Once upon a time, so long ago that we
cannot say how many thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years,
all this country of ours and Europe itself was covered with snow and
ice, and we call that the first Ice Age.
Then for thousands of years it grew warmer, and that was the time when
the first Englishmen lived. Some of his bones were found in a Sussex
gravel pit only a few years ago. What a jaw he had ! heavy enough to
crunch the strongest bone, and eye teeth like tusks, that interlocked
and could tear and eat his food.
He could not stand up very straight, and his walk was shambling. He had
the thickest skull, twice as thick as yours, just the skull for a
fight, and he could only speak in a kind of growl.
But he made the first tools and weapons that the world has ever seen;
they were the ancestors of knightly swords and Sheffield knives, of all
the chisels and steel hammers and machines of modern days. You can see
some of his tools in the Central
, up the main staircase -- Eoliths they are called, which
[pg. 6] means Dawn-stones, just as the Sussex man can be called the
Dawn man -- the man at the dawn of history.
The tools are not very delicate; but that “hand-axe” of his, a
pear-shaped lump of flint about six inches long, could give a terrible
blow when he grasped it in his big fist, and put out all the power of
his brawny arm. It is a rough flint-stone that he had chosen as of the
right shape to hold, and he had chipped away the sharp end by blows
with another stone till it had a sharp edge as well as a point.
At any rate, whatever the tools were like, they were all that the
makers and users had to protect themselves from the wild animals around
them -- and such wild animals!
Think of them: herds of hippopotami snorting and splashing in the great
rivers, huge southern mammoths (bigger than the elephants in our Zoo);
in the forests, deer seven feet high with antlers ten feet across; hers
of little wild horses; and, worst of all, Sabretooth, the great tiger
and terror of the night. (The British Museum had to put all its animal
specimens in its Natural History building at South Kensington, so that
is where you must go if you want to know more about these beasts of
Even with his fist-axe, the “Dawn man” would have been afraid to meet
the bigger beasts, and from Sabretooth he would run for his life.
Perhaps he might sometimes find a mammoth who had fallen over a cliff;
then he would get a mammoth bone to use. Perhaps, too, he might catch a
fallen deer or bison and gnaw its flesh for food. Otherwise he lived
upon [pg. 7] fruit and such small animals as he could manage to catch
Note another flint tool or two -- one with a shape somewhat like a
crescent moon, and another with a fine point that would make a hole.
With the first he could scrape the skin from a dead wolf, and with the
sharp borer he could pierce it. Then he could hang it up to dry in the
sun, and so make the first dawn-lady’s dress.
Hundreds of thousands of years passed, during which there were the
second and third Ice Ages, with warm ages in between, and during the
third warm spell some man began to think that it was a wearisome
business hunting for flints of the exact shape he wanted; he would take
the first flint the picked up and shape it himself. So with a good hard
round stone he knapped away at his flint till he got the point or edge
that he wanted. A great heap of these well-shaped flints were found a
Chelles in France, so whenever any are found in Chelles or England, or
anywhere else, they are called the Chellean or Chelles tools. Look for
this name on the labels.
Towards the end of that same warm period, some different men appeared
-- perhaps from across the land-bridge from Africa. They had new ideas
about flint tools, and make them more beautiful than those made by the
Men of Chelles. They, too, are found in many places, but the first
place where they were found in plenty was at St. Acheul on the Somme,
so we call them Acheulian flints. You can see some of their work in
many of the cases. [pg. 8]
But there was a more wonderful thing done by the Acheulian men than
improving his flints. Think of the flint-knapper at work on his flint,
and one day letting a spark from his flint fall on a bit of dead leaf
or wood, and then, instead of fleeing in terror as his friends did
whenever a fire was kindled by nature, he suddenly felt it as a
pleasant thing to warm his hands. In fact, he made the very first
What a wonderful thing it was, too, to frighten away the terrible wild
beasts! The men put fires round their open camp at night and did not
mind the cold and wet (it was getting colder and colder as the fourth
Ice Age approached) so long as they could be safe from Sabretooth and
his friends. And it was not long before the Acheulian women found that
the meat of the hunters tasted better after a good toasting. So they
were the first cooks.
