Age of Warriors A History of Ancient Britain


Age of Warriors

Continuing his epic story of Britain and its peoples, Neil Oliver encounters the age of the Celts - a time of warriors, druids and kings of unimaginable wealth.


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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 hidden story

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'of our distant, prehistoric past.

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'After more than 1,000 years,

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'the international world of the Bronze Age had collapsed.'

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A horde like this is a snapshot

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of the time when bronze

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was no longer working as the glue of society.

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'A new Britain began to emerge.

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'A whole new era -

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'the Iron Age.'

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

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Yet it's 2,500 years old.

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'A Britain of powerful regional identities

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'where land and grain had replaced bronze as a source of prestige.

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'Now, the journey continues

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'with the next chapter in our epic story.'

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He was laid in his grave

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and soon thereafter, three spears were thrust in.

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This would have been a moment of huge drama.

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'A time of Iron Age warriors

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'and Celtic glory.

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'A tipping point in our history,

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'when tribal leaders began to believe

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'they were more than chieftains.

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'They were kings.'

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'I'm going back 2,500 years to 500 BC.

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'This is Britain right in the heart of the Iron Age.

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'A time of huge transformation for our land and its people.'

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Ever since the end of the Bronze Age

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a few hundred years earlier, a new Britain had begun to emerge

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and it was a more insular Britain with strong regional identities.

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'This was a world of tall broch towers in the North,

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'and communal hill forts in the South.

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'Both, responses to the importance of controlling the land.'

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What was common across Britain was that trade was focussed locally

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and wealth was no longer centred around bronze as it had been.

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It was now centred around grain.

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'Britain was entering a new era, in which

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'the people who controlled land would gain wealth and power,

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'the like of which had never been seen before.'

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'At the top of this hill are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort

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'that holds evidence of the beginning of this new age.'

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This isn't just any old hill fort.

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This is Danebury.

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This is a completely different beast.

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A mega hill fort, and it's one of the first of its type.

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Farmers here were cultivating ever greater tracts of land,

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harvesting more and more grain.

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This wasn't subsistence farming.

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This was about creating a surplus to trade.

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But there was a problem.

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And you can see it over there, just on the horizon.

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That bump into the sky is another hill fort - Woodbury Hill fort.

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And it's not the only one.

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On a clear day, from up here, you can see another three hill forts

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and they were all equally prosperous

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and, crucially, they were all beginning

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to want more and more land.

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For the first time in our history,

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Britain, or parts of it, were actually starting to fill up.

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After all those millennia of hunting, and then the early farming,

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the physical size of our island was actually beginning to tell.

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And where the territories of those hill-fort communities

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were starting to rub against one another,

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there was one consequence and one consequence only

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and that was friction.

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What's happening is that the land is being used more and more and more.

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It is good land, it is rich land,

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it encourages the population to grow,

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but you can only grow to a certain extent

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and the population will continue to grow beyond the holding capacity

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of the land, and at that point you get tension.

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And how does the instability, the pressure, manifest itself?

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Normally in terms of aggression and warfare.

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Resources are rare, you fight for resources.

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You can have long, long periods of peace, I think.

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Then, perhaps in a confrontation,

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some young man would be hurt, everyone would be angry

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and it would escalate into outright, really violent warfare.

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Barry Cunliffe first studied Danebury over forty years ago.

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These are iron spearheads. Now, look at that one.

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That is a mean thing.

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A long shank. Very sharp point.

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Gosh. And that has been done with the intention to kill.

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Everything about it is violent.

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Yes, absolutely redolent of violence.

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And this is all coming from in here?

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-Everything here is from within Danebury.

-OK.

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We have also got evidence from the human bones themselves.

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This is the real hard evidence.

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Here we are. We've got the skull.

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You can see the eye sockets there and you see that hole there?

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And that's got the same section...

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It is exactly the same section as that spear.

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He would have copped a spear directly through the top of his head there.

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But the fascinating thing about this guy

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is that he also had a pretty hefty bash on the head

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-which caved a bit of the skull in.

-And that's not been enough to kill?

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No, because if you turn inside,

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you see the damage that it has done inside, but it has all healed over.

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He must have had a headache...

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That is so graphic.

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..and possibly brain damage.

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But he was still fit enough presumably to go into battle

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some months, perhaps some years later,

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to end up with that spear in his head.

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Gosh! So, he went into battle

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already knowing what it was like to face these weapons?

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He probably had been into battle many times, this guy, as had many of them.

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We have many more skulls here.

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Goodness! There is no end of it up here.

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No. Again just close to where we are standing was a very large pit

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into which they had thrown body parts,

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cleaning up after a battle, presumably.

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Lots of body parts and some of these skulls came from there.

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People are dying in significant numbers

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that they're not given a burial?

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-They are being cleared away?

-Cleared away.

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You see here a whole series of slivers

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taken off his skull with glancing blows.

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He wouldn't have needed a haircut after that.

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But the coup de grace was that - a great sword slash.

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Goodness sake! That has not healed over.

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That was the end of him.

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And altogether this shows what an incredibly violent life people lived.

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What a world they inhabited with the threat of this hanging over them!

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I think they would have been aware of it the whole time.

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You can imagine here in Danebury

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these young guys coming back from battle with all their scars

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and living in the community with noses cut off,

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ears cut off, horrendous injuries.

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They must have been aware every moment of every day

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of just how violent life was.

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What's unfolding now is something quite new.

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The time of the peaceful, local farming collective is over.

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By 400 BC, in Southern Britain at least,

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the area is descending into bloody conflict.

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And what's interesting about that conflict

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is the kind of personality that it encourages.

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As the need to fight and defend became more important,

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the status of those who could do the fighting and defending increased.

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You can't know these things for certain,

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but it's tempting to imagine that, in peaceful times,

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these communities were controlled by councils of elders,

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or the heads of important families.

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But not any more. Now, now that the fighting had started,

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was the time of heroes, champions, men who could wield swords.

