Age of Bronze A History of Ancient Britain


Age of Bronze

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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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, prehistoric past.

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'We began as hunters who followed the herds across Europe before Britain was an island.'

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Fantastic, after 14,000 years, to get a glimpse

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of the way at least one individual was thinking.

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'Then the first farmers came,

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'building monumental tombs to their ancestors...'

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Nothing like this had ever been seen before in Britain.

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'..before turning to the heavens

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'and creating some of the greatest monuments of the ancient world.'

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'Now the journey continues, with the next chapter in our epic story...'

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That is magic.

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'..an age of bronze, and a whole new way of living.

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'The rise of individuals controlling trade and wealth.'

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'The beginnings of a practical, domestic, almost modern Britain.'

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Britain, 2500 years BC.

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This is the height of the Stone Age.

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People live by farming the land - growing crops, keeping animals.

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There's little evidence of fixed villages, permanent settlement.

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Instead, they seek out fresh grazing land and fresh soil, season by season.

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Everything they have, clothes, tools, food, is gathered from the world around them.

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One material lay at the very heart of their world, as it had done for thousands of years...

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Flint.

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And it was needed in vast quantities.

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Look at this.

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It's a moonscape of deep hollows and depressions.

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There are literally hundreds of them.

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These aren't the product of ancient farming or ancient settlements.

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All of this was created by ancient industry.

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Each one of these hollows is the remnant of an ancient mine shaft,

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and there are 433 of them.

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Some of the mine shafts have been excavated, so it's possible to enter

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the very ground that was worked by our prehistoric ancestors.

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It's a bit deeper than I thought!

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Each shaft leads to a network of tunnels,

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hacked from the chalk bedrock with basic tools.

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This is red deer antler, hunted or collected in the forests above.

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And then it's been used, just as the shape suggests, as a pick.

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You can see just how cramped the conditions are down here.

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And some of

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the tunnels are so small,

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it's believed that as well as men working down here,

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there must have been children because some of the spaces

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are just too small to believe it was grown-ups.

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Now, here's what all the effort

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is in aid of.

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This black stuff here, this is flint.

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They would have found a complete floor, like a black floor of flint,

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as if a black liquid had flowed in and solidified.

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Looks like glass, or treacle toffee.

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In any case, this

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is what this mine was all about.

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Flint, the lifeblood of the Stone Age.

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If you were going to fell a tree, build a house, shape wood,

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make a dug-out canoe, you needed an axe like this.

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But Britain, and its ancient dependence on flint, was about to change.

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In 2500BC, a radical, unimaginable new technology was about to hit Britain - metal.

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We take it for granted.

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It's quite literally the scaffolding that holds up the modern world.

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So much of what we have, what we depend on, is made of metal.

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But 4,500 years ago, no-one in Britain had ever even seen it.

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Yet it was about to catapult us out of the Stone Age and into a whole new chapter.

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The arrival of metal would bring a social as well as a technological revolution,

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the beginning of community life

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and a world that begins to look increasingly like our own.

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All this change in an era that we call the Bronze Age.

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The story of how metal first came to Britain begins much further west,

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in the hills of South West Ireland,

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because the rocks around this stretch of water in County Kerry are rich in copper ore.

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And it was copper from here that was used to make the first metal objects back home in Britain.

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Archaeologist Billy O'Brien has spent decades here

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discovering evidence of ancient copper workers.

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The typical rock I'm seeing is dark with white veins through it.

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That's what miners would call the country rock.

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It's limestone, with pieces of calcite veining running through it,

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but there's no copper minerals in that piece, I'm afraid.

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So, when I think about copper, I'm thinking of a green colour.

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You're right. Copper oxidises on the surface and becomes green and blue.

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-And it's bright colours like that you're looking for.

-Right.

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-Oh, look. What about that?

-Yeah, that's got a lot of copper minerals.

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You can see the green staining.

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You can see the bright, sparkly silver and gold of the copper sulphide minerals.

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Yeah.

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Yeah, you can see the green instantly.

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And there's even... There's even sparkling.

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It's like glitter.

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And it's the glitter that's actually the copper.

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-That would become the copper?

-It's the copper minerals against the limestone.

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How on earth would you know it was there?

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Surely to the average person thousands of years ago,

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a stone is a stone is a stone. How does anyone realise

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there's a completely different material hidden in here?

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We know there was a history of Stone-Age settlement in this area going back thousands of years.

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At some point, they would have noticed that the limestone rocks on this part of the lake

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were streaked with copper minerals. They wouldn't have known what to make of this knowledge.

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But at some point, they came in contact with people from outside of Ireland

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who were metal prospectors, and the two would have come together

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and with that outside expertise, they eventually started to mine here.

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-So it was a foreign expertise that was required to trigger it all.

-Absolutely.

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The very first copper mines were dug in the Balkans, far to the south, nearly 6,000 years ago.

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By 3000BC, pockets of copper technology were appearing

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further west, in northern Italy and along the Mediterranean coast.

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But it wasn't until around 2500BC that copper spread through North West Europe.

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And prospectors came looking for ore further north still,

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in Ireland.

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And all of this was cut out by human labour?

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There's good scientific evidence from things like isotope analysis that indicate that the first copper

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from Ross Island came from this trench. It's called Blue Hole Mine.

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And this copper was produced very early on,

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and it circulated all over Ireland and then into western Britain.

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So when you find the earliest copper tools in Britain,

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wherever you find them, the metal for them has come out of this hole?