Many of the things you have looked at up to now have been in the cases
labelled “River Drift,” because they have been found in the gravel beds
on the sides of old river valleys when the face of the land was quite
different from what it is now.
Change is always going on in this world of ours; sometimes suddenly as
by an earthquake or a tidal wave; but more generally very slowly, as is
shown in the changing of a coast-line; think of this as you draw your
maps. You may have seen how the chalk cliffs have fallen at Ramsgate,
or how the earthy ones have been washed away at Dunwich, between two
visits, or you may have noticed how a river shifts its [pg. 9] bed,
ever so little, year by year, leaving gravel and stones high and dry
that it used to flow over.
So, too, during all these hundred thousand years or more that we have
been talking about, the bit of Western Europe has risen and fallen. It
was high during the Dawn men’s time; there was no channel between
Africa, and what we now call Spain, nor between France and England. The
Somme, which we knew so well in the war, was a great river flowing down
between the dense forests of the valley which is now the English
Channel, and emptying itself far west of Land’s End.
The Rhine did not find the sea till it left the land which joined
Scotland to Denmark; there was no “North Sea” as we understand it, and
the Thames, then so wide that its waters would have their north bank at
Highbury and south bank at Clapham, joined the Rhine and went
northwards too. The gravel beds tell us about Father Thames’ early
greatness, and the flint tools in them tell us of the Men of Dawn, or
of Chelles, or of St. Acheul, who were there to see it.
When the cold Ice Age came it is easy to see how the warmth-loving
southern beasts like mammoth and the hippopotamus were able to wander
across the Channel valley through France and Spain to find a sunnier
place; and their place was taken by strange beasts from the north with
heavy coats of hair like the musk-ox, the reindeer, the woolly mammoth,
and his companion the woolly rhinoceros.
Here they stopped while the earth sank and the sea [pg. 10] flowed into
the English Channel, and it was a miserable and dreary home in these
parts for thousands of years.
Then when the ice melted and warmer times came, the land rose so that
England was once more joined to the Continent, and the woolly mammoth
and woolly rhinoceros went off north with the musk-ox and the reindeer.
Back came the southern mammoth, the hippopotamus, the bison, and the
wild ox; with a southern rhinoceros, the cave-lion, and the cave-bear.
Changes like this show you why such strange things as the bones of
bears are found in Devonshire, or of reindeer in the Thames.
(b) The Early Cave-Men
You would like to see something that tells us a little about the men
who were the very first to live in homes instead of drifting about from
place to place with no better shelter than some piled-up branches of
trees. It is true that the new homes were only caves, and could not
have been very comfortable, but they were the first step in the
direction of houses, villages, and cities. It was beginning to get very
cold in Europe, and men had to do something or they would have been
frozen to death in the dreadful winter blizzards that started the
fourth Ice Age.
It was a bold man who suggested the caves, for cave-bear, cave-lion,
and hyenas had thought of it first. Why not frighten them out with
burning brands and choke them with the smoke? It must have been [pg.
11] done, for deep down in the floor of the caves we find the bones of
the hyena, and, above that, the tools of man.
These early house builders are found in spots all over Europe and Asia,
and even in South Africa, but there is such a splendid range of caves
in the limestone rock at Le Moustier in France that the men of his time
are generally called Mousterians. His time was very long; he and his
descendants seem to have lived on for twenty thousand years or so.
Only the other day a bit of the skull of one of these Mousterians was
found deep down below the foundation of the new Lloyds’ building in
Leadenhall Street, so he was the first Londoner that we know.
