Neil Oliver continues his epic story of how Britain came to be. It's 1,000 BC and the end of the Bronze Age: economic meltdown, climate change and social crisis.
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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 epic story
of our distant, prehistoric past...
'From a time of Celtic glory...'
The owner of this is a man who's being seen by his followers
as nothing less than a king.
'..To a new, mysterious religion.'
Whoever wore this was obviously a Christian, a believer.
'And the technological breakthroughs
'that created whole new ages.'
You've got the basis of mass production there, haven't you?
Today, modern science and new archaeology
are solving ancient mysteries.
And revealing the seismic shifts
that transformed Britain.
It shows the way in which the Romans, quite literally,
brought the modern world, the future with them.
'The latest chapter in our epic story...'
That's the lot of the Bronze Age miner.
God bless him.
'..From a golden age of bronze...'
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...
I'm going back 3,000 years
to late Bronze Age Britain,
1,000 years BC.
An island that is home to perhaps half a million people,
living in farmsteads and hamlets,
spread right across the land.
Here, on this wild stretch of Devon coastline,
near the town of Salcombe,
you can see field boundaries clinging to that slope over there.
They're not modern,
they're not Medieval, either.
In fact, they're around 3,000 years old.
These boundaries were created
by self-sufficient Bronze Age farmers.
Up close, strangely enough,
the lines are actually harder to see. It's because they're so big.
The lines that were so obvious from over there,
are actually the bracken that's growing on the real boundary
which is a heaped-up earthen bank.
In this field, and in the fields that surround it, 3,000 years ago,
Bronze Age farmers were growing oats and rye
or keeping cattle or sheep.
By the late Bronze Age,
what we see emerging is a Britain that has the first glimmers
of a world that we would recognise today.
Permanent settlements with neighbours,
people keeping animals, growing crops,
and seeming peace and stability that has lasted for generations.
The Bronze Age was a kind of golden age in our history,
one in which a warm and generally favourable climate
enabled a growing population to expand into newly-cultivated lands.
It was as if we had finally come of age,
after countless thousands of years of dramatic struggle for survival
and turbulent upheavals in society.
Our story first began in times so remote
that the people who occupied Britain
were even a different species.
These are the oldest human remains
ever found in Britain.
lived half a million years ago.
From around 30,000 years ago,
bands of modern humans came to Britain,
hunting the herds of horse and reindeer.
It's a fragment of horse bone,
with an engraving of a horse etched into it.
This was a struggle for survival in Ice-Age Europe,
when Britain was a peninsula.
But when the ice retreated, around 10,000 years ago,
a new land of forests and rivers emerged...
..Attracting new generations of nomadic hunters.
Instead of hunting mammoth and reindeer in the snow,
he hunted red deer in the wild wood.
As the ice continued to melt, sea levels rose,
and by 6,000 BC,
Britain became an island.
2,000 years later,
the first farmers came,
bringing seed, livestock,
and a whole new way of life...
..as well as sophisticated, cosmological beliefs.
The illumination of this carving once a year,
in a piece of religious theatre,
lay at the very heart
of the beliefs of the people who designed and built this place.
They created some of the greatest monuments in all of prehistory.
Vast passage tombs...
And the monument of Stonehenge itself.
But the arrival of metal
brought the Stone Age to an end.
From a time of cosmological priests,
status now came from owning bronze.
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...
Bronze Age Britain ushered in a new world of commerce and trade -
opportunities to gain wealth and prestige.
Just off the Devon coast, a team of archaeologists
is discovering a relic of this new world.
The wreck of a trading vessel that sank here...
3,000 years ago.
What are we actually looking for?
We're looking for ingots, Neil. There's two sorts of ingots here.
Both copper and tin ingots have been found on this site.
And that's precisely the two metals that you need to make bronze.
-That's right, yeah.
-We're in 50 feet of water here.
How do we find the cargo?
We find the cargo with a metal detector.
-Exactly like the sort of thing you'd use in a farmer's field, isn't it?
-It's exactly the same piece of kit.