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THESE were the type who could expand territories,

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defend territories, bring upstarts to heel.

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Britain was entering a period we call the Middle Iron Age,

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a time when local power bases fought it out for power and prestige.

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And where a man's status had to be earned...

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in battle.

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But out of bloody conflict

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something was about to emerge that was sublime.

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This is one of the finest,

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most astonishing pieces of early art

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ever produced in Britain.

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It is from 350 BC and it's called the Battersea Shield.

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It is too small to have been used in warfare.

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It is completely wrong for combat, it is too elaborate.

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This is ceremonial,

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owned by a warlord

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and perhaps carried at the head of a victory parade.

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This is an object that demonstrates technical perfection

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and also artistic genius.

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This is the beginning of something utterly new in our history,

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a sudden blossoming of art and design.

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The great continental rivers

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were trade routes to the classical world to the South.

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As Northern tribes, controlling the routes, developed a taste

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for luxury goods, they also began to invent a new decorative style.

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This was the birth of Celtic art.

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And around 350 BC, when it came to Britain,

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local craftsmen took it to completely new heights.

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It is said that the innovation and sophistication of British Celtic art

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is the single greatest contribution

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by these islands to the world of art ever.

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And the proof of that statement is here in my hands.

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This is the magnificent Kirkburn Sword.

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And it was excavated from a grave in East Yorkshire.

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Unlike earlier swords, this is a composite item.

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It required the meticulous design

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and fabrication of 70 separate pieces which were then assembled.

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There is iron here in the blade,

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there is bronze on the scabbard, there is horn.

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It has also been a working sword.

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Unlike the shield, this actually saw battle.

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And we know that because analysis of the metal indicates

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that it was repaired on at least one occasion, possibly more.

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These red enamel additions

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are said to represent freshly-spilled blood.

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But it's the delicate nature

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of the perfection of this art that is new in Britain.

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And what is most fascinating of all is that it is embodied,

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not in jewellery, but in the objects that could be afforded

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by that class of people that deserved

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things like this, warriors, the most powerful warriors.

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But finely-decorated swords were not the only symbol of elite power,

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as the skeleton of a horse buried at Danebury Hill Fort reveals.

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The lifetime activities of the horse

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will leave different markers in the skeleton.

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And we are looking for clues

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as to what that animal was used for during its life.

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Throughout prehistory,

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horses were uncommon in Britain, even on farms,

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and forensic studies of this one found something unprecedented.

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If you look here at the front of the tooth,

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there's a small white parallel-sided band of enamel.

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This is evidence that the horse was bitted.

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And, if you look at this vertebrae,

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there is a fracture running through the epiphysis of the vertebra

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and this is evidence that this horse was ridden.

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This is the first time

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we have evidence for riding in prehistoric Britain.

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These bones reveal the very beginning of the ridden horse -

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a symbol of power.

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Use of horses would have revolutionised warfare.

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It would have changed raiding.

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People could raid at further distances and faster.

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You could attack a neighbouring settlement,

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take control of their cattle.

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A man on horseback would have had major advantages over a man on foot.

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By 300 BC, Britain was becoming the land

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that resonates in ancient myths and folk memory.

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A land of warrior heroes, wielding power from horseback,

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armed with glinting, decorated, Celtic swords.

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Incredibly, the remains of a warrior from this time still survive.

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The very man who once owned and wielded

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the finest Iron Age sword ever found in Britain -

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the Kirkburn Warrior.

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When he died, he was aged somewhere between 20 and 35 years,

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powerfully built, you would have thought in the prime of his life.

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And there is nothing on the skeleton to indicate why he died.

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There is no great catastrophic injury, no caved-in skull,

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no massive sword wounds to the long bones.

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It is still possible, though, that he died in battle.

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If he suffered a wound that severed a major artery,

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or punctured a vital organ, he could have bled

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to death and there would be no sign on the skeleton

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to reveal that as the cause of death.

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The circumstances of his burial are fascinating.

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He was laid in his grave

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and soon thereafter, three spears were thrust in,

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possibly penetrating the dead body.

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Now, this would have been a moment of huge drama

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for those witnessing the funerary ritual.

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Here was a man whose martial prowess

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was being marked out very blatantly.

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Then the grave was completely backfilled leaving the shafts

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sticking out of the ground, bristling out of the mound.

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So they would have been visible from some distance.

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They would have marked out that grave as that of a warrior.

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It could have become a place of homage,

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so that warriors who remembered him from life

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could have grown old and grey

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regaling their children and grandchildren with stories

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about this man, remembering what a great

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and powerful warrior now lay buried in that special grave.

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The world of the Kirkburn Warrior

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is the beginning of a new era in the history of our land and its people.

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This is the time of Celtic Britain.

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A world of magic, mystery, and spiritual destiny.

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And clues to the birth of this new age

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can be found in the Northeast of England.

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I've come to Yorkshire because 20 or so miles away

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in that direction is where the Kirkburn Warrior was buried

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around 300 BC along with his splendid sword.

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And what is more, he wasn't the only one.

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In the Iron Age, formal burial was rare.

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In most cases when people died,

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their bodies were simply laid out and the bones gradually picked clean

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by the animals and birds.

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If you were lucky, you might have got a cremation.

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But up here, in chalk uplands of East Yorkshire

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something a bit different was going on.

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Melanie Giles has been studying the Iron Age of East Yorkshire

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for more than a decade.

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What exactly is in this field?

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This is an Iron Age cemetery and what you are looking at is small barrows.

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Each one of those is somebody's grave.

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So all these bumps of different sizes and heights contain a person?

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-Indeed, yes.

-Right.

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Is this the only cemetery of its kind?

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No, there are many more like it across East and into North Yorkshire.

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And, when you say East and North Yorkshire,

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is that the limit of cemeteries like these?

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Yes, they are really unique in Britain, but there are cemeteries

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like this in modern-day France, in the Marne and Moselle region.

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So what is going on, then?

