Age of Iron A History of Ancient Britain


Age of Iron

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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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,

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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 epic story

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of our distant, prehistoric past...

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'From a time of Celtic glory...'

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The owner of this is a man who's being seen by his followers

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as nothing less than a king.

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'..To a new, mysterious religion.'

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Whoever wore this was obviously a Christian, a believer.

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'And the technological breakthroughs

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'that created whole new ages.'

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You've got the basis of mass production there, haven't you?

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Today, modern science and new archaeology

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are solving ancient mysteries.

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And revealing the seismic shifts

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that transformed Britain.

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It shows the way in which the Romans, quite literally,

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brought the modern world, the future with them.

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'The latest chapter in our epic story...'

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That's the lot of the Bronze Age miner.

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God bless him.

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'..From a golden age of bronze...'

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Then there's this magnificent cauldron.

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It's so modern somehow.

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'..To a Britain in crisis.'

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Everything about this place says, "Keep out."

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A time of economic meltdown,

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sudden climate change...

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and the dawn of a new era...

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of iron.

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I'm going back 3,000 years

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to late Bronze Age Britain,

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1,000 years BC.

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An island that is home to perhaps half a million people,

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living in farmsteads and hamlets,

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spread right across the land.

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Here, on this wild stretch of Devon coastline,

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near the town of Salcombe,

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you can see field boundaries clinging to that slope over there.

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They're not modern,

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they're not Medieval, either.

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In fact, they're around 3,000 years old.

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These boundaries were created

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by self-sufficient Bronze Age farmers.

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Up close, strangely enough,

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the lines are actually harder to see. It's because they're so big.

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The lines that were so obvious from over there,

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are actually the bracken that's growing on the real boundary

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which is a heaped-up earthen bank.

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In this field, and in the fields that surround it, 3,000 years ago,

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Bronze Age farmers were growing oats and rye

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or keeping cattle or sheep.

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By the late Bronze Age,

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what we see emerging is a Britain that has the first glimmers

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of a world that we would recognise today.

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Permanent settlements with neighbours,

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people keeping animals, growing crops,

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and seeming peace and stability that has lasted for generations.

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The Bronze Age was a kind of golden age in our history,

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one in which a warm and generally favourable climate

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enabled a growing population to expand into newly-cultivated lands.

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It was as if we had finally come of age,

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after countless thousands of years of dramatic struggle for survival

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and turbulent upheavals in society.

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Our story first began in times so remote

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that the people who occupied Britain

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were even a different species.

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These are the oldest human remains

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ever found in Britain.

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Boxgrove Man

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lived half a million years ago.

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From around 30,000 years ago,

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bands of modern humans came to Britain,

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hunting the herds of horse and reindeer.

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It's a fragment of horse bone,

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with an engraving of a horse etched into it.

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It's miraculous.

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This was a struggle for survival in Ice-Age Europe,

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when Britain was a peninsula.

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But when the ice retreated, around 10,000 years ago,

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a new land of forests and rivers emerged...

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..Attracting new generations of nomadic hunters.

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Instead of hunting mammoth and reindeer in the snow,

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he hunted red deer in the wild wood.

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As the ice continued to melt, sea levels rose,

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and by 6,000 BC,

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Britain became an island.

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2,000 years later,

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the first farmers came,

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bringing seed, livestock,

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and a whole new way of life...

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..as well as sophisticated, cosmological beliefs.

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The illumination of this carving once a year,

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in a piece of religious theatre,

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lay at the very heart

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of the beliefs of the people who designed and built this place.

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They created some of the greatest monuments in all of prehistory.

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Vast passage tombs...

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stone circles...

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And the monument of Stonehenge itself.

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But the arrival of metal

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brought the Stone Age to an end.

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From a time of cosmological priests,

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status now came from owning bronze.

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No humble carpenter could possibly have dreamt

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of owning something so valuable in the early days of bronze.

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Much more than tools,

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these are objects of desire...

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showing off.

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Bronze Age Britain ushered in a new world of commerce and trade -

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opportunities to gain wealth and prestige.

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Just off the Devon coast, a team of archaeologists

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is discovering a relic of this new world.

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The wreck of a trading vessel that sank here...

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3,000 years ago.

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What are we actually looking for?

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We're looking for ingots, Neil. There's two sorts of ingots here.

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Both copper and tin ingots have been found on this site.

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And that's precisely the two metals that you need to make bronze.

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-That's right, yeah.

-We're in 50 feet of water here.

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How do we find the cargo?

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We find the cargo with a metal detector.

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-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.

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-It looks like an electric shock waiting to happen.

-It does, doesn't it?

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Three, two, one...drop, diver.

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When the boat sank,

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it was laden with copper and tin,

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the valuable resources of the Bronze Age.

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The boat's timbers have long decayed,

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but some of its precious cargo still survives.

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The Salcombe boat is evidence of an economy based on bronze,

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and a modern and mobile social class -

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the metal dealers of their day.

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One of the divers has got a signal.

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So this is the first time

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that the contents of this bag

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-has been in the open air...

-That's right.

-..for 3,000 years.

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That's right.

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Look at that!

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Now, that is unmistakable, isn't it?

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The heft of it,

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the weight and the colour.

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So, how much of this material have you recovered,

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or have the team recovered?

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The team's recovered almost 300 ingots now,

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which come to a total of about 85kg.

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'But it wasn't only raw metal that went down with the boat...'

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Neil, this is a sword that was found two or three dives ago now.

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Now, that is a bit more recognisable than a copper ingot.

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Was that being moved as metal,

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or was it there as a sword, a fighting weapon?