-It looks like an electric shock waiting to happen.
-It does, doesn't it?
Three, two, one...drop, diver.
When the boat sank,
it was laden with copper and tin,
the valuable resources of the Bronze Age.
The boat's timbers have long decayed,
but some of its precious cargo still survives.
The Salcombe boat is evidence of an economy based on bronze,
and a modern and mobile social class -
the metal dealers of their day.
One of the divers has got a signal.
So this is the first time
that the contents of this bag
-has been in the open air...
-..for 3,000 years.
Look at that!
Now, that is unmistakable, isn't it?
The heft of it,
the weight and the colour.
So, how much of this material have you recovered,
or have the team recovered?
The team's recovered almost 300 ingots now,
which come to a total of about 85kg.
'But it wasn't only raw metal that went down with the boat...'
Neil, this is a sword that was found two or three dives ago now.
Now, that is a bit more recognisable than a copper ingot.
Was that being moved as metal,
or was it there as a sword, a fighting weapon?
I think this is somebody's personal possession for defence.
The defence of the boat and the cargo.
The copper ingots are... anonymous, in a way,
but finding this...is such a priceless personal belonging.
It really speaks of a person, doesn't it?
You can imagine that he'd only willingly be parted from it
along with his life.
That's right. He may have lost his life at the same time as his sword.
By analysing samples of excavated metal,
scientists can discover more about the Salcombe wreck's cargo.
The analysis of what we've looked at so far from Salcombe
suggests that that particular ingot
did not come from Devon or Cornwall.
Copper contains an atomic signature that can reveal where it was mined.
We can link copper in Britain
with a range of areas in the continent.
Trade in bronze wasn't confined to Britain -
this was an international economy.
From the Alps, Brittany, down through central France,
Spain, maybe even Portugal.
The Salcombe finds are revealing more than a coastal trading vessel,
moving cargoes of domestic copper and tin.
The boat that sank here 3,000 years ago
was a link in a long chain of international trade
which connected Britain to the very heart of Western Europe
through the exchange of bronze.
Metals had come to Britain 1,500 years earlier,
around 2500 BC...
..Brought by the first metal prospectors
arriving from continental Europe.
In amongst this dazzling array of grave goods, is metal.
Look at this. Here's one of them.
It's a copper knife. It would have been in a wooden handle, maybe, coming out, to give you a grip.
There's the cutting edge.
These are the oldest metal objects
found so far in Britain.
'But it was when copper was mixed with tin
'that a technical revolution occurred...
'Turning two soft metals into a new alloy,
'hard enough to keep a sharp edge -
From liquid fire to a metal sword in a couple of minutes.
The Stone Age had been characterised
by vast communal monuments.
But the Bronze Age would be different,
with personal, domestic life at its heart.
Unlike these massive stones,
metal technology would make it possible
to cast and work exquisite objects,
the like of which had never been seen before.
A collection at the National Museum Of Wales
reveals just what late Bronze Age workers were capable of
after 1,000 years of technological innovation.
All of these items were crafted around 700 years BC
and there are all types.
There are socketed bronze axe-heads,
different sizes and weights.
The edge on this one...
has obviously been struck against something hard
with considerable force, at some point.
But I particularly like
this little item here.
This is a bronze razor for shaving,
and it's when you handle and see pieces like this
that you get that sense of real, living people.
I have to say, I've often wondered
just how effective
a razor like this would have been.
I can just about imagine keeping facial hair under control with it,
but I think the idea of a modern clean shave
would still be some centuries in the future
when this was in vogue.
And then there's this magnificent cauldron, also made of bronze.
These strips have been individually punched hundreds of times
to take these hundreds and hundreds of pointed delicate rivets.
And then there are the separately-cast big hoop handles.
It really is fantastic
and the cauldron itself is a powerful symbol.
There's more going on here than just cooking and feeding people,
because the cauldron, for a long time,
was symbolic of much more.
It's about regeneration and it's about life itself.
And so this, whether or not it's been used for cooking,
is a powerful iconic symbol.