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If this is a French cemetery, what is it doing here?

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I don't know that it's a French cemetery.

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There are lots of different ideas about this,

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lots of different debates.

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Some people thought it was a massive invasion,

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a kind of war band coming across.

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But, in fact, most of these people look as if they are local,

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they were born and brought up here,

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so we might be looking at just a small group of important

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or powerful people coming across from the Continent.

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And some of the grave goods we find in those barrows

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reinforce that sense that there are contacts with the Continent.

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The Celtic culture that came to represent an entire era

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might have had its genesis right here,

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in the continentally-connected warrior elites of East Yorkshire.

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So a warrior of the status,

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say, of the Kirkburn Warrior, someone of that style and demeanour?

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Absolutely, and he was buried just about ten miles from here.

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So he is part of this...fashion?

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Yes, and figures like that who maybe were skilled at fighting,

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or had achieved something in their life,

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or maybe even through the manner of their death

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were treated to special kinds of burials.

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'But the Yorkshire burials have revealed something else

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'that was remarkable about this new culture.

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'Because here, it seems,

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'it was not only great warriors who were revered.'

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Our picture of ancient Britain will always be incomplete because

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often the evidence we find is of important men,

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the artefacts are often symbols of martial prowess.

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What is remarkable here in Yorkshire

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is that around 300 BC we start to get evidence of something

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that has been missing so far and that is important women.

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This is the skeleton of a woman who died

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at least in her late 40s, possibly even older than that.

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But for all that, she was an older, mature woman,

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her teeth are in remarkably good shape

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which suggests she had access to a good, even privileged diet.

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But much more revealing and fascinating than her mere bones

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are the circumstances in which she was buried.

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This woman was buried lying on, inside a chariot.

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And around her were also placed all the furniture for horse driving.

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These are quite hard to describe.

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I suppose they're the equivalent of hub caps,

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decoration that would have gone around the knobbly bit

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that sticks out from the wheel.

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These are parts of the bit that the horse would have in its mouth,

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through which the reins passed

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which would have given the driver control over the horse's head.

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But also, in this woman's grave,

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are items altogether more mysterious, even magical.

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This metal cylinder,

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beautifully decorated

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with Celtic artwork.

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Now, it is completely sealed,

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you can't get into it, you can't open it.

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If it ever did contain anything,

0:23:230:23:25

it must have been organic and very small

0:23:250:23:27

so that with the passage of millennia,

0:23:270:23:30

that has decayed and disappeared.

0:23:300:23:32

Maybe it was some beans or seeds

0:23:320:23:34

so that it could be used as a ceremonial rattle.

0:23:340:23:37

Perhaps even more powerful is this.

0:23:390:23:44

It has been called a mirror,

0:23:440:23:47

I suspect because, in terms of its shape,

0:23:470:23:49

that is exactly what it looks like.

0:23:490:23:51

But for me, the word "mirror" downgrades this object,

0:23:510:23:55

makes it seem trivial and to do with vanity.

0:23:550:23:59

This, in its heyday, would have been highly polished iron,

0:23:590:24:03

but even at its best,

0:24:030:24:05

the reflection it offered would always have been blurred.

0:24:050:24:10

It is now suggested that items such as these

0:24:100:24:14

were used not to reflect back our world,

0:24:140:24:19

but to open a portal into a world beyond,

0:24:190:24:23

the world of the ancestors and that by owning this,

0:24:230:24:27

and having access to it

0:24:270:24:29

you were able to communicate directly with the dead.

0:24:290:24:33

So, with these items here,

0:24:360:24:39

it is easy to understand that, whoever this woman was,

0:24:390:24:44

once upon a time, she really mattered.

0:24:440:24:47

She was a woman of substance, she was revered,

0:24:470:24:52

she was wise and, in her community, she was someone of real power.

0:24:520:24:58

By 200 BC, Celtic culture had spread right across our land,

0:25:060:25:12

and power was increasingly becoming concentrated

0:25:120:25:16

in the hands of fewer, bigger, regional leaders.

0:25:160:25:19

The chieftains of the emerging Celtic tribes of Britain.

0:25:190:25:23

The big question, though, is just who were these Celts?

0:25:250:25:29

Here in Britain, especially along the so-called Celtic fringe

0:25:360:25:40

of Cornwall, Wales and Scotland Celticness is an emotive subject.

0:25:400:25:46

There are people who believe it connects them

0:25:460:25:49

to a sense of their own history,

0:25:490:25:52

that it underpins their sense of self and inheritance.

0:25:520:25:56

There are even those who believe in an entirely separate Celtic race.

0:25:560:26:00

And how do I feel about that?

0:26:020:26:04

Well, as a Scot, I feel a sense of belonging to my country.

0:26:040:26:08

I feel in a sense, that my homeland belongs to me.

0:26:080:26:11

But whether or not that is the same

0:26:110:26:13

as the sense of a separate ethnic identity,

0:26:130:26:15

I'd need help to answer that one.

0:26:150:26:18

I'm sending a sample of my DNA for analysis in an attempt

0:26:240:26:28

to try and find out where my Scottish ancestors came from.

0:26:280:26:32

And, in particular, to find out whether

0:26:320:26:35

they were living in Britain during the height of the Celtic Iron Age.

0:26:350:26:39

Using statistical genetic dating methods, Peter Forster believes

0:26:420:26:46

he can work out the detailed prehistory of living individuals.

0:26:460:26:50

I know it is very complicated science that's involved,

0:26:500:26:54

but can you tell me, in very simple terms,

0:26:540:26:57

who I am and where I come from?

0:26:570:26:59

I'll give it a try.

0:26:590:27:01

So what we have done, in a nutshell,

0:27:010:27:02

is to take a look at two stretches of your DNA which allow us

0:27:020:27:06

to separately trace your mother's line back into deep prehistory

0:27:060:27:10

-and your father's back into deep prehistory.

-OK.

0:27:100:27:14

So to start with we have looked at your mother's DNA,

0:27:140:27:17

where her female ancestry traces back to.