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I think this is somebody's personal possession for defence.

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The defence of the boat and the cargo.

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The copper ingots are... anonymous, in a way,

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but finding this...is such a priceless personal belonging.

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It really speaks of a person, doesn't it?

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You can imagine that he'd only willingly be parted from it

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along with his life.

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That's right. He may have lost his life at the same time as his sword.

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By analysing samples of excavated metal,

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scientists can discover more about the Salcombe wreck's cargo.

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The analysis of what we've looked at so far from Salcombe

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suggests that that particular ingot

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did not come from Devon or Cornwall.

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Copper contains an atomic signature that can reveal where it was mined.

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We can link copper in Britain

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with a range of areas in the continent.

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Trade in bronze wasn't confined to Britain -

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this was an international economy.

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From the Alps, Brittany, down through central France,

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Spain, maybe even Portugal.

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The Salcombe finds are revealing more than a coastal trading vessel,

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moving cargoes of domestic copper and tin.

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The boat that sank here 3,000 years ago

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was a link in a long chain of international trade

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which connected Britain to the very heart of Western Europe

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through the exchange of bronze.

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Metals had come to Britain 1,500 years earlier,

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around 2500 BC...

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..Brought by the first metal prospectors

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arriving from continental Europe.

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In amongst this dazzling array of grave goods, is metal.

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Look at this. Here's one of them.

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It's a copper knife. It would have been in a wooden handle, maybe, coming out, to give you a grip.

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There's the cutting edge.

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These are the oldest metal objects

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found so far in Britain.

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'But it was when copper was mixed with tin

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'that a technical revolution occurred...

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'Turning two soft metals into a new alloy,

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'hard enough to keep a sharp edge -

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'bronze.'

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

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The Stone Age had been characterised

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by vast communal monuments.

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But the Bronze Age would be different,

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with personal, domestic life at its heart.

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Unlike these massive stones,

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metal technology would make it possible

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to cast and work exquisite objects,

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the like of which had never been seen before.

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A collection at the National Museum Of Wales

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reveals just what late Bronze Age workers were capable of

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after 1,000 years of technological innovation.

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All of these items were crafted around 700 years BC

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and there are all types.

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There are socketed bronze axe-heads,

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different sizes and weights.

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The edge on this one...

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has obviously been struck against something hard

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with considerable force, at some point.

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But I particularly like

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this little item here.

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This is a bronze razor for shaving,

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and it's when you handle and see pieces like this

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that you get that sense of real, living people.

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I have to say, I've often wondered

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just how effective

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a razor like this would have been.

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I can just about imagine keeping facial hair under control with it,

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but I think the idea of a modern clean shave

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would still be some centuries in the future

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when this was in vogue.

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And then there's this magnificent cauldron, also made of bronze.

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These strips have been individually punched hundreds of times

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to take these hundreds and hundreds of pointed delicate rivets.

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And then there are the separately-cast big hoop handles.

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It really is fantastic

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and the cauldron itself is a powerful symbol.

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There's more going on here than just cooking and feeding people,

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because the cauldron, for a long time,

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was symbolic of much more.

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It's about regeneration and it's about life itself.

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And so this, whether or not it's been used for cooking,

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is a powerful iconic symbol.

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Trade in bronze was fuelled by demand

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from a high-class elite.

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Not everyone had the wealth for a bronze razor,

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let alone a feasting cauldron.

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For those at the top,

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bronze was a material of desire,

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a source of status and wealth.

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And right across Europe,

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people of means couldn't get enough of it.

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Britain, on the far north-western fringe of Europe,

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was well-placed to take advantage of this insatiable demand.

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And that was because of our natural resources.

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Down in Cornwall,

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there were large reserves of a rare metal, tin,

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a key ingredient in the manufacture of bronze.

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Not for nothing was Britain later known as the Tin Islands.

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But as well as tin, you needed copper.

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And just wait till you see

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what's further along this headland,

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above Llandudno in North Wales.

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Great Orme - the biggest prehistoric mine in the entire world.

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The mining operation began here as an open-cast pit

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about 4,000 years ago.

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That's 1,000 years before the Salcombe wreck.

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And once the surface deposits were exhausted,

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there was only one place to go - underground.

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Miners hacked a web of tunnels down through the bedrock,

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penetrating over 20 metres below the surface.

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I'm only fighting

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to manoeuvre my way through here.

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What you have to bear in mind all the time

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is that Bronze Age miners had to cut these holes

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through the rock.

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And then, at the same time,

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removing the ore,

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getting it out.

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And the spoil, all the waste -

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the wrong kind of rock that they didn't want -

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they had to get rid of that as well.

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The physical effort of all that...

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it's just incredible.

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I just have to turn on my back for a minute.

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Oh, my!

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Just in front of me

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is the entrance to...

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Well, to call it a tunnel...

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It's like... It's about 20 centimetres wide.

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It's backfilled with rubble at the moment,

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but at some point, somebody was in there working.

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Somebody very small or, more likely I suppose,

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somebody very young.

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It's just terrifying.

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'So far, archaeologists have excavated eight kilometres of tunnels,

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'and over half the network still remains undiscovered.

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'Enough ore was mined here

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'to make around 2,000 tonnes of bronze.'

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Right at the heart of the mine,

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several of the copper veins converged,

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and in excavating them, in mining them,

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the Bronze Age miners

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created this enormous, cavernous space.

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Every cubic metre of space

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has been created by people.

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This is probably the largest, prehistoric man-made chamber

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anywhere in the world.

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'It's ironic that bronze itself was too valuable to use down here,

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'so the miners had to make do with rock and bone.'