Trade in bronze was fuelled by demand
from a high-class elite.
Not everyone had the wealth for a bronze razor,
let alone a feasting cauldron.
For those at the top,
bronze was a material of desire,
a source of status and wealth.
And right across Europe,
people of means couldn't get enough of it.
Britain, on the far north-western fringe of Europe,
was well-placed to take advantage of this insatiable demand.
And that was because of our natural resources.
Down in Cornwall,
there were large reserves of a rare metal, tin,
a key ingredient in the manufacture of bronze.
Not for nothing was Britain later known as the Tin Islands.
But as well as tin, you needed copper.
And just wait till you see
what's further along this headland,
above Llandudno in North Wales.
Great Orme - the biggest prehistoric mine in the entire world.
The mining operation began here as an open-cast pit
about 4,000 years ago.
That's 1,000 years before the Salcombe wreck.
And once the surface deposits were exhausted,
there was only one place to go - underground.
Miners hacked a web of tunnels down through the bedrock,
penetrating over 20 metres below the surface.
I'm only fighting
to manoeuvre my way through here.
What you have to bear in mind all the time
is that Bronze Age miners had to cut these holes
through the rock.
And then, at the same time,
removing the ore,
getting it out.
And the spoil, all the waste -
the wrong kind of rock that they didn't want -
they had to get rid of that as well.
The physical effort of all that...
it's just incredible.
I just have to turn on my back for a minute.
Just in front of me
is the entrance to...
Well, to call it a tunnel...
It's like... It's about 20 centimetres wide.
It's backfilled with rubble at the moment,
but at some point, somebody was in there working.
Somebody very small or, more likely I suppose,
somebody very young.
It's just terrifying.
'So far, archaeologists have excavated eight kilometres of tunnels,
'and over half the network still remains undiscovered.
'Enough ore was mined here
'to make around 2,000 tonnes of bronze.'
Right at the heart of the mine,
several of the copper veins converged,
and in excavating them, in mining them,
the Bronze Age miners
created this enormous, cavernous space.
Every cubic metre of space
has been created by people.
This is probably the largest, prehistoric man-made chamber
anywhere in the world.
'It's ironic that bronze itself was too valuable to use down here,
'so the miners had to make do with rock and bone.'
This is an actual Bronze Age hammer stone.
This would have been used to expose the ore,
but also, and even more unbelievably, I suppose,
to dig the tunnels.
Imagine having to dig these spaces out
with tools no more sophisticated than this.
Then once they were in here,
and once the copper was visible to them,
they turned to these...
This is a rib bone from an animal.
It looks like a pick, and it is a pick.
It was used to dig out the ore.
Such simple technology.
Of course, the glaring reality that I've been overlooking
is the fact that the miners wouldn't have been able to use light.
If they had lit fires or used oil-burning lamps,
the flames would have been consuming the oxygen
that they depended on for their very survival.
So the only viable option was to work in the dark.
It's like a whole collection of nightmares all in one place.
tens of metres under ground.
That's the lot of the Bronze Age miner.
God bless him.
For hundreds of years,
the Bronze Age had sharpened divisions in society
around the idea that status and wealth
could be gained through the exchange of the metal.
But now, the very bronze economy that had given some people
financial opportunity and social mobility
was spinning out of control.
The insatiable appetite for bronze all across Britain and Europe
went way beyond practical needs.
After all, there's only so many bronze axes that anyone needs
to cut down a tree.
Instead, what we've got
is bronze as a unit of exchange.
And it's this that's fuelling the digging of mines like the Great Orme,
and the international coastal trade.
By around 1,000 years BC,
the bronze axe has become a kind of proto-currency -
wealth divorced from its practical use as a metal.
And a bit like the economic bubbles that we see today,
that spelled danger,
because a change in the attitude to bronze
would have far-reaching consequences,
not just for the Bronze Age elite,
but for all of British society.
By 800 BC, Britain, along with the rest of Europe,
was heading for an economic meltdown.