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Certainly the ones in Ireland and western Britain.

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Many of the ones in places like Wales and Scotland,

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some of the very earliest copper axes came out of this hole.

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It's just extraordinary to be able to track a story like metalworking,

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like copper, all the way back to one hole in the ground.

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It's like following a river right back to a spring, the source.

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Next to the mine, workers would have begun to process the rock.

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How do you know all of this?

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How do you know that this was the process and it was done here?

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We know because of the tools we found in the site.

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The excavation of this work camp and the surrounding mine site produced thousands of these stone hammers.

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You can see they've got grooves around the centre.

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That's because there were usually handles put on them like this.

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-They've been worked, picked away at.

-Exactly.

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The purpose of the groove was to grip a handle like this so that you could use it with more force.

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-So they had more sophisticated tools than I've got.

-Much more sophisticated.

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'Most sophisticated of all, the secret of how to transform the rock into gleaming copper.'

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Smelting copper ore required cutting edge technology...bellows,

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to create fire that was hotter than anything ever seen in Britain before.

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If you look at the colour of your flame.

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Experience tells you that I know it's ready.

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I can see it's ready.

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For the locals, the new people who could create glowing metal from rock must have seemed like magicians.

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Oh, yeah.

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Look at that!

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That is magic. Wow.

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That's magic now, what was that like 4,500 years ago?

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Look, it's actually turning green.

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You can see how it reacts straight away with the air as soon as it's out.

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Imagine if someone had turned up in your village and said,

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"I'll show you something", and then went through that process,

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and then to see that, to see that liquid leap in there

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and then turn into a recognisable object...

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Yeah, it's magic.

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That's pure copper.

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-I love it.

-Yeah.

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So, amazingly, it's the raw materials in these hills

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and the technology that transformed it into copper

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that are, in many ways, the foundations of our modern world.

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The people who brought this technology also brought a new and very different culture

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that was to spread throughout Britain and transform society.

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They made and used a distinctive kind of pottery.

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This piece was actually found here.

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Before it was broken, it was part of a vessel

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that looked a bit like this one.

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We call these beakers, and the people who made these,

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used these and were often buried with them

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alongside them in their graves,

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are called the Beaker people.

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Around 2500BC, Beaker people first arrived in Britain...

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..bringing their new metalworking skills and a whole new culture.

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And we know that, at least partly,

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because of an early Beaker man who was buried here

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on land between this school and that housing estate 4,500 years ago.

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And here he is.

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We've got beakers here.

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Real ones this time.

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Terrified at the prospect of even touching them, because

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these are some of the oldest, earliest beakers in Britain.

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This fragile lovely is a beaker classic.

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Now, also in amongst this dazzling array of grave goods

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is metal.

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There are copper knives in here.

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And this isn't just any metal.

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Look at this. Here's one of them.

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It's a copper knife that would have had a wooden handle coming out to give you a grip on it.

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There's the cutting edge.

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These are the oldest metal objects found so far in Britain.

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And alongside the earliest copper,

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and I can't believe I'm about to touch this,

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is the earliest gold.

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This is the earliest gold jewellery.

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It's been wrongly described previously as an earring,

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but it's not. It's a decoration for hair.

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You would put it on the end of pleated hair, a braid of hair,

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just for decoration. Look at that.

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Look at how fine it is.

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It feels as fragile as the foil on a Terry's Chocolate Orange.

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I feel as if with an uncontrolled nervous twitch,

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I might crush it flat. But look at it.

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Amazing.

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Put it down.

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Taking a tooth from the Amesbury Archer,

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scientists could discover where this new metalworker had come from.

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First time we'd ever had a tooth that old in our hands.

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It was amazing to be holding something that old from another human being.

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Teeth contain traces of atomic elements, strontium and oxygen.

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And the pattern of these traces can reveal where someone spent their childhood,

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even after thousands of years.

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We were absolutely overwhelmed with the results.

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It was absolutely amazing.

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This guy didn't come from Britain.

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The Amesbury Archer wasn't just an early Beaker man,

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but one of the original pioneers,

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born a thousand miles away in the Alps of Central Europe.

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You just can't possibly think of somebody walking all that way.

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I was amazed. I was just totally amazed.

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And I was absolutely over the moon, because he was different.

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You see so many individuals who were just like everybody else, and then

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all of a sudden, here's one guy who's just totally different.

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After travelling a thousand miles,

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the Amesbury Archer ended his days here in Wiltshire,

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buried alongside the things that were important to him in life.

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All of this, so far, makes him fascinating and compelling.

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But there's one last item in here

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that makes this individual crucial to our story.

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It's this item here.

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This is called a cushion stone.

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It's used for working and finishing metal.

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Look at it. It's seen years of use.

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Look how smooth it is.

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You would have used the smooth surface of this one to cold work metal

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and give it the finishing shape and finishing touches.

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So this individual, this pioneer from Europe,

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he didn't just own metal things.

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He knew how to get metal, how to make metal and how to work metal.

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The arrival of Beaker people in Britain was a tipping point in the history of our land.

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Before the new people arrived, all our materials were simply collected from the natural world.

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Stone, bone, shell, wood, antler, animal sinew.

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All of these and more had been used in countless ingenious ways.

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And of course, people had been making pottery for over a thousand years.

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But the Beaker people had brought something completely new.

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Not just copper technology, but gold jewellery,

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and the trappings of status, perhaps even wealth.