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This is an actual Bronze Age hammer stone.

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This would have been used to expose the ore,

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but also, and even more unbelievably, I suppose,

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to dig the tunnels.

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Imagine having to dig these spaces out

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with tools no more sophisticated than this.

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Then once they were in here,

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and once the copper was visible to them,

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they turned to these...

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This is a rib bone from an animal.

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It looks like a pick, and it is a pick.

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It was used to dig out the ore.

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Such simple technology.

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Of course, the glaring reality that I've been overlooking

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is the fact that the miners wouldn't have been able to use light.

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If they had lit fires or used oil-burning lamps,

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the flames would have been consuming the oxygen

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that they depended on for their very survival.

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So the only viable option was to work in the dark.

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It's like a whole collection of nightmares all in one place.

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Confined spaces,

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tens of metres under ground.

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That's the lot of the Bronze Age miner.

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God bless him.

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For hundreds of years,

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the Bronze Age had sharpened divisions in society

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around the idea that status and wealth

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could be gained through the exchange of the metal.

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But now, the very bronze economy that had given some people

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financial opportunity and social mobility

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was spinning out of control.

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The insatiable appetite for bronze all across Britain and Europe

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went way beyond practical needs.

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After all, there's only so many bronze axes that anyone needs

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to cut down a tree.

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Instead, what we've got

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is bronze as a unit of exchange.

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And it's this that's fuelling the digging of mines like the Great Orme,

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and the international coastal trade.

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By around 1,000 years BC,

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the bronze axe has become a kind of proto-currency -

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wealth divorced from its practical use as a metal.

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And a bit like the economic bubbles that we see today,

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that spelled danger,

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because a change in the attitude to bronze

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would have far-reaching consequences,

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not just for the Bronze Age elite,

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but for all of British society.

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By 800 BC, Britain, along with the rest of Europe,

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was heading for an economic meltdown.

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A golden era that had lasted for over 1,000 years

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was about to end.

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Bronze, the international currency of exchange,

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began to be dumped.

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The astonishing display on this table

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is the Langton Matravers bronze axe hoard.

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They were found back in 2007

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by a metal detectorist

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investigating a farmer's field in Dorset.

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At first, he possibly thought he was just finding one or two of these,

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but then it turned into dozens,

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and then into hundreds.

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And by the end,

0:24:430:24:44

he had nearly 400 socketed bronze axes.

0:24:440:24:48

It's unbelievable.

0:24:480:24:49

Examination of them reveals

0:24:510:24:54

that most were never used as axes.

0:24:540:24:57

They were made, probably locally,

0:24:570:25:00

and then almost immediately buried in the ground.

0:25:000:25:03

Just deposited, discarded.

0:25:030:25:05

'Huge amounts of buried bronze from this time

0:25:070:25:10

'have been discovered all over Britain.

0:25:100:25:12

'The moment when the economic bubble burst

0:25:120:25:15

'and axes like this became all but worthless.'

0:25:150:25:20

These hoards mark an extraordinary turning point in our history.

0:25:200:25:24

Bronze - much sought-after, much valued,

0:25:240:25:28

the very base of power and exchange across Britain and Europe

0:25:280:25:32

was being thrown away.

0:25:320:25:34

But sometimes, discoveries from this time

0:25:380:25:41

don't only contain bronze.

0:25:410:25:43

Back at the National Museum Of Wales,

0:25:470:25:50

the Llyn Fawr hoard contained a new, technological wonder.

0:25:500:25:55

Alongside the bronze axes,

0:25:580:26:00

and the magnificent feasting cauldron,

0:26:000:26:03

this hoard included a material

0:26:030:26:05

that had never been seen in Britain before.

0:26:050:26:07

What makes this collection special is right here...

0:26:110:26:15

These are sickles for harvesting a crop.

0:26:150:26:20

These two are made of bronze,

0:26:200:26:22

but this one...

0:26:220:26:24

is made of iron.

0:26:240:26:26

And it's one of the earliest iron objects ever found in Britain.

0:26:260:26:32

It's a stepping stone between two technologies,

0:26:320:26:36

because the craftsman who made this

0:26:360:26:38

has used iron to create an object

0:26:380:26:40

that looks as though it were made of bronze.

0:26:400:26:43

This spine here

0:26:430:26:44

would have been necessary to give the bronze blade strength,

0:26:440:26:48

but it's not necessarily here.

0:26:480:26:50

The craftsman has still gone to the bother of creating it.

0:26:500:26:55

And the socket has been made

0:26:550:26:58

by folding and hammering

0:26:580:27:00

a flat piece of iron into a tube,

0:27:000:27:03

when it would have much simpler,

0:27:030:27:06

and more practical,

0:27:060:27:08

just to have a flat tang

0:27:080:27:10

and halved it that way.

0:27:100:27:12

So, it's as thought the craftsman who was working with it,

0:27:120:27:15

was experienced in bronze

0:27:150:27:18

and is using his bronze-making experience,

0:27:180:27:22

as best he can,

0:27:220:27:25

to try and work with this new material.

0:27:250:27:27

This marks the transition

0:27:270:27:31

between bronze and iron.

0:27:310:27:35

It's the start of a whole new age.

0:27:350:27:37

Iron work first appeared in the Eastern Mediterranean

0:27:430:27:46

around 1,200 BC.

0:27:460:27:49

By 800 BC, it was beginning to be used

0:27:510:27:53

by a new elite culture in central Europe.

0:27:530:27:57

This was the beginning of the Iron Age.

0:27:590:28:03

In time,

0:28:100:28:11

iron would transform Britain,

0:28:110:28:15

not just technologically,

0:28:150:28:17

but socially as well.