0:27:170:27:21

You could have matches from all over the world,

0:27:210:27:23

but let's take a look at what they are.

0:27:230:27:26

Oh, big red spot right on Scotland.

0:27:260:27:28

Yeah, let me zoom in...

0:27:280:27:30

Fascinating.

0:27:300:27:33

And it's the Western Isles of Scotland.

0:27:330:27:36

Yes.

0:27:360:27:38

We have no recent historical connection to the islands.

0:27:380:27:42

Well, it is not only Western Isles.

0:27:420:27:44

We have some more matches in mainland Scotland.

0:27:440:27:47

In simple terms, everything about my mum is pointing to Scotland,

0:27:470:27:51

-and having been in Scotland for a long, long time.

-That is right.

0:27:510:27:55

Because it is all over Scotland, it is not just one particular location.

0:27:550:27:58

So that argues for the presence of your mother's line in Scotland

0:27:580:28:02

way back into prehistory, thousands of years ago.

0:28:020:28:05

So what about my dad, then?

0:28:050:28:07

Yes, your father's line was a bit of a surprise.

0:28:070:28:12

So let's see.

0:28:120:28:15

That is the result for the father's line.

0:28:150:28:18

Right.

0:28:180:28:20

Your particular paternal lineage

0:28:200:28:22

is more common in Southern Europe and Eastern Europe.

0:28:220:28:27

There is nothing from my dad's DNA in Britain at all.

0:28:270:28:30

Well, it is more than that, in fact. There is nothing in Scandinavia or

0:28:300:28:34

northern Europe so it is a Southern and Eastern European profile.

0:28:340:28:39

So the individuals, or individual, in my father's line

0:28:390:28:44

only came to Britain, in DNA terms, relatively recently?

0:28:440:28:49

Yes, that is correct.

0:28:490:28:51

Wait till I tell him.

0:28:510:28:53

Wait till I tell my Scottish dad...

0:28:530:28:56

that he's not from Scotland.

0:28:560:28:57

Experts have tried again and again to identify a Celtic bloodline,

0:29:050:29:10

but the most they can really agree on is that, just as in my case,

0:29:100:29:14

ancestry is complicated.

0:29:140:29:16

Many people today believe that "Celtic"

0:29:170:29:21

is no more than a collective term to describe a whole host of peoples

0:29:210:29:25

who lived in Europe around 2,000 years ago

0:29:250:29:28

and shared common cultural values.

0:29:280:29:30

It's possible - it's even likely - that there never was

0:29:320:29:36

a separate ethnic Celtic identity.

0:29:360:29:39

There's certainly no absolute evidence for a separate Celtic race,

0:29:390:29:44

however disappointing some people might find that fact.

0:29:440:29:47

But what we do have - and what we do have evidence for -

0:29:490:29:52

is a common Celtic heritage.

0:29:520:29:55

'The Celts appreciated similar art and design

0:29:590:30:02

'and they held shared values of status and hierarchy.

0:30:020:30:06

'And linguists also believe they shared a common language.

0:30:070:30:11

'A language we can decipher, even after 2,000 years.'

0:30:130:30:18

Paul, how much do we know about what the Iron Age would have sounded like

0:30:180:30:22

in terms of the spoken word?

0:30:220:30:24

Well we know something about it,

0:30:240:30:27

in the sense that the descendent languages

0:30:270:30:30

from this period in Britain do survive in the form of Welsh,

0:30:300:30:34

and Cornish and Breton

0:30:340:30:36

and - more distantly - with Irish and Scots Gaelic.

0:30:360:30:40

If we were to take a particular word,

0:30:400:30:42

we would know that the ancient British word for a boar

0:30:420:30:47

would be "turcos" because we have Welsh "twrch" and so on.

0:30:470:30:53

And to take another example,

0:30:530:30:56

"maglos" would be the word for a prince or a lord

0:30:560:31:00

on the basis of Welsh "mael" and Irish "mal".

0:31:000:31:04

And these forms one can reconstruct to produce those forms.

0:31:040:31:10

If you were to take a modern-day English speaker

0:31:100:31:14

and plunk them down in an Iron Age marketplace,

0:31:140:31:18

what would they find most striking about the voices around them?

0:31:180:31:22

I think the most striking thing for them

0:31:220:31:24

is that they wouldn't understand a word of it,

0:31:240:31:26

because this is a language group that is unrelated -

0:31:260:31:30

or only distantly related - to English.

0:31:300:31:33

So you would be in the market and you would say,

0:31:330:31:37

"Gwerthar mi turcon."

0:31:370:31:39

"Sell me a boar."

0:31:390:31:42

And there's nothing there - apart, perhaps, from "mi" -

0:31:420:31:46

which an English speaker would understand.

0:31:460:31:49

If a traveller was to go from the south-west of England

0:31:490:31:54

to the north-east of Scotland,

0:31:540:31:56

would they hear the language changing as though with dialects?

0:31:560:32:00

Yes, almost certainly.

0:32:000:32:02

That's probably definitely the case, by virtue of the fact that

0:32:020:32:05

these are languages that develop into different languages.

0:32:050:32:09

Welsh as separate from Cornish and so on and so forth.

0:32:090:32:12

So there probably was that kind of variation.

0:32:120:32:15

But the kind of variation where, mile on mile, neighbour to neighbour,

0:32:150:32:20

they, perfectly well, would understand each other

0:32:200:32:24

but if you moved them all the way from the south-west to the north-east

0:32:240:32:27

they would probably struggle, I would have thought.

0:32:270:32:30

Can you construct a sentence for me,

0:32:300:32:33

so that I can get a sense of the...

0:32:330:32:35

-The rhythm and cadence of that ancient British language?

-Well, OK.

0:32:350:32:40

Er...

0:32:400:32:41

Think of a lord, the prince -

0:32:410:32:44

like you, for example - coming into the feasting hall

0:32:440:32:49

and people would rise and would say to you...