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Metalworkers like the Amesbury Archer were pioneering a new

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and very different world to that of the ancient past.

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This was nothing less than the end of the Stone Age

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and everything that went with it.

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Stone-Age Britain had reached its peak with the creation

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of massive, cosmically aligned, communal monuments.

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Even in death, the ancestors shared a world,

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often buried or cremated in communal tombs.

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But now, just a few incomers from Europe had brought very different ideas

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about how people fitted into society and the world around them.

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The Beaker people brought a whole new sense of "self",

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of individuality.

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Unlike most burials in the Stone Age,

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the Amesbury Archer was laid to rest on his own.

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He was also buried with possessions - things that showed what he did, who he was.

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An acknowledgement of his status, if you like.

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For the Beaker people, all of this mattered.

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But for British people in the Stone Age,

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this was radical thinking.

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Right on the cusp of this change, the last great prehistoric monument in Britain was begun.

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It's this enormous mound - Silbury Hill.

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It's almost certainly the largest prehistoric mound built anywhere in the world.

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It's been calculated that it took four million man-hours to build.

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And as for what it's for,

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I'll be honest with you - nobody knows.

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One thing we do know for certain - the people who started building it

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didn't live long enough to see it completed.

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It was the idea of Silbury Hill that survived, generation after generation.

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And now, of course, it's just a mystery.

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It could be that this was the last blossoming of the Neolithic

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before the new, more individual Beaker ways took over.

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Beakers - classic beakers - that give the Beaker people their name, are drinking vessels.

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And they're associated with a male-dominated culture of archery, metal-working, and drinking.

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Analysis of fragments of real beakers, to see what they contained,

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have shown that it was almost certainly alcoholic.

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Now...

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So, in honour

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of the Amesbury Archer and the builders of Silbury Hill,

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I'm going to try some.

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Good health.

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Metal was only one part of the new Beaker culture.

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But for all their individual skills and modern outlook, the new metal workers had a problem.

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Copper might have looked good, but it was so soft that it was barely better than flint as a tool.

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But the Beaker people also knew about another, even more astonishing metal.

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The metal that was to open up a whole new age was unlocked from the rocks of the Cornish coast.

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'Because to make it, you needed to combine copper with tin.'

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Bear with me...

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Apparently it's quite distinctive when you see it.

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If you don't break an ankle on the way!

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Look.

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The secret to all of this,

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what those early metal-workers were on the hunt for,

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is in this ribbon of black-and-white rock.

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It's very distinctive. See it?

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It's called cassiterite.

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A rock that contains tin.

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Britain had been a latecomer to the copper age, but the discovery of local tin -

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a much rarer metal than copper - was to propel Britain to the very technological forefront of Europe.

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If you were very lucky,

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you'd find something like this.

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I wish you could feel it.

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It looks like any ordinary pebble, but trust me, it's as heavy as a cannonball

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and when you extract the tin itself, it's as beautiful as silver.

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And this is an ingot of tin.

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It's very lovely. They say that if you bend it...

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CRACKLING

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..it crackles.

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They call that the cry of tin.

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More importantly, if you have copper and you add this, you transform it into bronze.

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If you control the bellow speed, it'll hold the perfect temperature for casting.

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With just the right mixture of copper and tin, metal workers could

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create an alloy that was hard enough to make useful tools and weapons.

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An impact that crumples copper...

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..is no match for bronze...

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..the hardest metal of the ancient world.

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No matter how often I do this, I still find it quite challenging.

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Moulds were made of stone or clay.

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-Fingers crossed, gentlemen.

-Everything crossed.

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In this case, to cast something that was unknown before bronze came along...

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A sword.

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That's fantastic.

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Loving this. Right.

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Can you lift that off?

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-OK, this is it.

-Right.

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-OK, lift it up.

-It's like a beating heart. Look at it.

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OK, in you go.

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-Bit lower....

-Finally.

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-That's it. Well done, gentlemen.

-Oh, look.

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Amazing.

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It's like blood. Better than blood.

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OK, that's good.

0:26:290:26:33

Lift it up a little bit. That's it. We're there.

0:26:330:26:36

-Wow, it's so visceral, isn't it?

-Oh, definitely.

0:26:420:26:45

The moment of truth.

0:26:510:26:53

There we go.

0:27:000:27:02

Look at that!

0:27:020:27:04

That is amazing. Look at the colour of it.

0:27:090:27:12

-Are you impressed?

-I'm deeply, deeply impressed.

0:27:140:27:17

Look at that!

0:27:170:27:20

Yeah, it even makes a ring.

0:27:200:27:22

-It's a very hard piece of bronze.

-Just amazing.

0:27:220:27:25

From liquid fire to metal sword in a couple of minutes.

0:27:280:27:32

In the hands of master metal-workers, bronze was leading Britain into a whole new age.

0:27:420:27:48

Not only technologically, but socially as well.

0:27:480:27:51

Look at these, obviously lethal weapons.

0:27:540:27:58

But swords are quite a late development in the story of bronze, in the story of metal.

0:28:000:28:07

If you're talking about early bronze, then you have to look at axes.

0:28:070:28:12

These are some of the earliest bronze objects found so far in Britain.

0:28:140:28:19

These date from as early as 2,200 years BC.

0:28:190:28:24

A carpenter would have coveted an item like this,

0:28:240:28:27

because it would enable him to do a better, faster job.

0:28:270:28:31

But bronze axes are about much more than the utility of the object.