He could sit in his cave knapping flints, and you can see, in what are
called the “cave-period” cases, that he was finding an easier way of
getting his flint tools. Instead of chipping down a big nodule --
working down the tool out of the lumps -- he could strike off a big
flake, and then shape the flake -- a much easier job. And perhaps it
was while he was flint-knapping that he began to think of what happened
to his companions lying still and motionless. Surly the hunter went on
So he must be laid out on his side with his knees bent and with a hand
behind his head, which should rest on a pillow of little flint chips.
Then he has a flint axe and a good supply of other tools, and near his
head, where he can get it easily, they put a well-roasted joint of
bison meat. Anyway, these Mousterians were the first men to whom burial
rites and [pg. 12] gifts were given. And those burial gifts help us to
know more about those past ages.
From the moment men began to live in caves, they left their traces in a
much more compact form. Like the animals who were there before them,
they dropped their gnawed bones on the floor; other things too. Then
during tens of thousands of years all sorts of changes happened, and
earth and sand and other deposits were piled up and up.
So, nowadays, explorers of the past must dig down deep to find all that
The first inhabitants of a cave naturally left their remains the
deepest down; in one case it was the hyena who left his gnawed bones --
he seems to have preferred rhinoceros; next to that, the baby elephant
left his milk teeth; you may see them in the Natural History Museum, in
the case of things from Kent’s Cavern, near Torquay. A man living there
(in one cave his favourite food was hare) went out one day never to
return, and left his hare bones and his chipped flints behind him.
The state in which most of these things are found, sealed up, as it
were, in hard brown mud or earth, can be seen in the pieces of
“breccia,” as it is called, shown in the cases in the gallery, and
there is also a large block from a French cave in a table-case near the
centre of the room; in it you can see very plainly the bits of bone and
flints. On the tope of this “breccia,” in some caves, there is a thick
layer of sand deposited by the floods, showing that for a long time in
the caves there was no growling of beasts, no voice of man, only [pg.
13] the quiet swish-swishing of the water, or the droppings from the
roof. Presently the cave became drier, and perhaps some wooly bears and
their cubs used it for a home, or even a tiger -- a tiger of the
saber-toothed -- made it his lair.
Then came another pause in the life of the cave, and more mould and
sand laid down, and then perhaps a layer of earth containing better
made and more varied implements belonging to man.
Caves may be all very well to play in now, but they were very wet and
draughty for our Mousterian ancestors, so they got rheumatism and
toothache. And think of the smell from all the bones they picked and
threw down, with any bits of boiled mammoth or bison marrow they did
not quite fancy! They could not grow any stronger or healthier in damp,
smelly caves, although they managed to live all through that terrible
So it is not to be wondered at that when some splendid hunting men came
over the land-bridge at Gibraltar, six feet tall or more, and with
better weapons, the Mousterians gave way before them. Bit by bit the
tall handsome Aurignacians, as we call them, raided the homes of the
stumpy Mousterians, and took possession. But they seem to have lived
much more in the open air (a warmer time was making things better), and
sheltered only in the caves in winter.
Some of the open-air camps of that same time, or perhaps a little
later, tell tales of mighty eating when clearing away was such an easy
business. All that they had to do was to sling the bones behind them;
[pg. 14] and so they did till, at the camp of Salutré, the bones
covered acres of ground, and were ten feet high. Their favourite food
was horse. How many do you think they ate? A hundred thousand! Think of
the hundred thousand wild horses going down the gullets of the
Salutrean hunters, and the Aurignacian before them. Plenty of reindeer,
too, and a mammoth now and then, or a cave-bear and a few wild deer, to
say nothing of antelopes, badgers, marmots, and hares.
The Aurignacians used to employ themselves sometimes in the winter in
drawing animals on the wall of their caves, but the men of
Salutré spent more time over their weapons. Beautiful weapons
they made of fine flakes of flint, pruned off by using a piece of bone
instead of hammering it with a stone.
In fact, they kept a few clever flint workers as professionals, and
when any great hunter was to be buried, they buried with him the finest
tool the knapper could make -- perhaps a delicate, transparent dagger,
a foot long if they could get it.