0:28:170:28:20

What we're seeing at the end of the Bronze Age

0:28:200:28:23

and the beginning of the Iron Age,

0:28:230:28:25

isn't as simple as an old technology

0:28:250:28:28

being replaced by a new one.

0:28:280:28:29

Bronze had a role in society

0:28:310:28:33

that went way beyond its practical uses -

0:28:330:28:36

as a material for making tools to harvest wheat or cut up meat.

0:28:360:28:40

Its value as an exchange currency

0:28:400:28:43

was the basis for social relations.

0:28:430:28:45

It had a ritual, even religious significance.

0:28:450:28:49

Iron, though, would never have the same cachet as bronze,

0:28:490:28:55

and the new economy of the Iron Age

0:28:550:28:58

would not be based on metal at all,

0:28:580:29:01

but on agriculture -

0:29:010:29:02

animals and grain.

0:29:020:29:04

In this Britain, land would be at the forefront,

0:29:060:29:11

and tribal chiefs would fight for territorial power.

0:29:110:29:15

In 800 BC though, all that was still to come.

0:29:180:29:21

Because, strangely, it seems that iron didn't actually come into use

0:29:230:29:28

until centuries after the Bronze Age ended.

0:29:280:29:32

And that leaves experts with one of the biggest problems in all of prehistory.

0:29:350:29:40

Apart from a few rare finds, like the Llyn Fawr treasures,

0:29:440:29:49

there's just not a lot of iron around in 750 BC.

0:29:490:29:53

Or, indeed, for hundreds of years thereafter.

0:29:530:29:56

This massive tipping point in our history,

0:29:560:29:59

the shift from bronze to iron,

0:29:590:30:01

seems to have a mysterious gap in it.

0:30:010:30:04

It might be that even the remote existence of iron destabilised the economy,

0:30:040:30:10

contributing to the end of the Bronze Age,

0:30:100:30:13

and a crisis that would last for 200 years.

0:30:130:30:16

Recent research however is suggesting that all this came

0:30:180:30:21

at a time of sudden and severe climate change.

0:30:210:30:24

THUNDER RUMBLES

0:30:240:30:27

By studying the larvae of Scottish midges from 750 BC,

0:30:320:30:37

scientists are finding evidence of a colder, wetter Britain.

0:30:370:30:41

Different midge species are happiest at different temperatures.

0:30:430:30:46

And when they find themselves in a lake where the temperature suits them

0:30:460:30:51

they're going to be extremely abundant.

0:30:510:30:53

Preserved remains of midges from thousands of years ago can reveal the climate they once lived in.

0:30:560:31:02

We find that around 800 BC, there's a change in the composition of the midge assemblage

0:31:030:31:09

and we get an increase in cold-water species

0:31:090:31:12

and a decrease in warm-water species.

0:31:120:31:15

And this happens over a very short period of time, so it's probably around 50 years or so.

0:31:150:31:20

And this corresponds with other evidence we have from pollen

0:31:200:31:24

and from peat bogs where the indication is

0:31:240:31:27

that the temperature declined, but also precipitation or rainfall increased at the same time.

0:31:270:31:33

In 750 BC, sudden climate change was a matter of life and death.

0:31:380:31:44

Too little rain and your crops would wither.

0:31:440:31:47

Too much and there would be no ripening, no harvest.

0:31:470:31:50

Just as the bronze economy was collapsing,

0:31:530:31:56

Britain's population also fell, possibly for the first time since the Ice Age.

0:31:560:32:01

This was a dual crisis that was driving Britain into a period of social turmoil.

0:32:050:32:11

A crisis that would utterly reshape British society.

0:32:110:32:16

An army training ground in Wiltshire contains the remains

0:32:260:32:30

of over a century of massive regional gatherings.

0:32:300:32:33

That's how I'm going to insist on arriving on site from now on.

0:32:330:32:37

Absolutely, I think everybody should have one of them.

0:32:370:32:40

Archaeologist Niall Sharples is finding clues to how people here

0:32:460:32:50

were responding to changing, frightening times.

0:32:500:32:53

This is a time of crisis.

0:32:530:32:55

This is a time when there's a major transformation.

0:32:550:32:58

Bronze was used for all sorts of things, but primarily

0:32:580:33:02

it's creating relationships of status within communities.

0:33:020:33:05

So when the bronze goes, you have to find social mechanisms

0:33:050:33:11

to structure that society.

0:33:110:33:13

It's not too much to look at.

0:33:130:33:15

'Wealth now was not measured in bronze, but in livestock,

0:33:150:33:19

'and people came here to show it off in a new way.'

0:33:190:33:24

Under our feet, there are thousands and thousands of pieces of broken-up pottery,

0:33:240:33:29

broken-up fragments of bone, carbonised plant remains,

0:33:290:33:33

all the implements and tools and debris of their lives on this spot.

0:33:330:33:38

There's quite a lot of material lying on the surface,

0:33:380:33:42

but we can probably clear away here some of the nettles

0:33:420:33:46

and we'll see it a bit clearer.

0:33:460:33:48

-I mean, there are very large pieces of animal bone.

-That's a bone.

0:33:480:33:51

That's probably a bit of cow.

0:33:510:33:53

-Uh-huh.

-And big bits of pots.

-Some bits there.

0:33:530:33:57

You can see pottery, some more bone there, a nice sheep's jaw.

0:33:570:34:02

'By slaughtering animals and sharing their meat, you could strengthen relationships and gain prestige.'