0:28:310:28:36

They're are about status and prestige. No humble carpenter

0:28:360:28:39

could possibly have dreamt of owning something so valuable in the early days of bronze.

0:28:390:28:46

Much more than tools, these are objects of desire.

0:28:460:28:50

There's a whole range

0:28:500:28:53

of sizes, styles,

0:28:530:28:55

although still early.

0:28:550:28:57

Look at the size of that one.

0:28:570:28:59

That's what that was all about - bigger is better.

0:28:590:29:02

It's showing off.

0:29:020:29:04

And this one,

0:29:040:29:06

which looks silvery in colour, rather than the warm gold of bronze,

0:29:060:29:10

that silvering has been achieved by flashing tin onto the surface of the bronze.

0:29:100:29:16

It doesn't make a better axe, it just makes it more eye-catching.

0:29:160:29:21

This ushers in a whole new era,

0:29:210:29:24

because for the first time,

0:29:240:29:26

there was a different way to get and to demonstrate wealth.

0:29:260:29:31

After the time of the priestly class, where status

0:29:310:29:36

was conferred on people because of who they were and what they knew,

0:29:360:29:40

now there's a different opportunity.

0:29:400:29:42

The bronze here has been brought together from many sources.

0:29:420:29:46

The copper from South West Ireland,

0:29:460:29:49

the tin from Cornwall.

0:29:490:29:50

But these were found in the North East of Scotland.

0:29:500:29:53

The materials are moving all over the country.

0:29:530:29:57

If you are someone who can control those trade routes,

0:29:570:30:00

if you can get your hands on this

0:30:000:30:01

as it moves through your territory and control it, then you've got

0:30:010:30:05

personal wealth and you've got the ability to demonstrate and to show

0:30:050:30:10

that you are someone who matters.

0:30:100:30:12

Now, not everyone had to farm the land.

0:30:160:30:19

At least for a few of Britain's population of perhaps a quarter of a million people,

0:30:190:30:24

new opportunities were emerging.

0:30:240:30:26

Specialist metal-workers, metal-traders and, in particular,

0:30:280:30:33

those who controlled trade routes, could become seriously rich.

0:30:330:30:37

This was a new self-made elite,

0:30:370:30:40

for whom the Stone Age must have seemed a quaint and distant memory.

0:30:400:30:44

In the Bronze Age, it wasn't just the ancient, sacred landscapes that were important,

0:30:510:30:57

but the practical landscapes of natural harbours and river routes.

0:30:570:31:01

One of the most important trade routes was the western entrance to the Great Glen in Scotland,

0:31:030:31:09

a place studied by archaeologist Alison Sheridan.

0:31:090:31:13

This glen is geographically in a great position to control the flow of metal that's coming from Ireland,

0:31:130:31:20

up the Great Glen, to North East Scotland.

0:31:200:31:23

-So this valley finds itself at the hub of what is effectively a busy motorway?

-Yes, absolutely.

0:31:230:31:28

Those people who were able to control the flow of copper or tin or both

0:31:280:31:33

were going to make it rich.

0:31:330:31:35

The tombs of some of the new, rich bronze elite

0:31:390:31:42

of Kilmartin still survive.

0:31:420:31:44

Within this huge cairn, there was only ever one person buried.

0:31:450:31:50

This is no mass grave.

0:31:500:31:53

This is for a single, high-status individual.

0:31:530:31:58

This cairn was rebuilt around this modern chamber

0:32:050:32:09

that was itself built

0:32:090:32:11

to let people see this single grave, this stone-lined cist.

0:32:110:32:15

There was only ever one grave in this entire cairn, so this was an important individual.

0:32:150:32:23

Most interesting thing of all in here is the lid,

0:32:230:32:27

the capstone, that was once laid on top of this cist to seal it.

0:32:270:32:32

Before it was put down, it was upgraded, re-worked,

0:32:320:32:37

with these axe heads picked and carved into the surface.

0:32:370:32:42

They're all over the place here.

0:32:420:32:45

So the person, whoever he or she was, was laid to rest in here

0:32:450:32:51

and they would spend eternity looking up at this stone,

0:32:510:32:54

because it was the axe, the metal of the axes, that was the basis for the wealth and power of these people.

0:32:540:33:02

The new wealth fed a new demand for luxury goods.

0:33:050:33:10

-Alison, you don't often find or see anything quite as stunning as that, do you?

-No.

0:33:160:33:22

What is it made of?

0:33:220:33:24

It's made of jet from Whitby in Yorkshire.

0:33:240:33:27

This necklace had travelled over 300 miles to be worn by one special, very rich woman.

0:33:270:33:35

It's actually semi-fossilised wood of the monkey puzzle tree family.

0:33:370:33:40

-Isn't that fantastic?

-It's great.

0:33:400:33:42

You can actually see the grain of the wood, there.

0:33:420:33:45

And it feels... It doesn't feel as you would expect it to,

0:33:450:33:47

because it looks as if it ought to be much heavier than it is.

0:33:470:33:50

-Yes.

-It is quite like handing varnished wood.

0:33:500:33:53

It's wonderful. It's also warm.

0:33:530:33:55

Jet is an amazing stone. It's stone that is light, it's stone that you can burn.

0:33:550:34:01

It also has electrostatic properties.

0:34:010:34:03

This wasn't just precious bling, this was supernatural power dressing if you like.