Go up the iron staircase to see the foreign flints for these.
A few thousand years later the cave-men began to make many more and
much cleverer drawings on the walls. They could see what the drawings
were like that the tall Aurignacians left behind them, for they could
burn some dried moss in bison fat in a funny little stone lamp, and go
right into the darkest corner of their cavern. You can see lamps of
this kind in the table-case. One is made of chalk.
Some most interesting caves where these people [pg. 15] lived were
first found a La Madeleine in France, so we often call the people of
that time Magdalenians, wherever they may have lived. Some of their
caves in Southern France and Northern Spain have proved to be regular
picture galleries; some of these have only been discovered since the
There is a narrow winding cave at Font de Garonne where the great
galleries of frescoes, as we may well call them, contain eighty
figures, among them forty-nine bison, fifteen mammoth, four reindeer,
and four horses.
There is another great cave at Combarelles (close to where our old
friends the Mousterians used to live) where the art gallery is 720 feet
long and 6 feet broad, and contains about four hundred drawings of
horses, rhinoceros, mammoth, reindeer, bison, stag, ibex, lion, and
wolf, with just a few pictures of men.
A great many of these caves have been discovered, some quite dangerous
to reach, and there are not many races of the old world who have left
us anything like such a collection of pictures as these Magdalenians of
ten or twelve thousand years ago. It shows us that they knew their
animals very well indeed to be able to draw them so skillfully.
They left their tools on the floor, and even the palette used by the
artist for his paints has often been found, for some of the pictures
are coloured. His paint tube was very simple -- a hollow bone.
He made sketches too -- engravings and carvings -- and in the cave at
Altamira one of his sketches was found -- a deer’s head on a bit of
bone -- to help his [pg. 16] memory when he went into the dark cave to
draw his pictures on the rock.
Why did he draw or paint these pictures? Because he was an artist, and
wanted to make beautiful pictures? No! no time for that. Besides, he
didn’t care a bone splinter whether they were beautiful or not -- so
long as his bison was like a real bison, and his mammoth like a real
mammoth, that was enough for him.
For those Magdalenians had an idea that if they had good pictures of a
bison and speared the picture, then that would help them to spear the
actual bison next day. So they made plenty of pictures to be sure that
they should always have good hunting and a full larder.
This very old belief is known as “sympathetic magic,” and exists among
some people even to-day. Perhaps burning a man in effigy, which has
been done in our own country not so very many years ago, is not so very
far from the belief of the Magdalenians.
These people did not make such fine flint tools as the Salutreans, but
perhaps they thought it was not worth while because they were using
other things like bored reindeer horns. The Magdalenian was beginning
to eat fish, and he found that a harpoon made of reindeer horn was very
handy in the rivers. So you can fancy him going a-fishing every now and
then and his wife making a fried fish meal as a change from the
everyday bison steak.
He began to use bows and arrows too, and if you look at the bits of
bone and reindeer horn in the Upper [pg. 17] Gallery you will see round
holes in them that would just have done -- the big ones to straighten
out the wet wood of a spear or harpoon shaft, and the small ones to
straighten the arrow shafts. Then it was very easy to scrape them
smooth with carved flint scrapes.
Look, too, at the ivory spear-thrower beautifully carved out of mammoth
tusks, in the shape of an ibex head and lip. The Magdalenian who
invented this was a genius, and made hunting much surer. The Esquimaux
to-day use the same thing for throwing their harpoons.
Many years passed by, and the men who lived seemed to become a poorer
set. See their shabby horn harpoons and tiny flint tools in the Upper
Instead of being bold hunters, these Azilians seem to have squatted
round the shores of the seas and lived on shellfish, crabs, and what
other fish they could catch. All round our own coasts we find traces of
them as well as in Scandinavia and in other parts of Europe.