0:34:020:34:09

What I think we're seeing is we're seeing an attempt to create

0:34:090:34:13

relationships between a fairly large region

0:34:130:34:17

based upon feasting and based on conspicuous consumption.

0:34:170:34:21

So rather than showing that you matter by having a particularly expensive bronze object,

0:34:210:34:27

you show that you matter cos you've got all this surplus food, surplus animals that you can just use up.

0:34:270:34:33

There's always someone who's bringing more food, killing more cattle, killing more pigs.

0:34:330:34:39

Bringing cattle instead of sheep...

0:34:390:34:42

It's a way of creating distinctions, so you can structure society

0:34:420:34:46

and break it down into the really important people,

0:34:460:34:49

the people with maximum wealth, access to good animals,

0:34:490:34:52

access to good crops, access to the best quality pottery, that kind of thing.

0:34:520:34:57

And the lowest who've got a few sheep and a crummy little pot.

0:34:570:35:01

Remarkably, the remains of one man have survived from these times.

0:35:070:35:12

When he lived, around 2,500 years ago,

0:35:230:35:28

Britain was going through a time of transformation.

0:35:280:35:31

It's safe to assume that he was a farmer,

0:35:330:35:37

and given the time in which he lived,

0:35:370:35:40

he was probably dealing with a tougher climate

0:35:400:35:43

than that which had been known to his forefathers a few hundred years before him.

0:35:430:35:48

It was colder, wetter,

0:35:480:35:50

so he might have been experimenting with new crops.

0:35:500:35:54

He might have been keeping more livestock to compensate.

0:35:540:35:59

If he was a livestock farmer, then he may from time to time have taken

0:35:590:36:02

some of the beasts to one of those midden sites and slaughtered them there,

0:36:020:36:06

to take part in one of the great feasting rituals, the great feasting events.

0:36:060:36:11

But the way this man was buried gives clues,

0:36:140:36:17

not just to changing relationships in life,

0:36:170:36:20

but changing beliefs in death.

0:36:200:36:23

He was found buried in a pit, which sounds casual, almost as if he'd been thrown away,

0:36:250:36:31

but it wasn't casual, there was ritual at play,

0:36:310:36:34

and we know that because he'd been laid to rest in the foetal position,

0:36:340:36:40

curled into a ball, and his knees were so tightly pulled up towards his chest

0:36:400:36:46

that in death he must have been tightly bound up,

0:36:460:36:49

possibly in a funerary shawl or shroud.

0:36:490:36:52

For the longest time, the funeral tradition had been cremation, and so to suddenly get burials,

0:36:520:36:58

people being put into the ground intact, marks a change.

0:36:580:37:02

And that's always significant because a change in the way people

0:37:020:37:06

are being treated in death suggests that they were living differently, that life was different.

0:37:060:37:13

The remains of another man who lived in Yorkshire 200 years later

0:37:170:37:21

is a clue to changing Iron Age beliefs.

0:37:210:37:24

When we found the skull in the ground, it was face down.

0:37:270:37:31

There was only the skull, the jaw and a finger bone.

0:37:310:37:37

At the base of the skull were the first and second vertebrae

0:37:370:37:41

of the neck still in position, and basically, that was it.

0:37:410:37:45

Remarkably, though, this skull still contained a 2,500 year old brain.

0:37:470:37:54

What this seems to be telling us, this brain,

0:37:540:37:56

is that this person died very quickly.

0:37:560:37:59

Not only do we have remnant brain chemistry in here, but we have

0:37:590:38:02

remnants of the structures, of the fine components within the brain.

0:38:020:38:07

But we don't have putrefaction, and it's usually putrefaction that destroys the brain,

0:38:070:38:12

turns it to soup in a very short time after death.

0:38:120:38:15

So perhaps this brain went into the ground very quickly after death.

0:38:150:38:20

The man's vertebrae preserved evidence of just how he died.

0:38:210:38:26

It's incomplete, it's lost its arch across here.

0:38:260:38:30

And this is consistent with hanging.

0:38:300:38:32

And then we've got a series of very, very fine cuts,

0:38:320:38:36

about nine cuts across the vertebrae.

0:38:360:38:38

Somebody has taken a small knife and felt their way through the flesh

0:38:380:38:43

to find the gap between the second and third vertebrae in order to take the head off the body.

0:38:430:38:49

This wasn't just a killing, it seemed to be a ritual,

0:38:500:38:54

a human sacrifice.

0:38:540:38:56

What you see in the early Iron Age is a change of beliefs.

0:39:000:39:04

There were offerings of valuables in the Bronze Age,

0:39:040:39:08

but in the Iron Age, you get more and more offerings of animals, and sometimes perhaps people as well.

0:39:080:39:15

It's as though people living through the bronze crisis and climate change

0:39:150:39:20

felt forced to reassess their lives and their place in the bigger scheme of things,

0:39:200:39:25

and for some, that was a path leading to a grisly end.

0:39:250:39:28

The period between 800 and 600 BC is one of the most mysterious in all of prehistory.

0:39:320:39:38

And yet, so much of what was going on resonates with our own age.

0:39:400:39:44

Economic collapse, fear of climate change.

0:39:470:39:51

But back then, there were no scientists

0:39:510:39:54

or central banks to explain or to help.

0:39:540:39:57

So the crisis affected everyone, though in different ways.

0:39:580:40:02

The end of bronze had a different impact in the north than it had in the south,

0:40:020:40:07

in the uplands and in the lowlands.

0:40:070:40:10

We also start to see at this time the beginning of something else

0:40:100:40:14

we would recognise from Britain today,

0:40:140:40:16

and that's the emergence of strong, regional identities.