0:34:030:34:07

It's something which would have protected the woman in her

0:34:070:34:11

dangerous journey to the world of the gods and the ancestors.

0:34:110:34:14

How old did you say that was?

0:34:140:34:16

It's about 4,150 years old.

0:34:160:34:18

-And fragile?

-Yes!

0:34:180:34:20

So this...

0:34:200:34:23

-is a replica.

-That's right, yes.

0:34:230:34:26

It was made for Kilmartin House Museum by a modern-day Whitby jet specialist worker.

0:34:260:34:31

-Would you like to try it?

-I'd love to.

0:34:310:34:33

Oh!

0:34:350:34:37

OK. Now, does it feel different than other items of finery you've worn before?

0:34:370:34:42

Yes, it makes me feel like a queen.

0:34:420:34:45

It's just wonderful. It's so comfortable, so soft, so beautiful.

0:34:450:34:49

It would have been originally very tightly strung,

0:34:490:34:52

so it's a solid black mass of precious magical material.

0:34:520:34:57

So, 4,100 years ago, this part of Britain was centre stage?

0:34:570:35:04

Absolutely, yes. At the time, northern Britain and Ireland were the epicentre of cool.

0:35:040:35:10

They were the places where the fashion trends were being created.

0:35:100:35:14

This is internationally significant.

0:35:140:35:17

The person would have held her own among the elite across Europe.

0:35:170:35:21

-So Britain is at the centre, not on the periphery?

-Yes, absolutely.

0:35:210:35:24

If this glen teaches us anything, it's that, by 2000BC, Britain had a real presence in the world.

0:35:280:35:35

We had the natural resources and the technical skills that meant we couldn't be ignored.

0:35:350:35:40

In the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe, they'd had trade and wealth for centuries. Now we had it too.

0:35:400:35:47

The waters around Britain can be some of the most treacherous in the world,

0:35:530:35:57

but to trade with Europe, Bronze-Age sailors had to brave them.

0:35:570:36:02

And a remarkable discovery made in Dover reveals the sophistication of their maritime prowess.

0:36:030:36:10

In 1992, while this underpass was being dug, the evidence emerged from the mud.

0:36:140:36:19

Incredibly they found a boat - a big wooden boat - buried 20 feet underground, down here.

0:36:220:36:28

It's hard to believe, surrounded down here by all this concrete and these painted tiles,

0:36:290:36:36

that 3,500 years ago, the boat came to rest and was gradually buried under layers and layers of mud.

0:36:360:36:43

And here it is. This, quite simply, is the oldest surviving sea-going vessel in the world.

0:36:510:36:59

It's absolutely fantastic.

0:37:010:37:03

At first sight, it's honestly one of the most impressive archaeological finds I've ever laid eyes on.

0:37:030:37:09

'Originally up to 20m long, the Dover Boat would have carried cargo between Britain and mainland Europe.

0:37:110:37:18

'Scrap bronze and other metals, perhaps also wool and fabrics.'

0:37:180:37:24

A vessel this size would obviously have taken some skilled handling.

0:37:240:37:29

It must have been either paddled

0:37:290:37:33

with several of these or, the thinking more recently has been

0:37:330:37:37

that it might have been rowed, like a rowing boat on a paddling pond, only on a much grander scale.

0:37:370:37:45

I've actually been given the privilege of going inside the case.

0:37:450:37:49

This is the magic handle that opens the door.

0:37:490:37:54

You don't get to do this in normal life!

0:37:560:37:59

There's a real atmosphere in here.

0:38:060:38:09

I don't know if it's just the case,

0:38:090:38:12

but it's almost like being in here with someONE rather than just someTHING.

0:38:120:38:18

It's as if the Bronze Age is,

0:38:180:38:22

and Bronze-Age people are, preserved in here.

0:38:220:38:26

The boat's construction relied on the expert skills of carpenters using bronze axes.

0:38:310:38:36

Its hull, four enormous planks, sewn together.

0:38:360:38:41

These are twisted yew branches.

0:38:430:38:46

They're called withies. They've been used like thread, or cords.

0:38:460:38:50

The pieces have been stitched together,

0:38:500:38:53

almost as though, rather than wood it was made out of skin, or cloth. It's the same sort of technology.

0:38:530:39:00

It's been sewn together on a giant scale.

0:39:000:39:04

Close up, there's a detail that reveals

0:39:070:39:10

how this boat ended its days.

0:39:100:39:12

It was in good nick

0:39:140:39:18

but at some point,

0:39:180:39:19

people have decided to put it beyond use.

0:39:190:39:23

It's been scuttled, if you like.

0:39:230:39:25

You can see, at certain points,

0:39:250:39:27

where the withies - those twisted yew branches -

0:39:270:39:29

have been cut deliberately.

0:39:290:39:31

So, for some reason,

0:39:310:39:34

it was thought appropriate to put this boat,

0:39:340:39:38

this perfectly functional boat,

0:39:380:39:39

beyond the use of man.

0:39:390:39:41

In ancient Britain, the earth was alive, and sacred.

0:39:550:40:00

So anything taken from the earth,

0:40:000:40:02

whether wood or bronze,

0:40:020:40:04

was only borrowed

0:40:040:40:05

and would one day have to be returned.

0:40:050:40:08

People in the past seemed to acknowledge a relationship

0:40:100:40:14

between themselves, their belongings, and their landscape.

0:40:140:40:18

And something unseen.

0:40:180:40:20

They accept that there's a relationship,

0:40:200:40:24

that there's an obligation,

0:40:240:40:27

that comes with ownership.