A golden era that had lasted for over 1,000 years
was about to end.
Bronze, the international currency of exchange,
began to be dumped.
The astonishing display on this table
is the Langton Matravers bronze axe hoard.
They were found back in 2007
by a metal detectorist
investigating a farmer's field in Dorset.
At first, he possibly thought he was just finding one or two of these,
but then it turned into dozens,
and then into hundreds.
And by the end,
he had nearly 400 socketed bronze axes.
Examination of them reveals
that most were never used as axes.
They were made, probably locally,
and then almost immediately buried in the ground.
Just deposited, discarded.
'Huge amounts of buried bronze from this time
'have been discovered all over Britain.
'The moment when the economic bubble burst
'and axes like this became all but worthless.'
These hoards mark an extraordinary turning point in our history.
Bronze - much sought-after, much valued,
the very base of power and exchange across Britain and Europe
was being thrown away.
But sometimes, discoveries from this time
don't only contain bronze.
Back at the National Museum Of Wales,
the Llyn Fawr hoard contained a new, technological wonder.
Alongside the bronze axes,
and the magnificent feasting cauldron,
this hoard included a material
that had never been seen in Britain before.
What makes this collection special is right here...
These are sickles for harvesting a crop.
These two are made of bronze,
but this one...
is made of iron.
And it's one of the earliest iron objects ever found in Britain.
It's a stepping stone between two technologies,
because the craftsman who made this
has used iron to create an object
that looks as though it were made of bronze.
This spine here
would have been necessary to give the bronze blade strength,
but it's not necessarily here.
The craftsman has still gone to the bother of creating it.
And the socket has been made
by folding and hammering
a flat piece of iron into a tube,
when it would have much simpler,
and more practical,
just to have a flat tang
and halved it that way.
So, it's as thought the craftsman who was working with it,
was experienced in bronze
and is using his bronze-making experience,
as best he can,
to try and work with this new material.
This marks the transition
between bronze and iron.
It's the start of a whole new age.
Iron work first appeared in the Eastern Mediterranean
around 1,200 BC.
By 800 BC, it was beginning to be used
by a new elite culture in central Europe.
This was the beginning of the Iron Age.
iron would transform Britain,
not just technologically,
but socially as well.
What we're seeing at the end of the Bronze Age
and the beginning of the Iron Age,
isn't as simple as an old technology
being replaced by a new one.
Bronze had a role in society
that went way beyond its practical uses -
as a material for making tools to harvest wheat or cut up meat.
Its value as an exchange currency
was the basis for social relations.
It had a ritual, even religious significance.
Iron, though, would never have the same cachet as bronze,
and the new economy of the Iron Age
would not be based on metal at all,
but on agriculture -
animals and grain.
In this Britain, land would be at the forefront,
and tribal chiefs would fight for territorial power.
In 800 BC though, all that was still to come.
Because, strangely, it seems that iron didn't actually come into use
until centuries after the Bronze Age ended.
And that leaves experts with one of the biggest problems in all of prehistory.
Apart from a few rare finds, like the Llyn Fawr treasures,
there's just not a lot of iron around in 750 BC.
Or, indeed, for hundreds of years thereafter.
This massive tipping point in our history,
the shift from bronze to iron,
seems to have a mysterious gap in it.
It might be that even the remote existence of iron destabilised the economy,
contributing to the end of the Bronze Age,
and a crisis that would last for 200 years.
Recent research however is suggesting that all this came
at a time of sudden and severe climate change.
By studying the larvae of Scottish midges from 750 BC,
scientists are finding evidence of a colder, wetter Britain.
Different midge species are happiest at different temperatures.
And when they find themselves in a lake where the temperature suits them
they're going to be extremely abundant.
Preserved remains of midges from thousands of years ago can reveal the climate they once lived in.
We find that around 800 BC, there's a change in the composition of the midge assemblage
and we get an increase in cold-water species
and a decrease in warm-water species.
And this happens over a very short period of time, so it's probably around 50 years or so.