0:40:160:40:20

As society became more locally focused, people began to find

0:40:200:40:24

local solutions to problems, local to them.

0:40:240:40:27

When Britain's climate began to improve once more, around 600 BC,

0:40:320:40:36

with warmer, drier summers,

0:40:360:40:39

the regions continued to develop in different ways.

0:40:390:40:42

In the far north of Scotland, people began to construct massive stone towers,

0:40:470:40:53

called brochs.

0:40:530:40:54

Here at Gurness on Orkney, there's a classic example.

0:40:590:41:02

There's banks and ditches

0:41:020:41:03

encircling a little settlement of low, stone houses,

0:41:030:41:07

but the whole scene is dominated by that wall, and that's the base

0:41:070:41:11

of a massive stone tower that at one stage would have stood

0:41:110:41:14

as much as ten metres, 30 feet high,

0:41:140:41:16

head and shoulders above the wall line of any modern house.

0:41:160:41:21

You can only imagine the impact it would have had

0:41:210:41:23

on anybody who came to visit or attack here, 400 years BC.

0:41:230:41:29

Little is known of the people who lived here or what they believed.

0:41:370:41:41

So we can only speculate on the kind of society this was.

0:41:410:41:45

Here on the inside, you can see the setting for an iron-shod post

0:41:480:41:52

that would have supported a big timber door

0:41:520:41:55

that would have slammed shut against these stone faces here.

0:41:550:41:59

These slots would've taken a massive timber that would have locked,

0:41:590:42:03

barricaded the door from the inside.

0:42:030:42:05

Everything about this place says "keep out".

0:42:050:42:08

Meanwhile, largely in the south, farming communities were creating something very different.

0:42:170:42:24

Some of the most famous features of the Iron Age.

0:42:240:42:27

One of the best examples is at the top of this scree slope.

0:42:300:42:34

Wait till you see Tre'r Ceiri, the town of the giants.

0:42:340:42:38

It's a hillfort, one of the iconic symbols of the age.

0:42:400:42:44

Tre'r Ceiri is actually quite a late hillfort,

0:42:540:42:58

but they start appearing over much of southern Britain from around 600 BC,

0:42:580:43:04

and they're often overlooking plains of fertile agricultural land.

0:43:040:43:08

The thing about these places is they weren't just defensive.

0:43:100:43:14

The term "hillfort" is pretty misleading -

0:43:140:43:18

the threat of conflict wasn't always the spur for their construction.

0:43:180:43:22

These were elevated places where people lived.

0:43:220:43:26

Some experts even think they were a communist-style collective.

0:43:260:43:31

And they do certainly seem to be about sharing labour

0:43:310:43:35

and sharing produce for communal benefit.

0:43:350:43:39

Perhaps the development of hillforts bore some relationship to the great midden gatherings -

0:43:420:43:47

the local connections made through the sharing and display of animals and grain.

0:43:470:43:53

These were farming communities,

0:43:530:43:55

and when there was surplus production,

0:43:550:43:58

seeds and crops stored in storage pits could be exchanged.

0:43:580:44:02

Food, not bronze, represented wealth in this newly emerging world.

0:44:020:44:07

And the more land you could cultivate, the more successful your community could be.

0:44:070:44:13

One thing that was common across Britain was that by around 500 BC,

0:44:180:44:24

iron finally began to appear in quantity.

0:44:240:44:27

Britain was at last about to embark upon the Iron Age proper.

0:44:290:44:34

After the initial impact of the bronze crisis, around 750 BC,

0:44:360:44:40

things started to settle down.

0:44:400:44:42

From the brochs in the north to the hillforts in the south and west,

0:44:420:44:46

and all manner of farmsteads and settlements in-between.

0:44:460:44:50

By 500 BC, there was a kind of stability.

0:44:550:44:58

People had got over the seismic effects on the great international bronze economy.

0:44:580:45:04

This was a turning point in our history, when iron finally began

0:45:040:45:08

to appear across Britain in increasing quantities.

0:45:080:45:11

It would change the way people lived, it would change the settlement of Britain as a whole.

0:45:110:45:16

It would lead in just a few hundred years to the population increasing to unprecedented levels.

0:45:160:45:21

And at its heart was a revolution in farming and food production.

0:45:210:45:26

Discoveries of ironwork from this time reveal an extraordinary leap forward in technology.

0:45:280:45:35

These wee treasures here are some of the Fiskerton Tools.

0:45:370:45:41

They were deposited or discarded in Lincolnshire around 2,500 years ago.

0:45:410:45:48

This is a hammer head.

0:45:560:46:00

Handle here,

0:46:000:46:01

the most obvious point of interest is the wear on the business end.

0:46:010:46:06

That lip has been caused because that hammer has been used repeatedly,

0:46:060:46:10

pounding against a hard surface.

0:46:100:46:12

Probably used for hammering in iron nails, apart from anything else.

0:46:120:46:15

This is a handsaw...

0:46:170:46:20

that's broken, due to corrosion.

0:46:200:46:24

But this is the handle.

0:46:240:46:25

It's made of antler.

0:46:250:46:28

It's beautifully worked and polished, with lovely detailing,

0:46:280:46:34

to make it an attractive object as well as a useful one.

0:46:340:46:38

The blade has broken due to corrosion during 2,500 years.

0:46:380:46:44

It's so thin, and some of that might be down to corrosion,

0:46:460:46:49

but it would've been thin anyway

0:46:490:46:52

because a saw blade, in order to work, has to be thin.

0:46:520:46:56

That begins to show the versatility of iron over bronze

0:46:560:46:59

because you couldn't achieve that with cast bronze,

0:46:590:47:03

so this is a job for iron.