0:40:270:40:29

That death follows life and that debts have to be repaid.

0:40:290:40:33

So, an axe is buried,

0:40:330:40:36

or thrown away.

0:40:360:40:38

A polished mace head goes into a tomb with the ancestors

0:40:380:40:42

and a boat like the Dover Boat,

0:40:420:40:43

even though it's still serviceable,

0:40:430:40:46

has to be returned to the world.

0:40:460:40:49

Look at this...

0:40:510:40:53

Beautiful.

0:40:530:40:55

Rapier. Look how fine it is.

0:40:550:40:59

You can imagine the use that was put to,

0:40:590:41:02

with the handle here.

0:41:020:41:04

But it's been damaged, to put it beyond the use of men.

0:41:070:41:10

So it's been bent over someone's knee

0:41:100:41:13

and then the edge has been ruined by striking it on a rock.

0:41:130:41:18

Look. Before this was given back to the world, it's been snapped,

0:41:210:41:28

great force has been used.

0:41:280:41:30

This was probably a valuable, cherished object,

0:41:300:41:34

but the time came for it to go away.

0:41:340:41:37

And so, it was put out of reach, by destroying it.

0:41:370:41:41

Bronze-Age discoveries are revealing more than ancient lives,

0:41:470:41:50

but ancient beliefs as well.

0:41:500:41:54

In some ways,

0:41:540:41:56

the people of the Bronze Age

0:41:560:41:57

were forging a new, modern way of living.

0:41:570:42:02

But with the Dover Boat,

0:42:020:42:04

and with those damaged pieces of valuable bronze,

0:42:040:42:09

we're also seeing another side to Bronze-Age life.

0:42:090:42:12

It's a glimpse of Bronze-Age religion, if you like,

0:42:120:42:16

and it's connected with water.

0:42:160:42:18

The only evidence we have

0:42:200:42:22

is the gifts that were given to the gods.

0:42:220:42:25

Rivers, particularly those that flow east in England,

0:42:250:42:29

were special places

0:42:290:42:31

where people brought treasured personal belongings,

0:42:310:42:35

like swords, or cooking pots,

0:42:350:42:37

and threw them in.

0:42:370:42:38

Archaeologists think that those things

0:42:380:42:40

were offerings to appease the gods.

0:42:400:42:44

So, living beside nature

0:42:460:42:48

and trying to work out how to appease the gods,

0:42:480:42:51

how to keep them happy,

0:42:510:42:52

would presumably just have been part of everyday life.

0:42:520:42:56

In the thousand years since the Beaker people first brought metal to our shores,

0:43:010:43:06

a wealthy Bronze-Age elite had emerged.

0:43:060:43:09

By 1500BC, Britain was a rich, well-connected land.

0:43:120:43:17

But of course,

0:43:170:43:18

almost all those riches were the preserve of just a few -

0:43:180:43:22

those at the very top of society.

0:43:220:43:25

One aspect of Britain had barely changed.

0:43:260:43:29

The way people lived their lives

0:43:290:43:32

was pretty much the same as it had been in the Stone Age.

0:43:320:43:35

They farmed the land as they had done for centuries.

0:43:350:43:39

But they moved around, season by season.

0:43:390:43:43

Apart from a few exceptions,

0:43:430:43:44

there's scant evidence of permanent homes or permanent farms.

0:43:440:43:49

But all of this was about to change.

0:43:490:43:52

A Bronze-Age site in East Anglia

0:43:570:43:58

revealed the remains of something new.

0:43:580:44:00

'A permanent farmstead,

0:44:060:44:08

'with evidence of houses built to last a lifetime.

0:44:080:44:11

'Since the original discovery in the 1980s,

0:44:140:44:17

'some of the buildings have been recreated.

0:44:170:44:21

'To get a better idea of how Bronze-Age people lived,'

0:44:210:44:24

you want to get inside one of the houses.

0:44:240:44:27

So there's no way around reconstruction

0:44:270:44:29

because although stone foundations survive,

0:44:290:44:32

in terms of the roof, they perish.

0:44:320:44:34

So there's no alternative but to use archaeological evidence and best guesses

0:44:340:44:39

to put together as close a replica of a Bronze-Age house

0:44:390:44:44

as we can get.

0:44:440:44:45

An entire family would occupy a single room,

0:44:460:44:50

with a central hearth for heating and cooking.

0:44:500:44:53

It's quite interesting -

0:44:540:44:55

you don't need a hole in the roof for the smoke.

0:44:550:44:59

The smoke just rises

0:44:590:45:00

and sits above head height

0:45:000:45:02

and then gradually seeps out through the thatch.

0:45:020:45:06

The Bronze-Age roundhouse formed a template for domestic living

0:45:060:45:11

that would last for over a thousand years.

0:45:110:45:13

'Bronze-Age specialist Francis Pryor discovered Flag Fen

0:45:210:45:24

'and he's studied it ever since.'

0:45:240:45:27

Francis, what would it have been like

0:45:280:45:30

to live in the Bronze Age,

0:45:300:45:33

1200 years BC?

0:45:330:45:36

People were very relaxed,

0:45:360:45:38

they knew their place in society,

0:45:380:45:41

they ate well.

0:45:410:45:43

The archaeological evidence doesn't suggest

0:45:430:45:46

that there was, let's say,

0:45:460:45:48

an underclass that was not properly nourished.

