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Greatbritain history

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© Lonely Planet Publications
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History
It may be a small island on the edge of Europe, but Britain was never on
the sidelines of history. For thousands of years, invaders and incomers have
arrived, settled and made their mark here. The result is Britain’s fascinating
mix of landscape, culture and language – a dynamic pattern that shaped the
nation and continues to evolve today.
For many visitors, this rich historic legacy is Britain’s main attraction –
everything from Stonehenge to Glen Coe, via Hadrian’s Wall, Canterbury
Cathedral, Caernarfon Castle and the Tower of London – so this History
chapter concentrates on the high-profile events and the historic locations
you’ll see on your travels. Even if you’re no fan of dates and dynasties, we
hope the overview this chapter provides will help you get the most from
your trip.

FIRST ARRIVALS
Stone tools discovered near the town of Lowestoft in Suffolk show that
human habitation in Britain stretches back at least 700,000 years, although
exact dates depend on your definition of ‘human’. As the centuries rolled on,
Ice Ages came and went, sea levels rose and fell, and the island now called
Britain was frequently joined to the European mainland. Hunter-gatherers
crossed the land bridge, moving north as the ice melted and retreating to
warmer climes when the glaciers advanced once again.
Around 4000 BC a group of migrants arrived from Europe that differed
significantly from previous arrivals: instead of hunting and moving on, they
settled in one place and started farming – most notably in open chalky hill
areas such as the South Downs and Salisbury Plain in southern England.
Alongside their fields these early settlers used rocks and turf to build
massive burial mounds, and many of these can still be seen today, including
the West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire (p295), the stone frame of the
cromlech (burial chamber) of Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire (p689), and the
great passage grave at Maes Howe, Orkney (p926).
But perhaps the most enduring, and certainly the most impressive, legacy
left by these nascent Britons are the great stone circles such as Callanish
on Lewis (p915) in Scotland, and – most famous of all – the elaborate and
enigmatic sites of Avebury and Stonehenge in southern England, still clearly
visible today and described on p293 and p290.

IRON & CELTS
Move on a millennium or two, and it’s the Iron Age. The population expanded and began to divide into specific groups or tribes. Across the whole
i...
TIMELINE
4000 BC
Neolithic migrants arrive from Europe. Great stone
circles – Callanish and Stonehenge – built
500 BC
Celts settled in Britain
It may be a small island on the edge of Europe, but Britain was never on
the sidelines of history. For thousands of years, invaders and incomers have
arrived, settled and made their mark here. The result is Britain’s fascinating
mix of landscape, culture and language – a dynamic pattern that shaped the
nation and continues to evolve today.
For many visitors, this rich historic legacy is Britain’s main attraction –
everything from Stonehenge to Glen Coe, via Hadrian’s Wall, Canterbury
Cathedral, Caernarfon Castle and the Tower of London – so this History
chapter concentrates on the high-profile events and the historic locations
you’ll see on your travels. Even if you’re no fan of dates and dynasties, we
hope the overview this chapter provides will help you get the most from
your trip.
FIRST ARRIVALS
Stone tools discovered near the town of Lowestoft in Suffolk show that
human habitation in Britain stretches back at least 700,000 years, although
exact dates depend on your definition of ‘human’. As the centuries rolled on,
Ice Ages came and went, sea levels rose and fell, and the island now called
Britain was frequently joined to the European mainland. Hunter-gatherers
crossed the land bridge, moving north as the ice melted and retreating to
warmer climes when the glaciers advanced once again.
Around 4000 BC a group of migrants arrived from Europe that differed
significantly from previous arrivals: instead of hunting and moving on, they
settled in one place and started farming – most notably in open chalky hill
areas such as the South Downs and Salisbury Plain in southern England.
Alongside their fields these early settlers used rocks and turf to build
massive burial mounds, and many of these can still be seen today, including
the West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire ( p295 ), the stone frame of the
cromlech (burial chamber) of Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire ( p689 ), and the
great passage grave at Maes Howe, Orkney ( p926 ).
But perhaps the most enduring, and certainly the most impressive, legacy
left by these nascent Britons are the great stone circles such as Callanish
on Lewis ( p915 ) in Scotland, and – most famous of all – the elaborate and
enigmatic sites of Avebury and Stonehenge in southern England, still clearly
visible today and described on p293 and p290 .
IRON & CELTS
Move on a millennium or two, and it’s the Iron Age. The population ex-
panded and began to divide into specific groups or tribes. Across the whole
island of Britain the forests were cleared with increasing efficiency as more
land was turned to farming. This led to a patchwork pattern of fields, woods
and small villages that still exists in many parts of rural lowland Britain.
As the population grew, territorial defence became an issue, so the Iron
Age people left another legacy – the great ‘earthwork’ castles of southern
England, stone forts in northern England, and brochs (defensive towers) in
Wales and Scotland.
History
© Lonely Planet Publications
Walks Through Britain’s
History (published by AA)
guides you to castles,
battlefields and hundreds
of other sites with a link
to the past. Take the air.
Breathe in history!
Built around 3000 BC,
Stonehenge is older
than the famous Great
Pyramids of Egypt.
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