A dreary life they had, but some of them made a rude contrivance of
bits of hewn wood, and floated themselves out on the water to get
bigger fish. Well, we know what came of that, thought the men who build
our great liners to-day are not likely to think of those far-off
Here and there somebody tried to make something better than a cave to
live in -- the first sketch of a house. And some tried to make little
bowls of clay -- in fact, the extra clever men of Campigny actually
[pg. 18] got so far as to make real pots with decorations of zigzag
At any rate that was the end of the Old Stone Age.
(c) Men of the New Stone Age
We have not said much about the Azilian Age. It was a hazy sort of time
in which we see the beginnings, but only foggy beginnings, of the great
advance to come. The Azilians could certainly go fishing from some sort
of floating wood -- at least on calm days -- because they threw the
crab-cases on to their shell-mounds with all their other rubbish, and
we see that the crabs were deep-sea crabs. The Campigny men made huts
covered with a rough kind of thatch and mud -- the Danish Azilians put
up their huts on rafts in the shallow waters -- safer from wolves that
way. They were beginning to find, too, that the wild dog was not so
fierce as other animals -- in fact, almost friendly after they had
thrown him a meaty bone or two.
Those clever Campigny men with their new-found pottery, some of it
actually with handles, were keeping wild barley in it, and hit upon the
idea of grinding it -- there is the first millstone. You will see
plenty of millstones about -- there is one on the floor. Surely it will
not be long now before some one invents bread!
There is one thing that no one quite understands. What did the Azilians
do with all those little painted pebbles you see in the case up the
iron staircase? They are painted with rows of dots, or parallel lines
or zigzags. No one is quite sure about this, but some say [pg. 19] that
perhaps they were totems, and the drawings stood for some supposed
animal ancestor -- a sort of coat-of-arms.
The Azilians seem to have held some sort of sun worship -- at least,
there is a grotto in Germany where a great number of Azilian heads were
buried. The faces were pained with red ochre, and the girls wore
coronets made of shells and teeth. Every one of them faced the setting
sun in the West.
Perhaps it is not to be wondered at that men in those days worshipped
the sun, for think of the tortures of the Ice Age that had gone before,
and the comfort of feeling a gleam of sunshine!
In the Azilians’ days the land-bridge at Gibraltar had been sinking
below the sea, and the waters of the Atlantic had rushed to join those
of the Mediterranean.
A similar thing had happened further north. Whole forests had been
submerged as the English Channel and North Sea were formed, and the
waves broke through the Straits of Dover. After that, whoever came from
the East to our shore had to find something to float on across the
waters, or else stay away. All this was happening when the last Ice Age
had melted away, and the trees and animals were very much as every one
knows them now.
If the little pigmy Azilian had thoughts beyond his food, he may have
listened to a thrush singing in the spring as we do, or watched some
little field-mice peeping through the wild barley.
But the Azilian in his turn passed away ten thousand years ago, and the
next race of people have left [pg. 20] a very good account of
themselves. Not in writing, of course; they know nothing about that;
but in stone.
We call them the men of the New Stone Age, or Neolithic Men, which
means the same thing.
He knew a thing or two, this Neolithic Man. Fifty thousand years before
him, men had chipped weapons out of flint, but he knew a better way of
finishing them -- he had discovered how to polish and grind them.
Look in the table-case and see.
His tools are much better for the job than those in the other cases
that you have looked at. These implements have been found over the
survace of the ground, not buried deep in gravel like the ones of the
Old Stone Age people.
He put handles to them too -- wooden or horn handles, sometimes wedged
into a hole, sometimes tied on by leather thongs. Look at that
queer-looking tool in the case of remains from the Swiss lake-dwellings.
He could do wonderful things with it. He could hoe out the earth on a
spot till he made a big round hole with the earth high up round it;
then with his stone axe he could cut down the trunk of a tree and stick
it in the middle of his hole, and cut smaller branches and bracken to
make a sort of thatch from the middle to the outside. And so he made
himself a better pit-dwelling than his ancestors. And soon the cleverer
ones began to put stones instead of the earth walls, and one very smart
man one day put a big long stone [pg. 21] across two upright stones at
the opening of his hut, and so invented the first doorway. A great deal
came of this.