0:32:490:32:52

I certainly hope so!

0:32:520:32:54

.."a-rut reg-ami mag-leh wu-ta-keh".

0:32:540:32:59

Which would mean, basically, something like,

0:32:590:33:02

"I honour you, long-haired lord."

0:33:020:33:04

Did you just call me a hippy in Celtic?

0:33:040:33:07

Possibly.

0:33:070:33:08

I'm used to seeing and handling artefacts -

0:33:170:33:21

things made of metal, stone, pottery -

0:33:210:33:24

so it's quite a strange feeling

0:33:240:33:27

to get the sounds of the Iron Age, as well.

0:33:270:33:30

It almost sounds crass to say it,

0:33:300:33:34

but it brings that time back to life.

0:33:340:33:39

If you take the language,

0:33:390:33:41

if you had a Gallic speaker from the Western Isles or a Welsh speaker,

0:33:410:33:47

while they perhaps couldn't have a conversation

0:33:470:33:50

with an Iron Age warrior,

0:33:500:33:52

there's every possibility that they could make themselves understood.

0:33:520:33:57

And so the world of the past and the modern world

0:33:570:34:01

would collide at that point.

0:34:010:34:03

The past is very close if you approach it in the right way.

0:34:030:34:06

Less than 200 years after the Kirkburn Warrior,

0:34:260:34:29

the tribes of Britain might still have been rivals,

0:34:290:34:33

but they were also bound by a common Celtic culture.

0:34:330:34:38

In the Southern Highlands of Scotland,

0:34:400:34:41

using experimental archaeology,

0:34:410:34:43

it's even possible to get close to the reality of life

0:34:430:34:47

at the time of the Celtic Iron Age.

0:34:470:34:49

Look at that!

0:34:540:34:55

It's a modern reconstruction of a building called a crannog,

0:34:550:34:58

which is a large house

0:34:580:35:00

built on a platform that sits above the waters of the loch.

0:35:000:35:04

This would have been the home, 2,000 years ago, of a local chieftain.

0:35:040:35:08

A building like that is about status and prestige.

0:35:090:35:12

It's visible for miles around.

0:35:120:35:15

You are essentially saying to people,

0:35:150:35:17

"Here I am, and if you think you can take this from me, do your best."

0:35:170:35:22

In this world of Celtic tribes,

0:35:250:35:28

leaders needed to be more than powerful warriors.

0:35:280:35:31

They needed diplomatic skills and political nous, too.

0:35:310:35:34

And artefacts found here in Loch Tay

0:35:370:35:40

bear testament to how Iron Age politics were conducted.

0:35:400:35:44

This is a small, circular, wooden plate

0:35:450:35:50

recovered from the loch.

0:35:500:35:52

In Iron Age Britain,

0:35:530:35:55

status wasn't just about items of jewellery and personal adornment.

0:35:550:36:02

It was about your ability to draw people to you -

0:36:020:36:07

men, fighting men, who were loyal to you, who would do your bidding.

0:36:070:36:12

And a key way of getting to them was,

0:36:120:36:16

as they say, through their stomachs.

0:36:160:36:19

The way to a man's heart!

0:36:190:36:21

And so you have to picture...

0:36:210:36:23

a chieftain - perhaps THE chieftain of the area -

0:36:230:36:26

gathering men to him,

0:36:260:36:29

and they would be fed by him to show that he was a big man.

0:36:290:36:34

So, the story here, from this little wooden plate,

0:36:350:36:38

is that feasting was a key part of power broking

0:36:380:36:43

in late Iron Age Britain.

0:36:430:36:46

Barrie Andrian, who helped create the crannog,

0:36:490:36:52

is an expert in feasting.

0:36:520:36:54

And many of the same wild plants

0:36:540:36:56

that would have been eaten 2,000 years ago

0:36:560:36:59

still grow around the area today.

0:36:590:37:01

They didn't have access to the kinds of vegetables that we have today -

0:37:010:37:05

nothing like onions and potatoes and our staples.

0:37:050:37:09

So, foraging would have been

0:37:090:37:11

a very, very important source of food for them.

0:37:110:37:14

There are lots of edible greens here -

0:37:140:37:16

things like chickweed and sorrel, which has a lemony taste.

0:37:160:37:21

See what you think.

0:37:250:37:27

It's got a very... It's got a very definite...flavour.

0:37:360:37:40

-This is sorrel...

-Mm-hm.

0:37:400:37:42

..and I'm going to put that in the stew, just to give it a kick.

0:37:420:37:46

There's a real acidy, citrusy...

0:37:460:37:50

That's a strong flavour.

0:37:500:37:53

The scale and variety of food offered by a chieftain

0:37:540:37:57

would have been a mark of his status and, by extension, his power.

0:37:570:38:02

We have a fantastic amount of organic material

0:38:020:38:05

that we've uncovered and discovered underwater here in Loch Tay,

0:38:050:38:08

at one of the crannog sites.

0:38:080:38:10

More than 160 different types of edible plants,

0:38:100:38:14

so this is a mere representative sample.

0:38:140:38:18

-Just a handful, literally, of some of those.

-Let me just try that one.

0:38:180:38:22

Wild mushroom and barley.

0:38:220:38:25

That is delicious. The barley is very strong there.

0:38:270:38:30

There's a kind of an echo of Scotch broth.

0:38:300:38:32

Yeah, I think it would be.

0:38:320:38:34

Over the hearth, a masterpiece of decorative wrought ironwork

0:38:360:38:41

would have supported a spit roast

0:38:410:38:42

and proclaimed the standing of its owner.

0:38:420:38:46

This is an example, or representation, of a firedog.

0:38:460:38:50

And the firedog would have been

0:38:500:38:52

a high-status, really classy piece of art.

0:38:520:38:54

And you can see the curve of the back of the head.

0:38:540:38:58

It's maybe a horse or a bull with the horns sticking out,

0:38:580:39:01

or maybe even a wild boar.

