Stone Age to Iron Age

Just what does prehistoric mean?

Prehistoric means a time before any written records existed.

We cannot read any records from this time, because there was none written down.

We only know about pre-history because of clues left in the things that archaeologist find.

How do we know this?

Archaeologist, that's people who study things about the past. They dig in the ground or search in caves to find things that tell us more about the past.

They have divided the stone age into three main time periods.

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The Stone Age

The stone age lasted a very long time, Right from the beginning of man three million years ago, to the farmers a few thousand years ago.

It is called the Stone Age because people, at this time, used tools made of stone.

In Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) Britain, the population was only around 5,000 people – small groups, scattered around the country, following herds of wild animals, hunting and gathering for a living. They ate whatever they could get their hands on, but seem to have had seasonal camps – by rivers when the salmon were running, near fruit and nuts at harvest time, and so on.

By the New Stone Age (Neolithic) farming had come to Britain. This was around 4,000BC. Life became more settled – the forest was cleared, cattle, sheep and pigs were kept, and early forms of wheat and barley grown. It was the introduction of metal working, firstly copper and then bronze (around 2,000BC) and then iron that really changed Britain.

By the time Julius Caesar invaded in 55BC the population was perhaps one million, in small villages surrounded by fields, and Britain was a prosperous country. Why else would the Romans have wanted to conquer Britain?

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The Early Stone-Age (palaeolithic)

During this time humans used stone to make tools. These stone tools were used to help people make shelters, clothes and hunt for their food.

The Middle Stone-Age  (mesolithic)

The Middle Stone Age, or Mesolithic, started after the end of the last Ice Age, at around 10,000BC. At this time the glaciers were melting making the sea level rise, and Britain was cut off from the rest of Europe. Forests grew again, and Europe would have been an easier place to live.

The New Stone-Age  (neolithic)

Neolithic Period, also called New Stone Age. During this time there was a great change in how the stone tools were shaped.

This is also the time when people began to farm the land and have domesticated animals. Because they did not have to travel to find their food, then were able to settle and create villages.

Traditionally the arrival of farming is seen as a major and rapid change sometimes called the 'Neolithic revolution'. Today, largely thanks to radiocarbon dates, we can appreciate that the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer was relatively gradual.

We know, for example, that hunters in the Mesolithic 'managed' or tended their quarry. They would make clearings in woodland around sources of drinking water, and probably made efforts to see that the herds of deer and other animals they hunted were not over-exploited.

The switch from managed hunting to pastoral farming was not a big change. The first farmers brought the ancestors of cattle, sheep and goats with them from the continent. Domestic pigs were bred from wild boar, which lived in the woods of Britain.

Neolithic farmers also kept domesticated dogs, which were bred from wolves. It is probable that the earliest domesticated livestock were allowed to wander, maybe tended by a few herders.

Sheep, goats and cattle are fond of leaves and bark, and pigs snuffle around roots. These domestic animals may have played a major role in clearing away the huge areas of dense forest that covered most of lowland Britain. Extract from Dr Francis Pryor - BBC


Stonehenge is one of the world’s most famous monuments. It stands on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, and its giant stones can be seen from miles around.

Stonehenge was built over many hundreds of years. Work began in the late Neolithic Age, around 3000BC. Over the next thousand years, people made many changes to the monument. The last changes were made in the early Bronze Age, around 1500BC.

What did Stone Age man eat?

The early humans had to find their food. They were hunter gatherers. This meant they would gather fruits and edible leaves and hunt for their meat. It wasn't until the Neolithic period that they grew their own food and raised animals to eat.

They would hunt whatever animals they could find. These included; mammoths, deer, rhinos, horses, hares and hyena. They would also hunt seals, seabirds and fish.

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The first people in Britain

The first people in Britain where not our direct ancestors. They were here about 900,000 years ago. These people were called Homo antecessor They made stone tools which they used to cut up the meat of the animals they hunted.

One of the animals they hunted was the woolly mammoth.

A hunt would be carried out by chasing the animal for days until it was exhausted and then they would finally kill it with stones and spears. To kill such a large animal straight away would be almost impossible. This was a very effective method of hunting.

Becoming Human

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Museum of London

Tool making in the stone age

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Stories from the Stone Age

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BBC Bitesize

How did stone age hunter gatherers live?

How did they live

National History Museum

How did stone age hunter gatherers live?

How did they live?



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