0:45:480:45:51

Whenever you dig up a Bronze-Age burial,

0:45:510:45:54

9 times out of 10 or 90 times out of 100,

0:45:540:45:58

the body is well-nourished, the bones are well-formed.

0:45:580:46:01

-So they had plenty of calcium and they ate a decent diet.

-Right.

0:46:010:46:04

One of the things there isn't much evidence for in the Bronze Age

0:46:040:46:08

is actual strife.

0:46:080:46:10

The population hadn't got SO big

0:46:100:46:13

that people were at each other's throats.

0:46:130:46:15

Everyone knew what land they owned,

0:46:150:46:18

people lived in families,

0:46:180:46:19

your week was organised.

0:46:190:46:22

Life, I think, in the Bronze Age would have been pretty good.

0:46:220:46:25

As the Bronze Age matured,

0:46:290:46:31

settled life came with an even bigger change...

0:46:310:46:34

a change that was one of the greatest social transformations

0:46:340:46:38

in the whole of our history.

0:46:380:46:40

This sort of set-up, these houses,

0:46:400:46:45

this winding road -

0:46:450:46:46

this is our classic view of rural Britain.

0:46:460:46:49

Permanent houses led to the beginnings

0:46:520:46:55

of the very first villages.

0:46:550:46:58

Fields all around, houses close together. These are the neighbours.

0:46:580:47:05

And that fundamentally changed the way we related to a place...

0:47:060:47:12

and to one another.

0:47:120:47:14

It seems normal to us, but it all had to be invented.

0:47:140:47:18

The whole idea of getting used to living in the same house for your whole life.

0:47:180:47:23

The neighbours - getting used to seeing the same faces day after day.

0:47:230:47:28

It seems obvious to us,

0:47:280:47:30

but until about 1500BC,

0:47:300:47:33

this was shockingly new.

0:47:330:47:34

The wild moorlands of Devon

0:47:390:47:41

contain evidence of this new way of living.

0:47:410:47:43

If it's Bronze-Age Britain you're looking for,

0:47:490:47:51

this is the place to come.

0:47:510:47:53

Because beyond this patch of woodland,

0:47:530:47:55

is the finest relic we have of that ancient landscape.

0:47:550:48:00

Dartmoor has the best-preserved Bronze-Age landscape,

0:48:080:48:12

not just in Britain, but in the whole of Europe.

0:48:120:48:14

These rocky outcrops, called tors, are natural.

0:48:230:48:27

But the landscape is also marked by the work of people

0:48:270:48:31

who lived on these hills 3,500 years ago.

0:48:310:48:34

Faint crisscross markings are relics of Bronze-Age field systems

0:48:460:48:51

that divide the land into plots,

0:48:510:48:54

farmed by families living in their own homes.

0:48:540:48:57

Really, what's impressive about it is the scale!

0:49:000:49:03

Within this landscape -

0:49:040:49:06

the remains of some of the very earliest Bronze-Age roundhouses.

0:49:060:49:10

Proper entrance...

0:49:160:49:18

There's nothing temporary or half-hearted about this.

0:49:230:49:27

This is permanent.

0:49:270:49:28

Whoever built this wasn't moving on in a hurry.

0:49:290:49:32

Archaeologist Niall Sharples

0:49:360:49:39

has made an extensive study of the Dartmoor landscape and its buildings.

0:49:390:49:43

Activity areas. Not rooms, not divided up.

0:49:460:49:49

No walls separating the room, but one big room,

0:49:490:49:51

but divided into areas where they're doing different things.

0:49:510:49:54

So you cook over here and make tools over here...

0:49:540:49:57

The other side, over here perhaps, is sleeping and storage,

0:49:570:50:01

perhaps a loom, as well, for weaving at the back of the house maybe.

0:50:010:50:05

Those kind of activities going on.

0:50:050:50:07

When they start building these houses, this is here for their adult lifetime.

0:50:070:50:11

Their main social life would be carried out in this house,

0:50:110:50:15

and is focused on this house, for 20 to 30 years, something like that.

0:50:150:50:19

So it's a permanent part of the landscape.

0:50:190:50:21

So, for the very first time in history,

0:50:210:50:23

people have a sense of place.

0:50:230:50:25

Yeah. Absolutely. That's important.

0:50:250:50:29

'Most radical of all -

0:50:290:50:30

'these houses aren't isolated farmsteads.

0:50:300:50:33

'Here on Dartmoor,

0:50:330:50:35

'there's evidence of over 5,000 of them.'

0:50:350:50:38

There's another house just over there - that's the neighbours.

0:50:380:50:41

They would be related kin of some sort.

0:50:410:50:44

There's another two houses over there.

0:50:440:50:46

5, 6, 7 or 8, maybe up to 12 houses within this group of fields.

0:50:460:50:50

Take a tour of the neighbourhood now...

0:50:540:50:56

It does feel strangely...familiar, a layout like this.

0:50:560:51:02

You know, families, in their own homes,

0:51:020:51:04

dotted across the landscape. But they're within reach of each other, you've got help at hand.

0:51:040:51:09

Morning, Niall!

0:51:090:51:12

Is this rain ever going to stop?

0:51:120:51:14

Shall we go and do some farming?

0:51:140:51:17

I think I'll just stay in today.

0:51:170:51:19

Your children would grow up with their children.

0:51:190:51:22

They would reach adulthood, move into their own homes. It's all...