0:47:030:47:05

Possibly best of all is this one.

0:47:070:47:11

You don't even need me to say the word, really,

0:47:140:47:17

but it's a file.

0:47:170:47:19

See how the cutting edges have been so carefully...

0:47:200:47:26

worked into that, cut into the metal.

0:47:260:47:29

It's so modern.

0:47:310:47:34

If someone was to show you this and say, "This is from my great-grandfather's toolbox,"

0:47:340:47:39

you'd be forgiven for believing them.

0:47:390:47:41

There's nothing different about it from the tools we use today.

0:47:410:47:45

And yet it's 2,500 years old.

0:47:450:47:48

The time of crisis was becoming a distant memory as the population of Britain grew rapidly.

0:47:530:47:59

Agricultural surplus lay at the heart of a newly emerging economy,

0:48:010:48:06

and that depended heavily on iron.

0:48:060:48:09

Iron was a metal that could be hammered into all manner of shapes and forms, not just cast,

0:48:110:48:18

and unlike bronze it wasn't the preserve of some elite.

0:48:180:48:22

Iron instead was the metal of the people.

0:48:240:48:28

Working tools for working men.

0:48:280:48:31

All that, combined with its strength and its widespread availability,

0:48:310:48:35

was to transform our world

0:48:350:48:37

and nudge us another step into the future.

0:48:370:48:41

Iron working became a part of village life right across Britain.

0:48:500:48:54

It's much better than the bronze because it's a bit more elastic so it's not going to snap

0:48:560:49:01

if you hit something hard and if it does bend, you can always straighten it again.

0:49:010:49:06

If it breaks, you can weld the two pieces back together again.

0:49:060:49:09

And the iron also you can sharpen, keep putting an edge on,

0:49:090:49:13

say for a sickle where you're cutting your corn or hay,

0:49:130:49:17

you can keep sharpening it.

0:49:170:49:19

It's much more versatile.

0:49:190:49:22

Bronze casting remained a specialist art,

0:49:250:49:29

but anyone could heat and reshape an iron tool.

0:49:290:49:32

It's that sound as well. Knowing that that ringing sound

0:49:350:49:38

would've been a permanent background noise...

0:49:380:49:41

-Oh, yes.

-..for Iron Age village life, that ringing sound.

0:49:410:49:44

-It looks best just while there's still a light in it.

-Yes.

0:49:570:50:01

For the rest of the time, it's just going to be cold metal, but for now, it's got a heartbeat.

0:50:010:50:05

You can see it's dulling down.

0:50:050:50:08

It's becoming utilitarian.

0:50:080:50:11

-And such a simple, commonplace object, a sickle.

-Yes, just a sickle.

0:50:110:50:15

But at the moment, it's got the magic, hasn't it?

0:50:150:50:18

Iron had another advantage.

0:50:260:50:29

The ore was everywhere.

0:50:290:50:31

This was a metal that could be local.

0:50:310:50:33

It didn't depend on a complex trade network.

0:50:330:50:36

So, by about 400 BC, as iron objects were beginning to appear in earnest,

0:50:360:50:41

they became ubiquitous, and the effects of the new technology

0:50:410:50:46

were felt right at the cutting edge of the agricultural economy.

0:50:460:50:51

Dave Freeman and Simon Jay are directors of Butser Ancient Farm

0:50:520:50:57

and study Iron Age farming techniques hands on.

0:50:570:51:01

Right then, where are my mighty oxen?

0:51:010:51:05

-We're here!

-Oh, dear! Right.

0:51:050:51:08

Mush!

0:51:080:51:10

-What is this exactly?

-It's an ard.

0:51:150:51:18

It's a very early form of plough.

0:51:180:51:20

It's basically a piece of tree.

0:51:200:51:22

Although I'm guessing...

0:51:220:51:24

This one has the addition of an iron tip.

0:51:240:51:27

In the Bronze Age then, they weren't ever tempted to put bronze tips on their ploughs?

0:51:280:51:34

It may have been tried, but unfortunately of course,

0:51:340:51:37

bronze doesn't stand up to wear and tear the same.

0:51:370:51:40

With it being a casting, it's likely to break.

0:51:400:51:44

And when it breaks, you have to make it molten and cast it again.

0:51:440:51:49

Whereas an iron tip, of course, you take it to the nearest fire,

0:51:490:51:52

get it hot and hit it with something.

0:51:520:51:54

It's quite simple, if I could get the hang of a straight line.

0:51:540:51:59

So these are starting to be visible from 400, 500 BC?

0:51:590:52:05

Yes, they are. The later you go into the Iron Age,

0:52:050:52:07

more iron is available and more people work it.

0:52:070:52:10

It wouldn't be hard to persuade people why this was a good idea.

0:52:100:52:14

-They'd rapidly see what the advantage was.

-Yes. Go for another one?

0:52:140:52:18

Yes.

0:52:180:52:19

Oh, disastrous!

0:52:230:52:25

It's a disaster for Scotland.

0:52:250:52:27

Iron ploughs allowed heavier soils to be turned,

0:52:300:52:34

so more land could be cultivated.

0:52:340:52:37

And there were other innovations that added up to an agricultural and commercial revolution.

0:52:370:52:43

How does it work? Why is a hole in the ground a good way to store grain?

0:52:440:52:48

-I need to show you a finished hole.

-OK.

0:52:480:52:51

Come over this way.

0:52:510:52:52

Oh! So there's a great big hole under there?

0:52:540:52:57

That clay cap is covering a storage pit that's fully loaded.

0:52:570:53:01

Right. And what's...