0:39:010:39:02

But obviously something important, something symbolic.

0:39:020:39:06

And if you look at the craftsmanship, these are meant to represent wealth

0:39:060:39:12

and power, so it's another symbol of status.

0:39:120:39:15

It's food for show, isn't it?

0:39:150:39:16

-It's food as a performance.

-Absolutely.

0:39:160:39:18

They definitely weren't...hiding.

0:39:180:39:21

A feast was a hugely important social exercise.

0:39:260:39:29

It was almost a ritual in its own right.

0:39:290:39:32

Everyone attending the event would have...

0:39:320:39:37

understood the etiquette.

0:39:370:39:39

They would have been able to read

0:39:390:39:41

every nuance, every sign, every gesture.

0:39:410:39:44

The leader had to be a skilled politician

0:39:460:39:49

to pull it off -

0:39:490:39:51

to read people correctly and make accurate assessments

0:39:510:39:56

of his followers, or his would-be followers.

0:39:560:39:58

Who would be served first?

0:40:000:40:03

Who would get the choicest cuts of meat?

0:40:030:40:06

Who would be left with the cold shoulder?

0:40:060:40:09

And because it was happening publicly,

0:40:090:40:12

it was open to dispute.

0:40:120:40:14

Because, after all, it's a room full of fiery, hot blooded Celts

0:40:140:40:19

and if one of them felt he was being slighted

0:40:190:40:22

when he should have been being praised,

0:40:220:40:24

then, if he felt strong enough,

0:40:240:40:26

he would have the opportunity to make his feelings clear.

0:40:260:40:29

But by the end of the night,

0:40:310:40:34

everyone would have understood where they were -

0:40:340:40:37

how they related to one another,

0:40:370:40:40

who was top dog and who was at the bottom.

0:40:400:40:43

Over just a few hundred years,

0:40:510:40:53

the structure of power had reshaped Iron Age Britain

0:40:530:40:57

from an age of elite local warriors

0:40:570:41:00

to increasingly powerful Celtic chieftains.

0:41:000:41:03

By around 100 BC,

0:41:050:41:07

power had became concentrated in the hands of a narrow social elite.

0:41:070:41:12

People who controlled such an extent of trade and territory

0:41:120:41:15

that they became something new -

0:41:150:41:18

the first of the mega-rich.

0:41:180:41:21

And some of the evidence for that

0:41:230:41:25

can be seen back here at the British Museum.

0:41:250:41:27

This is a late Iron Age gold torc -

0:41:400:41:44

an elaborate, lavish piece of jewellery worn around the neck.

0:41:440:41:49

It's absolutely breathtaking -

0:41:490:41:52

the weight of gold...

0:41:520:41:54

just the lustre of it.

0:41:540:41:56

It's been compared, in terms of its significance,

0:41:560:42:00

as being right up there with the British Crown Jewels,

0:42:000:42:03

and you can surely see why.

0:42:030:42:05

It's been made by twisting individual strands of gold

0:42:070:42:12

to create these corkscrewing spirals.

0:42:120:42:15

And then the ends have been fitted into these round terminals.

0:42:170:42:21

The goldsmith, the artist, has really gone to town

0:42:210:42:25

on adding decoration to give it texture and depth.

0:42:250:42:30

It dates to around 75 years BC

0:42:300:42:34

and it's quite different in form

0:42:340:42:38

from the earlier military art,

0:42:380:42:41

like the Battersea Shield, the Kirkburn Sword.

0:42:410:42:44

This is the advent of something quite new in Britain.

0:42:440:42:49

This is extreme wealth - extreme showing off -

0:42:490:42:52

and what you have here...

0:42:520:42:56

in the owner of this

0:42:560:42:59

is a man who is seeing himself - and, perhaps more importantly,

0:42:590:43:05

being seen by his followers - as nothing less than a king.

0:43:050:43:09

Some of the tribal territories of Britain were now ruled by men

0:43:140:43:17

so powerful they even began to issue their own coins.

0:43:170:43:21

Look at these.

0:43:260:43:28

These are some of the earliest coins ever found in England.

0:43:280:43:33

And the Celtic coin makers

0:43:330:43:36

are making coins in their own image, if you like.

0:43:360:43:39

They're using Celtic art.

0:43:390:43:42

Rather than straightforward representations of heads,

0:43:420:43:46

they're going for something abstract.

0:43:460:43:49

Just like today, coins have always been

0:43:490:43:53

representations of the state - often the head of state.

0:43:530:43:58

And the same thing is happening here.

0:43:580:44:02

This torc, which dates from the same period as these three gold coins,

0:44:020:44:07

is obviously a symbol of authority.

0:44:070:44:11

But this...

0:44:120:44:14

is where you start to get the authority of the state

0:44:140:44:16

becoming something that's transferable.

0:44:160:44:19

Coins are in circulation, they're distributed.

0:44:190:44:24

This is about society being permeated by the portable,

0:44:240:44:29

transferable symbols of the state and of the king.

0:44:290:44:34

But if there were people at the top with almost unimaginable wealth,

0:44:440:44:48

there were also people at the bottom.

0:44:480:44:50

And evidence for that can be found at the National Museum of Wales.

0:44:520:44:57

As well as gold, every important Celtic leader

0:44:590:45:02

wanted prestige goods from mainland Europe.

0:45:020:45:05

Olive oil, wine, exotic tableware -

0:45:050:45:08

all the accoutrements of civilization.

0:45:080:45:11

To pay for it, they exported wool, animal hides, hunting dogs.

0:45:110:45:16

But there was also a darker price to be paid

0:45:160:45:19

for all that luxury.

0:45:190:45:21

In European markets, one commodity above all else was in great demand -

0:45:300:45:34

tall, strong, British manpower.

0:45:340:45:38

Look at this.

0:45:380:45:41

It's an iron slave chain.

0:45:410:45:44

It's over 2,000 years old.

0:45:440:45:47

Now this, obviously, was the part made to go round the slave's neck.