0:51:220:51:25

exactly the same as the way we think about

0:51:250:51:28

our communities and our neighbours.

0:51:280:51:31

-You've got some impressive stones here!

-It's good, isn't it?

0:51:310:51:34

We're very proud of them. We think it worked out very well.

0:51:340:51:37

An Englishman's home is his castle, and all that...

0:51:370:51:41

starts now.

0:51:410:51:43

'A warm climate had improved productivity,

0:51:480:51:51

'perhaps doubling Britain's population

0:51:510:51:53

'to around half a million people, in just a few hundred years.

0:51:530:51:57

'Settlements weren't unknown before 1500 years BC,

0:52:010:52:04

'but now they were occurring everywhere,

0:52:040:52:07

'right across Britain and Europe.'

0:52:070:52:09

-A fantastic view!

-It is.

0:52:110:52:14

'Ties to the land that were once tribal and ancestral,

0:52:180:52:21

'were now personal and practical.

0:52:210:52:24

'Domestic life was placed right at the heart

0:52:240:52:27

'of everything these people did.'

0:52:270:52:29

Viewed from up here, it's a grand scheme, isn't it?

0:52:290:52:32

A very grand scheme.

0:52:320:52:34

I mean, there's nothing really like it in any other period.

0:52:340:52:37

It's not a pattern of nature,

0:52:400:52:42

they wanted to impose something that was man-made.

0:52:420:52:45

How're you doing?

0:52:570:53:00

Britain had come a long way since 2,500 BC.

0:53:070:53:12

We were still in the Stone Age until the Beaker people arrived

0:53:120:53:16

and showed us how to make metals, from glittering stones like these.

0:53:160:53:20

Until then, we were well behind the rest of Europe.

0:53:200:53:24

Then, with the discovery of tin in Cornwall, we had bronze,

0:53:240:53:28

and suddenly, we were at the centre of trade.

0:53:280:53:32

But it wasn't until this big change,

0:53:340:53:36

around 1,500 years BC,

0:53:360:53:39

that we began to settle down

0:53:390:53:42

into the way of life that we would recognise now.

0:53:420:53:45

There was even a sexual revolution.

0:53:450:53:48

It's likely that sons and daughters

0:53:480:53:51

were exchanged between hamlets 5, 10, 20 miles apart.

0:53:510:53:56

If you sent your daughter to be betrothed to a neighbour's son,

0:53:560:54:00

that would have forged an alliance between the families -

0:54:000:54:04

people that you could look to for help when times turned bad.

0:54:040:54:09

A kind of Bronze-Age insurance policy.

0:54:090:54:14

In the years since 1,500 years BC,

0:54:140:54:17

things begin to look a bit modern.

0:54:170:54:21

Those early settlements on Dartmoor, though, didn't last.

0:54:240:54:28

Over just a few centuries,

0:54:320:54:34

possibly because of climate change and over-farming,

0:54:340:54:37

the moors and those first villages were abandoned forever.

0:54:370:54:41

But places like Dartmoor

0:54:470:54:49

had set a pattern for the rest of Britain...

0:54:490:54:52

and for the future.

0:54:520:54:54

Through thousands of years of prehistory,

0:54:590:55:02

the building blocks of the world WE know had all been invented.

0:55:020:55:06

Society and class,

0:55:060:55:08

religion and trade.

0:55:080:55:11

Now, by 1000 BC,

0:55:110:55:14

the first neighbourhoods and settled villages

0:55:140:55:17

were seeds from which city life would eventually blossom.

0:55:170:55:20

From the strange and distant days of the first hunters,

0:55:220:55:25

a very recognisable Britain was beginning to emerge.

0:55:250:55:29

The ice finally retreated around 11,000 or 12,000 years ago.

0:55:360:55:41

People came. There were shifts in technology and belief,

0:55:410:55:45

and all of that has moulded the Britain we know today.

0:55:450:55:50

The very shape of the land - as Britain became an island.

0:55:500:55:53

The coming of farming,

0:55:530:55:54

with ideas of work, and productivity, and community.

0:55:540:55:59

But it feels that with the end of the Stone Age

0:55:590:56:01

and the coming of Bronze,

0:56:010:56:03

the distant, strange world of our very early prehistory

0:56:030:56:08

finally came to an end.

0:56:080:56:09

It was as if we, as a people, had come of age.

0:56:150:56:20

We had the keys to the door,

0:56:200:56:22

and we could mould the world in our own image,

0:56:220:56:26

as individuals,

0:56:260:56:27

taking care of our own families.

0:56:270:56:30

But there was a price to pay.

0:56:300:56:32

That realisation, that thought,

0:56:320:56:35

3,000 or 4,000 years ago,

0:56:350:56:38

that we could impose our vision on the world,

0:56:380:56:41

brought with it a very grown-up responsibility.

0:56:410:56:44

Because what kind of world did we want to shape?

0:56:440:56:48

What kind of Britain did we want to build?

0:56:480:56:51

Next time, my journey continues.

0:56:560:56:59

'From a golden age of bronze...'

0:57:080:57:11

And then there's this magnificent cauldron.

0:57:110:57:13

It's so modern, somehow.

0:57:130:57:14

'..to a Britain in crisis.'

0:57:150:57:19

Everything about this place says "keep out".

0:57:190:57:23

'A time of economic meltdown,

0:57:230:57:25

'sudden climate change...

0:57:250:57:27

'..and the dawn of a new era... of iron.'

0:57:290:57:33

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.


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