0:53:010:53:03

the magic that that provides?

0:53:030:53:06

The clay cover keeps out moisture, air and light.

0:53:060:53:10

The grain that's inside the pit,

0:53:100:53:12

where it's touching the walls of the pit, sucks moisture out of the chalk and attempts to germinate.

0:53:120:53:17

And of course in germination, you actually use oxygen, produce carbon dioxide.

0:53:170:53:22

Because the pit is sealed,

0:53:220:53:24

it runs out of oxygen and it hibernates - it actually goes to sleep.

0:53:240:53:28

-So time stops?

-It does indeed. And for quite some considerable period.

0:53:280:53:33

You can actually store this quite safely for a full year.

0:53:330:53:37

Occasionally we've got them to work for two years, so it's an enormous back up.

0:53:370:53:41

And you can well imagine how something like a reliable surplus

0:53:410:53:46

-of grain becomes almost like money - you can almost spend it.

-It does.

0:53:460:53:51

On the hillforts particularly, where you have the extra space and the political control,

0:53:510:53:56

then we don't know how much was kept as a reserve by whoever it was that controlled that particular area.

0:53:560:54:03

Your hillforts become a market town as well as a bank.

0:54:030:54:05

That's how you invent debt!

0:54:050:54:08

-Yes! You could give a farmer grain who had an accident and yes, then he's in debt to you.

-He owes you one.

0:54:080:54:13

Yes.

0:54:130:54:14

Trade in grain was the basis of this new agricultural economy,

0:54:150:54:19

and new devices were invented to process it.

0:54:190:54:23

Some of the very first machines.

0:54:230:54:26

For grinding grain, we use querns.

0:54:260:54:30

-You're looking at anything up to an hour on a saddle quern.

-It looks incredibly primitive.

0:54:300:54:34

Back breaking.

0:54:340:54:35

You can tell from skeletons, the wear and tear on bodies.

0:54:350:54:38

A great leap forward was the rotary quern.

0:54:380:54:41

The grain will go through several times.

0:54:410:54:44

You're starting to see little flecks, look.

0:54:440:54:47

-That's where the grain's actually being torn apart.

-So it keeps going back in?

0:54:470:54:50

-You'd just keep cycling it through.

-It's just such a quantum leap -

0:54:500:54:54

that's clearly Stone Age.

0:54:540:54:57

This has got a design element about it -

0:54:570:54:59

it's a composite tool made of multiple parts.

0:54:590:55:03

Huge time saver, as well.

0:55:030:55:05

Iron Age housewives must have loved them!

0:55:050:55:07

Yes, and of course it frees up an enormous amount of manpower.

0:55:070:55:12

You can see...

0:55:130:55:15

how a momentum would build up.

0:55:150:55:17

If you've got iron tools, you can make more of these.

0:55:170:55:21

-You're producing more grain.

-Yes.

0:55:210:55:23

These produce more flour, more bread, you can feed more people.

0:55:230:55:26

-Population increase.

-Absolutely.

0:55:260:55:28

And it will just keep on building and building.

0:55:280:55:31

All these factors combined -

0:55:340:55:36

ploughs, pits, stores, querns and better weather -

0:55:360:55:42

the fields of Britain had probably never been so productive

0:55:420:55:45

and from around 400 BC, there was a population explosion.

0:55:450:55:50

The crisis that followed the Bronze Age was over and a new Britain was emerging.

0:55:500:55:56

This bronze axe was the symbol of an age

0:55:590:56:01

that had lasted for over 1,000 years,

0:56:010:56:04

but it was a symbol of the past -

0:56:040:56:06

a metal that represented a golden age,

0:56:060:56:09

with its benign climate and international economy.

0:56:090:56:13

Bronze had created an elite,

0:56:140:56:16

so it's not surprising that it had class overtones as well.

0:56:160:56:20

There was also a spiritual aspect.

0:56:200:56:22

Bronze was about more than simply making tools.

0:56:220:56:25

It was the glue that held society together.

0:56:250:56:29

But this axe made of iron several hundred years later never had that kind of value in itself.

0:56:290:56:36

The making of iron

0:56:380:56:40

might still have been magical, but iron tools were entirely practical.

0:56:400:56:45

And that set the tone for an age in which iron technology put agriculture -

0:56:460:56:53

and therefore the land - at the very heart of society.

0:56:530:56:56

Wealth and power could be grown and stored, bought and sold.

0:56:560:57:02

In many ways, we'd lost something.

0:57:040:57:07

The magic of the Bronze Age, replaced with something modern.

0:57:070:57:11

And what it would lead to would be power structures that,

0:57:110:57:14

compared to the bronze elite, would seem modern as well.

0:57:140:57:18

'Next time, my journey continues...

0:57:230:57:26

'..as I encounter a whole new age.

0:57:280:57:31

'A time of powerful Celtic warriors...'

0:57:320:57:35

He was laid in his grave

0:57:350:57:38

and soon thereafter, three spears were thrust in.

0:57:380:57:42

'..magical druid priests...'

0:57:430:57:46

What events did he witness?

0:57:460:57:50

And what power did he wield?

0:57:500:57:52

'..and those at the very bottom of British society.'

0:57:540:57:58

Look at this.

0:57:580:58:00

It's an iron slave chain.

0:58:000:58:03

It's over 2,000 years old.

0:58:030:58:05

If you want to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors,

0:58:080:58:11

then go to the website...

0:58:110:58:15

to find out how to connect

0:58:150:58:17

with Ancient Britain in YOUR area.

0:58:170:58:19

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:290:58:32

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:320:58:35

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.


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