Look at that curved tool in the wall-case. Clever people have looked at
its edge and the peculiar shine on it, and say that only straw-cutting
could make it look like that. At last we see that corn has been
discovered -- probably barley in our part at first -- though the
Egyptians found and grew wheat in very early times. It is clearly being
deliberately grown, not merely found wild. You can also see in a
wall-case the “quern” where the grain was rubbed or pounded by a stone
to get the flour. Mixed with wild honey and baked among some hot stones
it made hard, sweet biscuits.
Fire has now become easy to make -- bits of pyrites found in the clay
knocked with a flint gave sparks, and a bit of dry bracken soon turned
the sparks into a flame.
But something else has really come to stay. We had a rumour of its
start in Azilian days, but in these Neolithic times it is everywhere --
real pottery made of baked clay and splendidly useful. Ornamental too,
with fine shapes and simple patterns made near the rims with the
finger-nail. You can see some of it in the wall-cases.
Over their hot hearths they dried apples and pears; they found them
wild, as they did also raspberries, blackberries, and walnuts. The
grape, too, in the warmer corners of South-Western Europe.
Put to all these the parsnip and carrot, and you can [pg. 22] see that
a Neolithic dinner is a very different thing from the raw mammoth meal
of the back ages.
Flax they had found too, and were weaving quite useful clothes and
fishing-nets; some bits of them have been found in the peat under some
of the cave-dwellings.
The dog has become a friend of the family by this time. No Neolithic
man went about without his dog. It was perhaps the dog’s sharp nose and
quick feet that first made it possible to start keeping herds of sheep
and goats, cattle, and even pigs. Anyway, it is quite easy to see that
our Neolithic friend was rapidly becoming a man of property.
And then his troubles began.
He had to protect all his possessions against enemies -- the wolf from
the forest, or the man from the next hill who was quite ready to take
his neighbors’ goods whenever he saw the chance.
So we find our Neolithic friends put their huts near together and built
walls round them, and so the village began. And then we may be quite
sure that some of them began to make rules for all to obey, and so laws
All these things, you may think, were enough for our Neolithic
ancestors. But there was something else. You remember on p. 21 we
noticed that some one had put a big stone across two uprights for the
doorway to his hut. That idea was worked on to set up huge monuments --
sometimes the entrances to the burial chambers, which we call the “long
barrows,” sometimes great stone circles like our Stonehenge or Avebury.
Wherever in the world you find these [pg. 23] great stone monuments you
know that they were built by men in the same stage of civilization as
our Neolithic ancestors who worshipped the sun at Stonehenge, and made
the clever dewponds on the Sussex Downs to get water. What a work it
must have been to bring those enormous tones from the place and put
them just where they were wanted! It took many, many men to do it.
Perhaps they helped the stones along over trunks of trees and levered
them up into place with other trunks, but all the same there must have
been a good deal of the
“push-and-pull” method about it.
The Bronze and Early Iron Ages
Somewhere in the East some one in the Neolithic Age picked up some
copper in the earth and found that he could hammer it with one of his
stone tools. Who was the first one to get some tin and copper by
accident into his fire will never be known, but by some such chance as
this an alloy of those two metals was discovered. The result, which we
call bronze, was wonderful stuff. It could be melted and moulded and
hammered, and made wonderful tools. Any man who could get hold of such
a tool was a proud man. It did not break as a flint might; he could,
with great ease, resharpen it, and could do much better work with his
bronze axe than any of his friends could with their flint ones.
Gradually the knowledge of bronze spread westward, and traders brought
a few bronze celts (like those in the table-case) over to this country.
Gradually the use of bronze became more and more general, so that the
round headed men who came over to settle here about 2000 B.C. were
really people of the Bronze Age and scarcely used stone at all. By the
time the Gaels and Celts arrived (during a couple of centuries about
700 B.C.) the people of this country had quite settled down as bronze
users, though, in Egypt, the Bronze Age had come hundreds of years
earlier than that.