And this corresponds with other evidence we have from pollen
and from peat bogs where the indication is
that the temperature declined, but also precipitation or rainfall increased at the same time.
In 750 BC, sudden climate change was a matter of life and death.
Too little rain and your crops would wither.
Too much and there would be no ripening, no harvest.
Just as the bronze economy was collapsing,
Britain's population also fell, possibly for the first time since the Ice Age.
This was a dual crisis that was driving Britain into a period of social turmoil.
A crisis that would utterly reshape British society.
An army training ground in Wiltshire contains the remains
of over a century of massive regional gatherings.
That's how I'm going to insist on arriving on site from now on.
Absolutely, I think everybody should have one of them.
Archaeologist Niall Sharples is finding clues to how people here
were responding to changing, frightening times.
This is a time of crisis.
This is a time when there's a major transformation.
Bronze was used for all sorts of things, but primarily
it's creating relationships of status within communities.
So when the bronze goes, you have to find social mechanisms
to structure that society.
It's not too much to look at.
'Wealth now was not measured in bronze, but in livestock,
'and people came here to show it off in a new way.'
Under our feet, there are thousands and thousands of pieces of broken-up pottery,
broken-up fragments of bone, carbonised plant remains,
all the implements and tools and debris of their lives on this spot.
There's quite a lot of material lying on the surface,
but we can probably clear away here some of the nettles
and we'll see it a bit clearer.
-I mean, there are very large pieces of animal bone.
-That's a bone.
That's probably a bit of cow.
-And big bits of pots.
-Some bits there.
You can see pottery, some more bone there, a nice sheep's jaw.
'By slaughtering animals and sharing their meat, you could strengthen relationships and gain prestige.'
What I think we're seeing is we're seeing an attempt to create
relationships between a fairly large region
based upon feasting and based on conspicuous consumption.
So rather than showing that you matter by having a particularly expensive bronze object,
you show that you matter cos you've got all this surplus food, surplus animals that you can just use up.
There's always someone who's bringing more food, killing more cattle, killing more pigs.
Bringing cattle instead of sheep...
It's a way of creating distinctions, so you can structure society
and break it down into the really important people,
the people with maximum wealth, access to good animals,
access to good crops, access to the best quality pottery, that kind of thing.
And the lowest who've got a few sheep and a crummy little pot.
Remarkably, the remains of one man have survived from these times.
When he lived, around 2,500 years ago,
Britain was going through a time of transformation.
It's safe to assume that he was a farmer,
and given the time in which he lived,
he was probably dealing with a tougher climate
than that which had been known to his forefathers a few hundred years before him.
It was colder, wetter,
so he might have been experimenting with new crops.
He might have been keeping more livestock to compensate.
If he was a livestock farmer, then he may from time to time have taken
some of the beasts to one of those midden sites and slaughtered them there,
to take part in one of the great feasting rituals, the great feasting events.
But the way this man was buried gives clues,
not just to changing relationships in life,
but changing beliefs in death.
He was found buried in a pit, which sounds casual, almost as if he'd been thrown away,
but it wasn't casual, there was ritual at play,
and we know that because he'd been laid to rest in the foetal position,
curled into a ball, and his knees were so tightly pulled up towards his chest
that in death he must have been tightly bound up,
possibly in a funerary shawl or shroud.
For the longest time, the funeral tradition had been cremation, and so to suddenly get burials,
people being put into the ground intact, marks a change.
And that's always significant because a change in the way people
are being treated in death suggests that they were living differently, that life was different.
The remains of another man who lived in Yorkshire 200 years later
is a clue to changing Iron Age beliefs.
When we found the skull in the ground, it was face down.
There was only the skull, the jaw and a finger bone.
At the base of the skull were the first and second vertebrae
of the neck still in position, and basically, that was it.
Remarkably, though, this skull still contained a 2,500 year old brain.
What this seems to be telling us, this brain,
is that this person died very quickly.
Not only do we have remnant brain chemistry in here, but we have
remnants of the structures, of the fine components within the brain.