0:45:500:45:56

It would fit tightly - might even make it hard to breathe.

0:45:590:46:02

And just half a metre - a foot and a half, say - of iron chain

0:46:030:46:09

separates each slave in the line

0:46:090:46:11

as they shuffle along to wherever they're going.

0:46:110:46:15

It's fantastically heavy

0:46:170:46:19

and so well preserved you get a real sense...

0:46:190:46:23

of what it would have felt like to have been burdened with this

0:46:230:46:26

and to feel the way these would have chafed at the neck.

0:46:260:46:31

For every king or queen in the Iron Age,

0:46:330:46:37

there would have to have been countless, countless slaves.

0:46:370:46:41

Gold jewellery, works of art -

0:46:410:46:44

they give a glimpse of life for people at the top end of society,

0:46:440:46:50

but it's items like this

0:46:500:46:52

that brings you face to face

0:46:520:46:55

with what Iron Age reality must have been like

0:46:550:46:58

for those thousands and thousands of people

0:46:580:47:00

who inhabited the bottom of society.

0:47:000:47:04

Just a few hundred years earlier,

0:47:150:47:17

many people in Britain had lived in egalitarian farming communities.

0:47:170:47:21

But now, in the late Celtic Iron Age, all that had changed.

0:47:230:47:27

By 75BC, Britain was a land of hard social divides.

0:47:290:47:34

Kings at the top, slaves at the bottom,

0:47:360:47:39

the rest of us - presumably the vast majority - somewhere in between.

0:47:390:47:43

But there was another class of people.

0:47:430:47:45

They were the spiritual leaders, the wise men of Celtic society.

0:47:450:47:50

The Druids.

0:47:500:47:52

Miranda Green is an Iron Age archaeologist and Druid specialist.

0:47:560:48:01

Within the whole mix of society,

0:48:020:48:04

you know, you've got kings and aristocrats,

0:48:040:48:06

you've got ordinary people, you've got slaves at the bottom.

0:48:060:48:09

-Where are the Druids in that picture?

-Right up at the top.

0:48:090:48:12

I would think probably more important than the kings or the tribal leaders.

0:48:120:48:16

We know the kings listened to their advice.

0:48:160:48:18

They were like the Old Testament prophets.

0:48:180:48:20

And one of the things that make them important

0:48:200:48:22

is that they overarch society,

0:48:220:48:24

so that you might have kings of tribes,

0:48:240:48:26

but the Druids would connect with each other

0:48:260:48:29

through huge areas of Europe, so they acted like a kind of Celtic glue.

0:48:290:48:33

So, really crucial...

0:48:330:48:36

to the working of society?

0:48:360:48:38

Crucial. They even intervened in cases of warfare.

0:48:380:48:40

They could actually walk into the middle of a battlefield

0:48:400:48:43

-and stop the war.

-Right.

-So they were that important.

0:48:430:48:46

-OK.

-Even though they didn't actually fight themselves.

0:48:460:48:48

So they were absolutely to be taken seriously.

0:48:480:48:53

They were. And, indeed, to go against a Druid

0:48:530:48:56

would be almost to be as bad as being dead

0:48:560:48:58

because you would be exiled - nobody would speak to you -

0:48:580:49:01

and you were then beyond society because of the word of a Druid.

0:49:010:49:05

Little evidence remains of these powerful priests of Celtic society

0:49:120:49:16

beyond legends of oaks, mistletoe and golden sickles.

0:49:160:49:21

But discoveries of unusual and mysterious spoons

0:49:230:49:26

are thought to be connected to the indispensable art of divination.

0:49:260:49:31

What is this collection of weirdness?

0:49:330:49:35

Well, we have got here a pair of replica spoons

0:49:350:49:40

and they are called divination spoons.

0:49:400:49:42

"Divination" means telling the future.

0:49:420:49:44

They were used by Druids in the Iron Age.

0:49:440:49:46

One of the spoons has got a hole drilled into it.

0:49:460:49:48

The other spoon is divided, in its inner surface, into four quadrants.

0:49:480:49:52

-All right.

-And I think that they were used together, placed like that,

0:49:520:49:56

and then something blown or dripped through the hole

0:49:560:50:00

and then the spoons would be opened

0:50:000:50:03

to see where on the quartered surface it would fall.

0:50:030:50:06

OK.

0:50:060:50:07

If you want your ancestors to speak to you

0:50:070:50:09

about where you should go next, where your herds should go,

0:50:090:50:12

to do that you would use their bones.

0:50:120:50:15

Oh, rather you than me!

0:50:210:50:23

So we can see that the powder that I blew though this hole

0:50:260:50:30

has not landed, as you might think, exactly opposite the hole,

0:50:300:50:33

but down in this left-hand corner here.

0:50:330:50:36

So we could actually try a little liquid now, couldn't we?

0:50:360:50:38

This is where you come in.

0:50:380:50:40

I'm guessing that's not ketchup!

0:50:400:50:42

Er, no, it's not, and it's not tomato juice, it's blood.

0:50:420:50:45

OK.

0:50:450:50:46

-You've got, actually, quite a nice pattern in there.

-Yeah.

0:50:560:50:59

But it's like telling the tea leaves. You're getting this definite shape.

0:50:590:51:03

So you would come to the Druids,

0:51:030:51:05

or the Druids would be consulted by someone in a position of power,

0:51:050:51:10

-who would ask specific questions.

-Yes.

0:51:100:51:12

"Why are the flocks afflicted with this disease?

0:51:120:51:15

-"Should we go to war with the neighbours?"

-That's right.

0:51:150:51:18

And it would be in the gift of the Druid

0:51:180:51:20

-to interpret this any way he wanted.

-Of course.

0:51:200:51:23

So if the Druid wants to go to war,

0:51:230:51:25

the Druid can make that happen.

0:51:250:51:27

Absolutely. And the Druids would know perfectly well

0:51:270:51:30

both the questions and the answers that they were after.

