age,
this was radical thinking.
Right on the cusp of this change, the last great prehistoric monument in Britain was begun.
It's this enormous mound - Silbury Hill.
It's almost certainly the largest prehistoric mound built anywhere in the world.
It's been calculated that it took four million man-hours to build.
And as for what it's for,
I'll be honest with you - nobody knows.
One thing we do know for certain - the people who started building it
didn't live long enough to see it completed.
It was the idea of Silbury Hill that survived, generation after generation.
And now, of course, it's just a mystery.
It could be that this was the last blossoming of the Neolithic
before the new, more individual Beaker ways took over.
Beakers - classic beakers - that give the Beaker people their name, are drinking vessels.
And they're associated with a male-dominated culture of archery, metal-working, and drinking.
Analysis of fragments of real beakers, to see what they contained,
have shown that it was almost certainly alcoholic.
So, in honour
of the Amesbury Archer and the builders of Silbury Hill,
I'm going to try some.
Metal was only one part of the new Beaker culture.
But for all their individual skills and modern outlook, the new metal workers had a problem.
Copper might have looked good, but it was so soft that it was barely better than flint as a tool.
But the Beaker people also knew about another, even more astonishing metal.
The metal that was to open up a whole new age was unlocked from the rocks of the Cornish coast.
'Because to make it, you needed to combine copper with tin.'
Bear with me...
Apparently it's quite distinctive when you see it.
If you don't break an ankle on the way!
The secret to all of this,
what those early metal-workers were on the hunt for,
is in this ribbon of black-and-white rock.
It's very distinctive. See it?
It's called cassiterite.
A rock that contains tin.
Britain had been a latecomer to the copper age, but the discovery of local tin -
a much rarer metal than copper - was to propel Britain to the very technological forefront of Europe.
If you were very lucky,
you'd find something like this.
I wish you could feel it.
It looks like any ordinary pebble, but trust me, it's as heavy as a cannonball
and when you extract the tin itself, it's as beautiful as silver.
And this is an ingot of tin.
It's very lovely. They say that if you bend it...
They call that the cry of tin.
More importantly, if you have copper and you add this, you transform it into bronze.
If you control the bellow speed, it'll hold the perfect temperature for casting.
With just the right mixture of copper and tin, metal workers could
create an alloy that was hard enough to make useful tools and weapons.
An impact that crumples copper...
..is no match for bronze...
..the hardest metal of the ancient world.
No matter how often I do this, I still find it quite challenging.
Moulds were made of stone or clay.
-Fingers crossed, gentlemen.
In this case, to cast something that was unknown before bronze came along...
Loving this. Right.
Can you lift that off?
-OK, this is it.
-OK, lift it up.
-It's like a beating heart. Look at it.
OK, in you go.
-That's it. Well done, gentlemen.
It's like blood. Better than blood.
OK, that's good.
Lift it up a little bit. That's it. We're there.
-Wow, it's so visceral, isn't it?
The moment of truth.
There we go.
Look at that!
That is amazing. Look at the colour of it.
-Are you impressed?
-I'm deeply, deeply impressed.
Look at that!
Yeah, it even makes a ring.
-It's a very hard piece of bronze.
From liquid fire to metal sword in a couple of minutes.
In the hands of master metal-workers, bronze was leading Britain into a whole new age.
Not only technologically, but socially as well.
Look at these, obviously lethal weapons.
But swords are quite a late development in the story of bronze, in the story of metal.
If you're talking about early bronze, then you have to look at axes.
These are some of the earliest bronze objects found so far in Britain.
These date from as early as 2,200 years BC.
A carpenter would have coveted an item like this,
because it would enable him to do a better, faster job.
But bronze axes are about much more than the utility of the object.
They're are about status and prestige. No humble carpenter
could possibly have dreamt of owning something so valuable in the early days of bronze.
Much more than tools, these are objects of desire.
There's a whole range
of sizes, styles,
although still early.
Look at the size of that one.
That's what that was all about - bigger is better.
It's showing off.