But we don't have putrefaction, and it's usually putrefaction that destroys the brain,
turns it to soup in a very short time after death.
So perhaps this brain went into the ground very quickly after death.
The man's vertebrae preserved evidence of just how he died.
It's incomplete, it's lost its arch across here.
And this is consistent with hanging.
And then we've got a series of very, very fine cuts,
about nine cuts across the vertebrae.
Somebody has taken a small knife and felt their way through the flesh
to find the gap between the second and third vertebrae in order to take the head off the body.
This wasn't just a killing, it seemed to be a ritual,
a human sacrifice.
What you see in the early Iron Age is a change of beliefs.
There were offerings of valuables in the Bronze Age,
but in the Iron Age, you get more and more offerings of animals, and sometimes perhaps people as well.
It's as though people living through the bronze crisis and climate change
felt forced to reassess their lives and their place in the bigger scheme of things,
and for some, that was a path leading to a grisly end.
The period between 800 and 600 BC is one of the most mysterious in all of prehistory.
And yet, so much of what was going on resonates with our own age.
Economic collapse, fear of climate change.
But back then, there were no scientists
or central banks to explain or to help.
So the crisis affected everyone, though in different ways.
The end of bronze had a different impact in the north than it had in the south,
in the uplands and in the lowlands.
We also start to see at this time the beginning of something else
we would recognise from Britain today,
and that's the emergence of strong, regional identities.
As society became more locally focused, people began to find
local solutions to problems, local to them.
When Britain's climate began to improve once more, around 600 BC,
with warmer, drier summers,
the regions continued to develop in different ways.
In the far north of Scotland, people began to construct massive stone towers,
Here at Gurness on Orkney, there's a classic example.
There's banks and ditches
encircling a little settlement of low, stone houses,
but the whole scene is dominated by that wall, and that's the base
of a massive stone tower that at one stage would have stood
as much as ten metres, 30 feet high,
head and shoulders above the wall line of any modern house.
You can only imagine the impact it would have had
on anybody who came to visit or attack here, 400 years BC.
Little is known of the people who lived here or what they believed.
So we can only speculate on the kind of society this was.
Here on the inside, you can see the setting for an iron-shod post
that would have supported a big timber door
that would have slammed shut against these stone faces here.
These slots would've taken a massive timber that would have locked,
barricaded the door from the inside.
Everything about this place says "keep out".
Meanwhile, largely in the south, farming communities were creating something very different.
Some of the most famous features of the Iron Age.
One of the best examples is at the top of this scree slope.
Wait till you see Tre'r Ceiri, the town of the giants.
It's a hillfort, one of the iconic symbols of the age.
Tre'r Ceiri is actually quite a late hillfort,
but they start appearing over much of southern Britain from around 600 BC,
and they're often overlooking plains of fertile agricultural land.
The thing about these places is they weren't just defensive.
The term "hillfort" is pretty misleading -
the threat of conflict wasn't always the spur for their construction.
These were elevated places where people lived.
Some experts even think they were a communist-style collective.
And they do certainly seem to be about sharing labour
and sharing produce for communal benefit.
Perhaps the development of hillforts bore some relationship to the great midden gatherings -
the local connections made through the sharing and display of animals and grain.
These were farming communities,
and when there was surplus production,
seeds and crops stored in storage pits could be exchanged.
Food, not bronze, represented wealth in this newly emerging world.
And the more land you could cultivate, the more successful your community could be.
One thing that was common across Britain was that by around 500 BC,
iron finally began to appear in quantity.
Britain was at last about to embark upon the Iron Age proper.
After the initial impact of the bronze crisis, around 750 BC,
things started to settle down.
From the brochs in the north to the hillforts in the south and west,
and all manner of farmsteads and settlements in-between.
By 500 BC, there was a kind of stability.
People had got over the seismic effects on the great international bronze economy.
This was a turning point in our history, when iron finally began
to appear across Britain in increasing quantities.
It would change the way people lived, it would change the settlement of Britain as a whole.
It would lead in just a few hundred years to the population increasing to unprecedented levels.