You can see in the table-case how the skill of the metal-workers grew.
They found out how to melt and mould the bronze into more and more
Look at the way in which the bronze spear improved from the solid
dagger to the hollow leaf-shaped weapon. It took over one thousand
years to effect these changes.
You see the bucket in the wall-case and the razor in the table-case.
These show that Bronze Age men had begun to shave. They must have used
fat or oil for the job.
But, more interesting still, look in the wall-cases at the bridle-bit,
which shows that the horse had been tamed, and was at least used as a
servant. The bronze rings that you see were put round the wheels of the
chariots that he drew.
Look at the beautiful pottery in the wall-cases. It is still hand-made,
and has many patterns on it -- straight lines and dots and circles. One
is a beaker; it would hold a good long drink, and was found near one of
the burial mounds on the east coast. One was used for holding food,
another held the ashes of the [pg. 25] dead who were burnt by the
Bronze Age people. Perhaps the idea was to bury food, drink, and tools
with the dead for the spirit to use in another world.
Wise people think that with their clever use of metal tools the Bronze
Age men were able to clear big patches of the forest (which they could
not do with stone axes), keep more cattle, and grow bigger fields of
crops. They could live in bigger groups, and the cleverest became a
chief who saw to it that the forts in which they lived were strong
enough to protect them against raids. And that was probably the
beginning of armies and war.
Gradually another metal came into use -- iron, and you must now go to
the Iron Age Gallery
. Not that
bronze was suddenly thrown away, by any means, for we use bronze to
this day (think of the coppers in your purse), though not for
everything as the Bronze Age men did. Some one had found out that the
glistening ore which he saw about could be heated with charcoal and
gave him a metal, and many of the uses and decoration of this new metal
-- iron -- seems to have spread here from a place called La Tène
This metal, while it was still very hot, could be beaten into all sorts
of cunning shapes, though it could not be melted and poured into moulds
like bronze, even though the worker did quicken the fire with goat-skin
bellows. In spite of that, this new metal -- iron -- was better than
bronze in many ways, and the people who used the early iron tools could
do many things that the Bronze Age people could not. [pg. 26]
In the wall-cases you will see plenty of weapons and other things where
both bronze and iron were used. There is a bronze vessel with iron
handles from Salop, and some iron swords in bronze sheaths from the
The Iron Age people were now building better huts for themselves --
often on little islands in lakes or on harder spots in the marshes and
shallow water. They raised these spots and made them more solid by
laying down logs of wood, stones, and clay.
A whole village of such huts has been discovered at Glastonbury in our
own country as in other countries of the world. In one of the
wall-cases there are some millstones and a wooden tub from this
Glastonbury hut village. Queer round huts they were -- the walls about
the height of a man, built of sticks and clay -- wattle and daub as we
call it -- while the roof was thatched in the shape of a bell-tent.
They had a clay floor, with a big stone in the middle; that was the
hearthstone on which they made their fire.
As these huts were in marshy places, they sank, so new floors and
hearthstones had to be put down, and in many places ever so many
hearthstones have been found one above the other -- the lower ones sank
into the peat hundreds of years before the top ones were put there.
Palisades of wood round their little island gave them rough
landing-stages where they could tie up their canoes. They were
beginning to shape their canoes more like the ones we know, and in
their rough boats they went across to the big fields of corn. They [pg.
27] kept horses too, and very likely brought them on rough rafts from
the mainland to live in a round hut stable in the winter.
In the little village there would be busy days; the men making knives,
saws, adzes from the iron which they got from the ore. Then there would
be much wood-cutting. We know, too, that they began to work a kind of
potter’s wheel and to make beautiful round bowls and pots like those
you see in the wall-cases. Also they began to “turn” wood; they made
bowls and barrels by using the first beginnings of a lathe. Wooden
bowls just like them are to be found in any farmhouse to this day.