And this one,
which looks silvery in colour, rather than the warm gold of bronze,
that silvering has been achieved by flashing tin onto the surface of the bronze.
It doesn't make a better axe, it just makes it more eye-catching.
This ushers in a whole new era,
because for the first time,
there was a different way to get and to demonstrate wealth.
After the time of the priestly class, where status
was conferred on people because of who they were and what they knew,
now there's a different opportunity.
The bronze here has been brought together from many sources.
The copper from South West Ireland,
the tin from Cornwall.
But these were found in the North East of Scotland.
The materials are moving all over the country.
If you are someone who can control those trade routes,
if you can get your hands on this
as it moves through your territory and control it, then you've got
personal wealth and you've got the ability to demonstrate and to show
that you are someone who matters.
Now, not everyone had to farm the land.
At least for a few of Britain's population of perhaps a quarter of a million people,
new opportunities were emerging.
Specialist metal-workers, metal-traders and, in particular,
those who controlled trade routes, could become seriously rich.
This was a new self-made elite,
for whom the Stone Age must have seemed a quaint and distant memory.
In the Bronze Age, it wasn't just the ancient, sacred landscapes that were important,
but the practical landscapes of natural harbours and river routes.
One of the most important trade routes was the western entrance to the Great Glen in Scotland,
a place studied by archaeologist Alison Sheridan.
This glen is geographically in a great position to control the flow of metal that's coming from Ireland,
up the Great Glen, to North East Scotland.
-So this valley finds itself at the hub of what is effectively a busy motorway?
Those people who were able to control the flow of copper or tin or both
were going to make it rich.
The tombs of some of the new, rich bronze elite
of Kilmartin still survive.
Within this huge cairn, there was only ever one person buried.
This is no mass grave.
This is for a single, high-status individual.
This cairn was rebuilt around this modern chamber
that was itself built
to let people see this single grave, this stone-lined cist.
There was only ever one grave in this entire cairn, so this was an important individual.
Most interesting thing of all in here is the lid,
the capstone, that was once laid on top of this cist to seal it.
Before it was put down, it was upgraded, re-worked,
with these axe heads picked and carved into the surface.
They're all over the place here.
So the person, whoever he or she was, was laid to rest in here
and they would spend eternity looking up at this stone,
because it was the axe, the metal of the axes, that was the basis for the wealth and power of these people.
The new wealth fed a new demand for luxury goods.
-Alison, you don't often find or see anything quite as stunning as that, do you?
What is it made of?
It's made of jet from Whitby in Yorkshire.
This necklace had travelled over 300 miles to be worn by one special, very rich woman.
It's actually semi-fossilised wood of the monkey puzzle tree family.
-Isn't that fantastic?
You can actually see the grain of the wood, there.
And it feels... It doesn't feel as you would expect it to,
because it looks as if it ought to be much heavier than it is.
-It is quite like handing varnished wood.
It's wonderful. It's also warm.
Jet is an amazing stone. It's stone that is light, it's stone that you can burn.
It also has electrostatic properties.
This wasn't just precious bling, this was supernatural power dressing if you like.
It's something which would have protected the woman in her
dangerous journey to the world of the gods and the ancestors.
How old did you say that was?
It's about 4,150 years old.
-is a replica.
-That's right, yes.
It was made for Kilmartin House Museum by a modern-day Whitby jet specialist worker.
-Would you like to try it?
-I'd love to.
OK. Now, does it feel different than other items of finery you've worn before?
Yes, it makes me feel like a queen.
It's just wonderful. It's so comfortable, so soft, so beautiful.
It would have been originally very tightly strung,
so it's a solid black mass of precious magical material.
So, 4,100 years ago, this part of Britain was centre stage?
Absolutely, yes. At the time, northern Britain and Ireland were the epicentre of cool.
They were the places where the fashion trends were being created.
This is internationally significant.
The person would have held her own among the elite across Europe.
-So Britain is at the centre, not on the periphery?
If this glen teaches us anything, it's that, by 2000BC, Britain had a real presence in the world.
We had the natural resources and the technical skills that meant we couldn't be ignored.