And at its heart was a revolution in farming and food production.
Discoveries of ironwork from this time reveal an extraordinary leap forward in technology.
These wee treasures here are some of the Fiskerton Tools.
They were deposited or discarded in Lincolnshire around 2,500 years ago.
This is a hammer head.
the most obvious point of interest is the wear on the business end.
That lip has been caused because that hammer has been used repeatedly,
pounding against a hard surface.
Probably used for hammering in iron nails, apart from anything else.
This is a handsaw...
that's broken, due to corrosion.
But this is the handle.
It's made of antler.
It's beautifully worked and polished, with lovely detailing,
to make it an attractive object as well as a useful one.
The blade has broken due to corrosion during 2,500 years.
It's so thin, and some of that might be down to corrosion,
but it would've been thin anyway
because a saw blade, in order to work, has to be thin.
That begins to show the versatility of iron over bronze
because you couldn't achieve that with cast bronze,
so this is a job for iron.
Possibly best of all is this one.
You don't even need me to say the word, really,
but it's a file.
See how the cutting edges have been so carefully...
worked into that, cut into the metal.
It's so modern.
If someone was to show you this and say, "This is from my great-grandfather's toolbox,"
you'd be forgiven for believing them.
There's nothing different about it from the tools we use today.
And yet it's 2,500 years old.
The time of crisis was becoming a distant memory as the population of Britain grew rapidly.
Agricultural surplus lay at the heart of a newly emerging economy,
and that depended heavily on iron.
Iron was a metal that could be hammered into all manner of shapes and forms, not just cast,
and unlike bronze it wasn't the preserve of some elite.
Iron instead was the metal of the people.
Working tools for working men.
All that, combined with its strength and its widespread availability,
was to transform our world
and nudge us another step into the future.
Iron working became a part of village life right across Britain.
It's much better than the bronze because it's a bit more elastic so it's not going to snap
if you hit something hard and if it does bend, you can always straighten it again.
If it breaks, you can weld the two pieces back together again.
And the iron also you can sharpen, keep putting an edge on,
say for a sickle where you're cutting your corn or hay,
you can keep sharpening it.
It's much more versatile.
Bronze casting remained a specialist art,
but anyone could heat and reshape an iron tool.
It's that sound as well. Knowing that that ringing sound
would've been a permanent background noise...
-..for Iron Age village life, that ringing sound.
-It looks best just while there's still a light in it.
For the rest of the time, it's just going to be cold metal, but for now, it's got a heartbeat.
You can see it's dulling down.
It's becoming utilitarian.
-And such a simple, commonplace object, a sickle.
-Yes, just a sickle.
But at the moment, it's got the magic, hasn't it?
Iron had another advantage.
The ore was everywhere.
This was a metal that could be local.
It didn't depend on a complex trade network.
So, by about 400 BC, as iron objects were beginning to appear in earnest,
they became ubiquitous, and the effects of the new technology
were felt right at the cutting edge of the agricultural economy.
Dave Freeman and Simon Jay are directors of Butser Ancient Farm
and study Iron Age farming techniques hands on.
Right then, where are my mighty oxen?
-Oh, dear! Right.
-What is this exactly?
-It's an ard.
It's a very early form of plough.
It's basically a piece of tree.
Although I'm guessing...
This one has the addition of an iron tip.
In the Bronze Age then, they weren't ever tempted to put bronze tips on their ploughs?
It may have been tried, but unfortunately of course,
bronze doesn't stand up to wear and tear the same.
With it being a casting, it's likely to break.
And when it breaks, you have to make it molten and cast it again.
Whereas an iron tip, of course, you take it to the nearest fire,
get it hot and hit it with something.
It's quite simple, if I could get the hang of a straight line.
So these are starting to be visible from 400, 500 BC?
Yes, they are. The later you go into the Iron Age,
more iron is available and more people work it.
It wouldn't be hard to persuade people why this was a good idea.
-They'd rapidly see what the advantage was.
-Yes. Go for another one?