Useful things from one kind of civilization last on for countless years
of many changes. These Iron Age people wore tartans of bright colours
and made them into kilts; vests and cloaks finished off the men’s
costume, but no one worse any sleeves. The women wore long tunics, and
both wore funny shoes of skin tied round the ankles with thongs of hide.
Their clothes were fastened on with wonderful ornaments (look for
these), beautiful belts, and brooches which some of the men decorated
with lovely red enamel.
You will notice some large rusty hoops of iron in the cases near the
middle of the wall. They have been found in tombs, and show that
important people were sometimes buried in their chariots. There are
many objects from a Gaulish (Keltic) warrior’s chariot burial in one
case, and in another, close by, are objects from a chariot burial in
Yorkshire. This last was a woman’s burial, and there is her mirror --
of iron. [pg. 28]
The Sonte Age men had learnt something vastly important -- to lay out
roads uphill and down dale in a straight line. That was a great thing
-- and on those roads these Iron Age, or late Keltic, people could
travel and exchange their goods, using for money bits of iron as we
might nowadays use silver.
The Iron Age people gave us the earliest money which, in the form of
iron bars, have been found in different lengths all over England. So we
see that trade went on even in those far-off days.
It is not far now to gold coinage and writing, to tribal centres
forming the beginnings of towns, and the capitals of kingdoms.
In fact we are on the threshold of history and of the later Iron Age in
which we now live.
An old traveller named Pytheas came to Britain about the fourth century
B.C. and wrote an account of his travels, which has been used by later
chroniclers, and we get from him glimpses of the life of the Ancient
Britons of his day.
Pytheas was interested in the fine wheat crops of Kent, and the large
barns, and saw the family dwelling-places, and tasted the mead made of
wheat and honey. He may have seen the lake -- or marsh -- dwellings,
somewhat like the Swiss ones, and watched men adorning the pottery with
lines and dots, such as you see in the wall-cases, and admired the
women wearing beautiful amber or jet necklaces like these in the
A writer quoting Pytheas speaks of “a magnificent sacred enclosure and
a remarkable temple of circular [pg. 29] shape”; it is thought that
this may refer to Stonehenge, the model of which stands in the Central Saloon
. As you will see on
the model, it is now thought that this wonderful group of huge stones
was a temple for the worship of the sun, and dates from the seventeenth
Certainly these barrow relics, and the objects in the cases headed
“Late Keltic” on the north side of the Iron
, give life and colour to the times associated with
Druids and mistletoe, with woad painting, and wicker boats. You will
find a model of one of these in the end of a table-case.
In looking at the cases in the Prehistoric
and Iron Age Gallery
you have probably noticed that there are tools, implements, weapons
from all over the world showing that people once lived there in all
these prehistoric stages.
Take the Stone Age, for instance -- certain cases give you examples
found in Great Britain; other cases give you similar things from Italy
and Greece; others again, things from India, from Japan, or from Egypt.
But there were many thousands of years’ difference between the times at
which different parts of the world reached any particular stage.
To take one particular example. By about the thirtieth century B.C. the
Egyptians were so advanced in civilization that they had even invented
the Calendar, and the Babylonians by about 3500 B.C. had invented a
kind of writing.
Although the Greeks at that time were only in the Bronze Age, yet they
were building beautiful cities [pg. 30] soon after the thirtieth
century B.C. The Romans were in the Iron Age by the twelfth century B.C.
But as for us, the inhabitants of these islands at that time were
uncouth savages still only in the Stone Age.
Which of these old civilizations shall we look at first? that of the
Egyptians whose history can be traced back 4000 years before Christ?
the Babylonians and Assyrians, going back nearly as far? that of the
Greeks, the most artistic people who have ever lived? or that of the
Romans, the most powerful nation of ancient times?
The little guide says, “Turn to the left near the entrance.” Let us do
that -- and we find ourselves in the Roman Gallery -- so it is settled
that we take our minds back to the time of the Romans.