TK Waters has been an adjunct professor of religion at Western Kentucky University for six years. They have a master's degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor's degree in English literature and religious studies from Western Kentucky University.
Stone Age England
When you think of the Stone Age, what comes to mind? Perhaps you're thinking of the Ice Age, cave paintings, or the massive Stonehenge site. The British Isles are the perfect place to look at to talk about these popular features of the Stone Age. The Stone Age, the earliest period of human prehistory, has different time ranges for different parts of the world since it's characterized by the use of stone tools; the transition to bronze tools didn't happen at the same time for all civilizations. For England, the Stone Age lasted from the beginning of human prehistory, though people probably only started permanently settling here around 12,000 BCE, until about 2,500 BCE or so when people started making tools from bronze.
The Ice Age
The Ice Age, of course, impacted most of the world, but had perhaps an even greater impact on the British Isles. The Ice Age lasted for thousands of years, completely covering much of Britain and mainland Europe in ice. The British Isles were not separate islands at this point and were connected to mainland Europe by a land bridge. But, when the ice melted over a long period of time after the end of the Ice Age around 12,000 BCE, the land bridge was gradually submerged by water, creating the British Isles we know today.
Late Ice Age people in England were not much different from those in mainland Europe; they probably lived in caves, made clothes from leather, and even painted in caves. In the Creswell Crags, archaeologists have discovered some of the most detailed cave paintings of the Ice Age, covering the walls and ceiling of the caves. Like most cave paintings, it's unclear what the intention of the art was, but it could have been for religious and ritual purposes or perhaps just as a form of self-expression.
The Neolithic Age, the last period of the Stone Age, saw a major change in lifestyle for Stone Age people. In England in particular, the Neolithic Age saw the development of sites that you might recognize today. Local Neolithic people enjoyed a much warmer environment than the earlier people, and so they eventually began growing crops and raising animals. People no longer lived in caves or even the straw huts of earlier periods, but began to build more permanent houses.
Neolithic England is probably most famous for its many stone monuments, such as Stonehenge. Stonehenge is just one of many British henges, or large circles of pieces of stone or wood built on or within a circular ditch, though it's probably the most famous. Henges may have been used for religious or astronomical purposes, and were often made from megaliths, or huge stones. Some of the megaliths in Stonehenge weigh up to 25 tons!
Henges were not the only sites of Neolithic England. These Stone Age people also built chambered tombs, or passage tombs, to bury their dead. These tombs were often made in the shape of a cross and were built mostly with stone. They were also often covered with earthen mounds, which we call barrows. As such, many of them still stand today. The longest of these is the East Kennett Long Barrow, which is as long as a football field and about two stories tall!
Stone Age England was impacted greatly by the Ice Age, which split the British Isles that we know today off from mainland Europe. Stone Age people in England created elaborate cave paintings, as evidenced by the Creswell Crags. The Neolithic Age saw the building of a variety of different types of architecture, including the possibly religious henges that were often made from megaliths, and the long passage tombs covered in earth, called barrows, that were used for burial purposes. Many still stand today, such as the East Kennett Long Barrow, which is the longest of these barrows.
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