It's a disaster for Scotland.
Iron ploughs allowed heavier soils to be turned,
so more land could be cultivated.
And there were other innovations that added up to an agricultural and commercial revolution.
How does it work? Why is a hole in the ground a good way to store grain?
-I need to show you a finished hole.
Come over this way.
Oh! So there's a great big hole under there?
That clay cap is covering a storage pit that's fully loaded.
Right. And what's...
the magic that that provides?
The clay cover keeps out moisture, air and light.
The grain that's inside the pit,
where it's touching the walls of the pit, sucks moisture out of the chalk and attempts to germinate.
And of course in germination, you actually use oxygen, produce carbon dioxide.
Because the pit is sealed,
it runs out of oxygen and it hibernates - it actually goes to sleep.
-So time stops?
-It does indeed. And for quite some considerable period.
You can actually store this quite safely for a full year.
Occasionally we've got them to work for two years, so it's an enormous back up.
And you can well imagine how something like a reliable surplus
-of grain becomes almost like money - you can almost spend it.
On the hillforts particularly, where you have the extra space and the political control,
then we don't know how much was kept as a reserve by whoever it was that controlled that particular area.
Your hillforts become a market town as well as a bank.
That's how you invent debt!
-Yes! You could give a farmer grain who had an accident and yes, then he's in debt to you.
-He owes you one.
Trade in grain was the basis of this new agricultural economy,
and new devices were invented to process it.
Some of the very first machines.
For grinding grain, we use querns.
-You're looking at anything up to an hour on a saddle quern.
-It looks incredibly primitive.
You can tell from skeletons, the wear and tear on bodies.
A great leap forward was the rotary quern.
The grain will go through several times.
You're starting to see little flecks, look.
-That's where the grain's actually being torn apart.
-So it keeps going back in?
-You'd just keep cycling it through.
-It's just such a quantum leap -
that's clearly Stone Age.
This has got a design element about it -
it's a composite tool made of multiple parts.
Huge time saver, as well.
Iron Age housewives must have loved them!
Yes, and of course it frees up an enormous amount of manpower.
You can see...
how a momentum would build up.
If you've got iron tools, you can make more of these.
-You're producing more grain.
These produce more flour, more bread, you can feed more people.
And it will just keep on building and building.
All these factors combined -
ploughs, pits, stores, querns and better weather -
the fields of Britain had probably never been so productive
and from around 400 BC, there was a population explosion.
The crisis that followed the Bronze Age was over and a new Britain was emerging.
This bronze axe was the symbol of an age
that had lasted for over 1,000 years,
but it was a symbol of the past -
a metal that represented a golden age,
with its benign climate and international economy.
Bronze had created an elite,
so it's not surprising that it had class overtones as well.
There was also a spiritual aspect.
Bronze was about more than simply making tools.
It was the glue that held society together.
But this axe made of iron several hundred years later never had that kind of value in itself.
The making of iron
might still have been magical, but iron tools were entirely practical.
And that set the tone for an age in which iron technology put agriculture -
and therefore the land - at the very heart of society.
Wealth and power could be grown and stored, bought and sold.
In many ways, we'd lost something.
The magic of the Bronze Age, replaced with something modern.
And what it would lead to would be power structures that,
compared to the bronze elite, would seem modern as well.
'Next time, my journey continues...
'..as I encounter a whole new age.
'A time of powerful Celtic warriors...'
He was laid in his grave
and soon thereafter, three spears were thrust in.
'..magical druid priests...'
What events did he witness?
And what power did he wield?
'..and those at the very bottom of British society.'
Look at this.
It's an iron slave chain.
It's over 2,000 years old.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors,
then go to the website...
to find out how to connect
with Ancient Britain in YOUR area.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Neil Oliver continues his epic story of how Britain and its people came to be. Diving for 3,000-year-old treasure and pot-holing through an ancient copper mine, he discovers how a golden age of bronze collapsed into social and economic crisis set against a period of sharp climate change and would eventually be replaced by a new era, of iron.