In the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe, they'd had trade and wealth for centuries. Now we had it too.
The waters around Britain can be some of the most treacherous in the world,
but to trade with Europe, Bronze-Age sailors had to brave them.
And a remarkable discovery made in Dover reveals the sophistication of their maritime prowess.
In 1992, while this underpass was being dug, the evidence emerged from the mud.
Incredibly they found a boat - a big wooden boat - buried 20 feet underground, down here.
It's hard to believe, surrounded down here by all this concrete and these painted tiles,
that 3,500 years ago, the boat came to rest and was gradually buried under layers and layers of mud.
And here it is. This, quite simply, is the oldest surviving sea-going vessel in the world.
It's absolutely fantastic.
At first sight, it's honestly one of the most impressive archaeological finds I've ever laid eyes on.
'Originally up to 20m long, the Dover Boat would have carried cargo between Britain and mainland Europe.
'Scrap bronze and other metals, perhaps also wool and fabrics.'
A vessel this size would obviously have taken some skilled handling.
It must have been either paddled
with several of these or, the thinking more recently has been
that it might have been rowed, like a rowing boat on a paddling pond, only on a much grander scale.
I've actually been given the privilege of going inside the case.
This is the magic handle that opens the door.
You don't get to do this in normal life!
There's a real atmosphere in here.
I don't know if it's just the case,
but it's almost like being in here with someONE rather than just someTHING.
It's as if the Bronze Age is,
and Bronze-Age people are, preserved in here.
The boat's construction relied on the expert skills of carpenters using bronze axes.
Its hull, four enormous planks, sewn together.
These are twisted yew branches.
They're called withies. They've been used like thread, or cords.
The pieces have been stitched together,
almost as though, rather than wood it was made out of skin, or cloth. It's the same sort of technology.
It's been sewn together on a giant scale.
Close up, there's a detail that reveals
how this boat ended its days.
It was in good nick
but at some point,
people have decided to put it beyond use.
It's been scuttled, if you like.
You can see, at certain points,
where the withies - those twisted yew branches -
have been cut deliberately.
So, for some reason,
it was thought appropriate to put this boat,
this perfectly functional boat,
beyond the use of man.
In ancient Britain, the earth was alive, and sacred.
So anything taken from the earth,
whether wood or bronze,
was only borrowed
and would one day have to be returned.
People in the past seemed to acknowledge a relationship
between themselves, their belongings, and their landscape.
And something unseen.
They accept that there's a relationship,
that there's an obligation,
that comes with ownership.
That death follows life and that debts have to be repaid.
So, an axe is buried,
or thrown away.
A polished mace head goes into a tomb with the ancestors
and a boat like the Dover Boat,
even though it's still serviceable,
has to be returned to the world.
Look at this...
Rapier. Look how fine it is.
You can imagine the use that was put to,
with the handle here.
But it's been damaged, to put it beyond the use of men.
So it's been bent over someone's knee
and then the edge has been ruined by striking it on a rock.
Look. Before this was given back to the world, it's been snapped,
great force has been used.
This was probably a valuable, cherished object,
but the time came for it to go away.
And so, it was put out of reach, by destroying it.
Bronze-Age discoveries are revealing more than ancient lives,
but ancient beliefs as well.
In some ways,
the people of the Bronze Age
were forging a new, modern way of living.
But with the Dover Boat,
and with those damaged pieces of valuable bronze,
we're also seeing another side to Bronze-Age life.
It's a glimpse of Bronze-Age religion, if you like,
and it's connected with water.
The only evidence we have
is the gifts that were given to the gods.
Rivers, particularly those that flow east in England,
were special places
where people brought treasured personal belongings,
like swords, or cooking pots,
and threw them in.
Archaeologists think that those things
were offerings to appease the gods.
So, living beside nature
and trying to work out how to appease the gods,
how to keep them happy,
would presumably just have been part of everyday life.
In the thousand years since the Beaker people first brought metal to our shores,
a wealthy Bronze-Age elite had emerged.
By 1500BC, Britain was a rich, well-connected land.