0:51:300:51:33

So, I think what you've got here

0:51:330:51:34

is a means of manipulating the future and manipulating power.

0:51:340:51:38

The Druids were men so powerful

0:51:450:51:48

that even the Celtic kings danced to their tune.

0:51:480:51:52

But despite their huge influence, apart from divination spoons,

0:51:520:51:56

definite evidence of Druids has never been found.

0:51:560:52:00

But there is one possibility.

0:52:020:52:05

This is the skull of a man who died...

0:52:210:52:24

around 200 years BC,

0:52:240:52:26

aged between 30 and 35 years old.

0:52:260:52:30

He was buried in an Iron Age cemetery in Deal in Kent.

0:52:300:52:36

He has been known as the Deal Warrior,

0:52:360:52:39

because with him in his grave there was a sword.

0:52:390:52:44

But there's something more interesting

0:52:440:52:46

and more mysterious about this character.

0:52:460:52:50

When the skeleton was being excavated back in the '80s,

0:52:520:52:55

the people working on it noticed that, while he was definitely male,

0:52:550:53:00

the bones were slight, slender.

0:53:000:53:03

In fact, somebody said of him

0:53:030:53:06

that the bones were of a slightly feminine nature.

0:53:060:53:10

So, something definitely un-warrior-like.

0:53:100:53:15

So, what's going on? What else do we know?

0:53:150:53:18

Well, he was buried wearing this elaborate, enigmatic headgear.

0:53:180:53:25

It wasn't padded or lined in leather.

0:53:270:53:31

It was worn directly on the head

0:53:310:53:35

and we know that because traces of this individual's hair

0:53:350:53:39

were found trapped in the rim.

0:53:390:53:40

For that reason, and because it's so slight,

0:53:400:53:44

it's highly unlikely that it was ever worn as a military helmet

0:53:440:53:47

to give protection to a man's head in combat.

0:53:470:53:52

The only other artefacts like it

0:53:520:53:55

are the headgear worn by

0:53:550:53:59

religious leaders in Roman Britain 200 years later.

0:53:590:54:04

So was he something like that?

0:54:040:54:07

The fascinating possibility - and it's only a possibility -

0:54:080:54:13

is that this individual, in life,

0:54:130:54:19

was of that most mysterious caste of people -

0:54:190:54:23

a Druid,

0:54:230:54:26

who walked this land 200 years before the birth of Christ.

0:54:260:54:31

And, if so, what events did he witness

0:54:310:54:35

and what power did he wield?

0:54:350:54:39

By the time of the Celtic kings,

0:54:510:54:53

the age of the hill forts was coming to an end -

0:54:530:54:57

even the greatest of them.

0:54:570:54:59

The mega hill forts like Danebury were in decline.

0:54:590:55:02

Trade with mainland Europe had brought wealth and power -

0:55:040:55:08

at least to the few.

0:55:080:55:10

But those contacts were bringing Britain to the brink

0:55:130:55:17

of another new age.

0:55:170:55:18

Look at this.

0:55:250:55:27

It's a fragment of a storage vessel.

0:55:270:55:30

It was found 40-odd miles from here, on the coast,

0:55:300:55:33

and it was made maybe 75 years BC.

0:55:330:55:38

This vessel didn't contain local produce.

0:55:410:55:44

Rather, it held something from many hundreds of miles away

0:55:440:55:48

to the south on mainland Europe.

0:55:480:55:51

This contained wine, possibly from the vineyards of Rome itself.

0:55:520:55:58

Now, this speaks of a remarkable transformation.

0:56:010:56:05

From a land 400, maybe 300 years BC

0:56:050:56:10

with tribal chieftains fighting over booty

0:56:100:56:15

to a land of proto-kingdoms,

0:56:150:56:17

whose leaders had acquired a taste for -

0:56:170:56:20

and had access to -

0:56:200:56:22

the finest luxuries that the classical world could offer.

0:56:220:56:26

It was the height of the Celtic Iron Age,

0:56:260:56:29

with all its feasting and Druids

0:56:290:56:32

and the full glory of Celtic art.

0:56:320:56:35

But this represents something much more powerful, as well,

0:56:360:56:41

because by now the Roman Empire was fully on the move -

0:56:410:56:46

had already placed the shadow of its hand over Gaul.

0:56:460:56:50

Soon, the leaders here would be tasting more than Roman wine.

0:56:500:56:55

They'd be tasting Roman swords, as well.

0:56:550:56:58

And that would mark the beginning of a whole new era in our history.

0:56:580:57:03

'Next time, my journey continues...'

0:57:070:57:11

The lesson there is, don't stand still

0:57:110:57:13

if a man on a horse is coming at you with a sword!

0:57:130:57:15

'..as I encounter a whole new age...

0:57:180:57:20

'..of invasion.'

0:57:220:57:24

These beaches were lined with thousands of British warriors

0:57:240:57:27

and, out there, two legions of Roman infantry.

0:57:270:57:31

And at their head - Julius Caesar, Roman general and budding emperor.

0:57:310:57:35

'A time of bloody conflict.'

0:57:370:57:39

These men were executed.

0:57:390:57:42

Their heads were cut off their bodies

0:57:420:57:44

and their heads were stuck on spikes.

0:57:440:57:46

This was what would happen to you if you got in the way of Rome.

0:57:460:57:49

'A moment in our history that would change the face of Britain forever.'

0:57:520:57:57

If you want to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors

0:58:010:58:04

then go to the website:

0:58:040:58:06

..to find out how to connect with ancient Britain, in your area.

0:58:090:58:13

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:220:58:25

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:250:58:28

Continuing his journey into our ancient past, Neil Oliver explores the age of Celtic Britain - a time of warriors, druids, and kings of unimaginable wealth.

Neil encounters a celebrated warrior from 300 BC, owner of the finest Iron Age sword ever discovered. He tries his hand at divination in an effort to discover the power of Celtic priests and searches into his own DNA for clues to Celtic identity.


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