But of course,
almost all those riches were the preserve of just a few -
those at the very top of society.
One aspect of Britain had barely changed.
The way people lived their lives
was pretty much the same as it had been in the Stone Age.
They farmed the land as they had done for centuries.
But they moved around, season by season.
Apart from a few exceptions,
there's scant evidence of permanent homes or permanent farms.
But all of this was about to change.
A Bronze-Age site in East Anglia
revealed the remains of something new.
'A permanent farmstead,
'with evidence of houses built to last a lifetime.
'Since the original discovery in the 1980s,
'some of the buildings have been recreated.
'To get a better idea of how Bronze-Age people lived,'
you want to get inside one of the houses.
So there's no way around reconstruction
because although stone foundations survive,
in terms of the roof, they perish.
So there's no alternative but to use archaeological evidence and best guesses
to put together as close a replica of a Bronze-Age house
as we can get.
An entire family would occupy a single room,
with a central hearth for heating and cooking.
It's quite interesting -
you don't need a hole in the roof for the smoke.
The smoke just rises
and sits above head height
and then gradually seeps out through the thatch.
The Bronze-Age roundhouse formed a template for domestic living
that would last for over a thousand years.
'Bronze-Age specialist Francis Pryor discovered Flag Fen
'and he's studied it ever since.'
Francis, what would it have been like
to live in the Bronze Age,
1200 years BC?
People were very relaxed,
they knew their place in society,
they ate well.
The archaeological evidence doesn't suggest
that there was, let's say,
an underclass that was not properly nourished.
Whenever you dig up a Bronze-Age burial,
9 times out of 10 or 90 times out of 100,
the body is well-nourished, the bones are well-formed.
-So they had plenty of calcium and they ate a decent diet.
One of the things there isn't much evidence for in the Bronze Age
is actual strife.
The population hadn't got SO big
that people were at each other's throats.
Everyone knew what land they owned,
people lived in families,
your week was organised.
Life, I think, in the Bronze Age would have been pretty good.
As the Bronze Age matured,
settled life came with an even bigger change...
a change that was one of the greatest social transformations
in the whole of our history.
This sort of set-up, these houses,
this winding road -
this is our classic view of rural Britain.
Permanent houses led to the beginnings
of the very first villages.
Fields all around, houses close together. These are the neighbours.
And that fundamentally changed the way we related to a place...
and to one another.
It seems normal to us, but it all had to be invented.
The whole idea of getting used to living in the same house for your whole life.
The neighbours - getting used to seeing the same faces day after day.
It seems obvious to us,
but until about 1500BC,
this was shockingly new.
The wild moorlands of Devon
contain evidence of this new way of living.
If it's Bronze-Age Britain you're looking for,
this is the place to come.
Because beyond this patch of woodland,
is the finest relic we have of that ancient landscape.
Dartmoor has the best-preserved Bronze-Age landscape,
not just in Britain, but in the whole of Europe.
These rocky outcrops, called tors, are natural.
But the landscape is also marked by the work of people
who lived on these hills 3,500 years ago.
Faint crisscross markings are relics of Bronze-Age field systems
that divide the land into plots,
farmed by families living in their own homes.
Really, what's impressive about it is the scale!
Within this landscape -
the remains of some of the very earliest Bronze-Age roundhouses.
There's nothing temporary or half-hearted about this.
This is permanent.
Whoever built this wasn't moving on in a hurry.
Archaeologist Niall Sharples
has made an extensive study of the Dartmoor landscape and its buildings.
Activity areas. Not rooms, not divided up.
No walls separating the room, but one big room,
but divided into areas where they're doing different things.
So you cook over here and make tools over here...
The other side, over here perhaps, is sleeping and storage,
perhaps a loom, as well, for weaving at the back of the house maybe.
Those kind of activities going on.
When they start building these houses, this is here for their adult lifetime.
Their main social life would be carried out in this house,
and is focused on this house, for 20 to 30 years, something like that.
So it's a permanent part of the landscape.
So, for the very first time in history,
people have a sense of place.
Yeah. Absolutely. That's important.
'Most radical of all -
'these houses aren't isolated farmsteads.
'Here on Dartmoor,
'there's evidence of over 5,000 of them.'
There's another house just over there - that's the neighbours.
They would be related kin of some sort.
There's another two houses over there.
5, 6, 7 or 8, maybe up to 12 houses within this group of fields.
Take a tour of the neighbourhood now...
It does feel strangely...familiar, a layout like this.
You know, families, in their own homes,
dotted across the landscape. But they're within reach of each other, you've got help at hand.
Is this rain ever going to stop?
Shall we go and do some farming?
I think I'll just stay in today.
Your children would grow up with their children.
They would reach adulthood, move into their own homes. It's all...
exactly the same as the way we think about
our communities and our neighbours.
-You've got some impressive stones here!
-It's good, isn't it?
We're very proud of them. We think it worked out very well.
An Englishman's home is his castle, and all that...
'A warm climate had improved productivity,
'perhaps doubling Britain's population
'to around half a million people, in just a few hundred years.
'Settlements weren't unknown before 1500 years BC,
'but now they were occurring everywhere,
'right across Britain and Europe.'
-A fantastic view!
'Ties to the land that were once tribal and ancestral,
'were now personal and practical.
'Domestic life was placed right at the heart
'of everything these people did.'
Viewed from up here, it's a grand scheme, isn't it?
A very grand scheme.
I mean, there's nothing really like it in any other period.
It's not a pattern of nature,
they wanted to impose something that was man-made.
How're you doing?
Britain had come a long way since 2,500 BC.
We were still in the Stone Age until the Beaker people arrived
and showed us how to make metals, from glittering stones like these.
Until then, we were well behind the rest of Europe.
Then, with the discovery of tin in Cornwall, we had bronze,
and suddenly, we were at the centre of trade.
But it wasn't until this big change,
around 1,500 years BC,
that we began to settle down
into the way of life that we would recognise now.
There was even a sexual revolution.
It's likely that sons and daughters
were exchanged between hamlets 5, 10, 20 miles apart.
If you sent your daughter to be betrothed to a neighbour's son,
that would have forged an alliance between the families -
people that you could look to for help when times turned bad.
A kind of Bronze-Age insurance policy.
In the years since 1,500 years BC,
things begin to look a bit modern.
Those early settlements on Dartmoor, though, didn't last.
Over just a few centuries,
possibly because of climate change and over-farming,
the moors and those first villages were abandoned forever.
But places like Dartmoor
had set a pattern for the rest of Britain...
and for the future.
Through thousands of years of prehistory,
the building blocks of the world WE know had all been invented.
Society and class,
religion and trade.
Now, by 1000 BC,
the first neighbourhoods and settled villages
were seeds from which city life would eventually blossom.
From the strange and distant days of the first hunters,
a very recognisable Britain was beginning to emerge.
The ice finally retreated around 11,000 or 12,000 years ago.
People came. There were shifts in technology and belief,
and all of that has moulded the Britain we know today.
The very shape of the land - as Britain became an island.
The coming of farming,
with ideas of work, and productivity, and community.
But it feels that with the end of the Stone Age
and the coming of Bronze,
the distant, strange world of our very early prehistory
finally came to an end.
It was as if we, as a people, had come of age.
We had the keys to the door,
and we could mould the world in our own image,
taking care of our own families.
But there was a price to pay.
That realisation, that thought,
3,000 or 4,000 years ago,
that we could impose our vision on the world,
brought with it a very grown-up responsibility.
Because what kind of world did we want to shape?
What kind of Britain did we want to build?
Next time, my journey continues.
'From a golden age of bronze...'
And then there's this magnificent cauldron.
It's so modern, somehow.
'..to a Britain in crisis.'
Everything about this place says "keep out".
'A time of economic meltdown,
'sudden climate change...
'..and the dawn of a new era... of iron.'
Neil Oliver continues his epic tour of Britain's most distant past with the arrival of metals and the social revolution that ushered in a new age of social mobility, international trade, and village life.