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Prehistoric and Stone Age Shropshire (BC 100,000 to BC 2,000)
Welcome to the summary of the Prehistoric period in Shropshire.
Prehistory is often used to refer to the period in time before written historic records became available. Because of a lack of written records archaeologists rely heavily on palaeontology, astronomy, biology, geology, anthropology and archaeology to provide information about the period.
It is the first stage of what archaeologists refer to as the ‘3-age system’, which incorporates the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. In reality the change from one period to the next would have been gradual but archaeologists give them a more defined timeframe for convenience.
The period of history from 100,000 BC to 2,000 BC is often referred to as the Stone Age, this is because the primary material for tools and weapons was stone that could be worked into different objects. The Stone Age is further subdivided into the Palaeolithic 100,000 – 10,000 BC), Mesolithic (10,000 – 4,000 BC) and Neolithic (4,000 – 2,000 BC) periods.
The Palaeolithic (or ‘Old Stone Age') was the first period in the development of human technology of the Stone Age.
The people of the late Paleolithic
In general, late Paleolithic people were hunter/scavengers and food gatherers. They seem to have organized themselves around (more or less temporary) natural leaders (and followers) rather than establishing a more permanent "government".
The Mesolithic (or ‘Middle Stone Age) is characterized by small composite flint tools. Mesolithic cultures represent a wide variety of hunting, fishing, and food gathering techniques.
The Neolithic (or ‘New Stone Age’) was a period in human development that is traditionally the last stage of the Stone Age. It can be defined as the time when people took up agriculture as a way of life, and stopped being nomadic hunter-gatherers. It begins with the start of farming and ends when the use of metal tools became widespread in Britain leading into the Bronze Age.
Use of technology
The Stone Age encompasses the first widespread use of technology in human evolution and the movement of man around the world. Towards the end of the period we have the development of agriculture, the domestication of some animals and the smelting of copper ore to produce metal.
The Geology of Shropshire
In terms of Geology, Shropshire has some of the oldest rock formations in the country with Pre-Cambrian Sandstones that were formed 667,000,000 to 545,000,000 years ago. The Long Mynd, Wrekin and Caer Caradoc hills all sit upon this rock group.
Glaciation has perhaps had the most significant effect on the natural landscape. Shropshire was subjected to repeated glaciation during the course of its history. During the last Ice Age, ice sheets up to 300 metres thick in places covered the county until about 20,000 years ago.
Prior to the last Ice Age, the River Severn flowed northwards to the River Dee estuary. When the Ice Age arrived the water stopped flowing and when the ice retreated the meltwater was trapped and formed a series of large lakes, which eventually merged to form Lake Lapworth. Lake Lapworth no longer exists but it would have been in present day Leicestershire. This lake overflowed to the south east and the water carved out the Ironbridge Gorge and this became the present course of the River Severn.
Animals in Prehistoric Shropshire
We are lucky to have evidence of animal activity in prehistoric Shropshire in the form of the skeletons of one adult and three juvenile mammoths. These remains were discovered during excavation work at a Quarry in Condover, near Shrewsbury, in 1986. They are amongst the most complete mammoths ever found in Britain and also the youngest at ‘only’ 12,700 years old.
At the time when the mammoths were present in Shropshire the last cold period of the ice age was ending and the ice sheets that had once covered the county were retreating. The mammoths would have been perfectly adapted to take advantage of the newly uncovered low vegetation. It is likely that the mammoths died after becoming trapped in a peat bog – the environmental conditions of which aided the preservation of the skeletons.
The bones were all carefully removed from the quarry and preserved and a full sized replica of the adult mammoth can be seen on display at Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre in Craven Arms. The bones of the mammoths are held by Ludlow Museum and Resource Centre.
Prehistoric man in Shropshire
Among the earliest remains of Man’s activities in Shropshire are flint scrapers and other implements, made out of local pebble flint, that occur primarily in the parishes of Worfield, Claverley and Alveley, along the South East border of the county. These flint pieces date from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age: 10,000 – 4,000BC).
Flint tools and a stone axe have also been found within the vicinity of Old Oswestry Iron Age hillfort, suggesting Neolithic activity (4,000 BC – 2,300 BC).
Shrewsbury Museums Service has several examples of flint and stone axe heads dating to the Neolithic period. These axe heads can take various forms and would have been attached to wooden handles, which do not survive today. The stone axe head could have been lashed onto the handle or had a hole for the wood to be wedged into (perforated) and some handles had splits in the wood for the axe head to fit into.
One of the earliest known settlement sites is the Roveries hillfort in South West Shropshire, where excavations have revealed activity dating back to the Neolithic period. This evidence included a hearth area and several fragments of pottery. This would suggest that the area was inhabited some 2,000 years before the Iron Age hillfort was constructed. Grinshill, to the North of Shrewsbury, has yielded flint microliths, which would indicate human activity within the Mesolithic to Neolithic (7,000 – 2,000 BC) period. Given that there is virtually no flint elsewhere in Shropshire this would suggest interaction and possible trading with other areas of the country.
The only part of Shropshire to have been above the level of the ice sheet, were the rocks of the Stiperstones Ridge in South Shropshire. The rest of the county owes much of its appearance to the freezing and melting ice and later communities have utilised the formations left by the retreating ice sheets.
The Berth, an Iron Age settlement to the North of Shrewsbury, uses a glacial lake and mound for its defences and Old Oswestry hillfort was constructed upon a glacial mound.
In terms of burial the prehistoric period is noted for multiple burials in stone chambers and long barrows. A few prehistoric burial sites have been found around Shropshire. A Bowl Barrow has been found at Bedstone in the Clun Valley to the south west of Shropshire, which dates from the late Neolithic period (4,000 – 2,300 BC). Bowl barrows are usually monuments constructed as earthen or rubble mounds. The one at Bedstone is roughly 30m in diameter and would have once had a surrounding ditch which has since been filled in.
A round barrow in Morton Say parish, in north Shropshire, has been identified as a Late Neolithic/Bronze Age funerary monument. It is roughly 18m in diameter and would have had a ditch.
In Petton Park, to the north of Shrewsbury, is a feature that has been identified as numerous things, one of which is a late Neolithic/Bronze Age barrow.
There is evidence for human activity of the Neolithic period in the region around Clun and perhaps even earlier. In particular, archaeologists have discovered over 1,000 flint tools and weapons from the region, dating to between the Neolithic and Bronze Age (4000 B.C. – 700 B.C.). An impressive display of these flint tools can be seen at the Clun Museum.
Near to Clun, in the south west of Shropshire is Caer Din Ring, an enclosure surrounded by a single earthen bank, also thought to date to the Neolithic period. The enclosure is quite large and is thought to relate to farming practices, possibly as a compound for keeping livestock. (Image of Caer Din Ring)
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The more southerly of the barrows known as Robin Hood's Butts, this is a fine example of a bell barrow (a type of burial mound mostly dated to the early - middle Bronze Age), and is the only barrow of this type on the Long Mynd.
Caer Caradoc large multivallate hillfort, associated causeway and Caractacus' Cave on the summit of Caer Caradoc Hill
One of Shropshire's most dramatic Iron Age hillforts, Caer Caradoc is a fine example of a type - large in size and with multiple ramparts - which is rare nationally. It forms part of a significant concentration of large hillforts in the Marches.
Despite later intrusion by an ice house, this is still a good example of a burial mound of probable Bronze Age date. The site has also previously been interpreted as a Norman motte (earthwork castle).
A well-preserved burial mound of probable Bronze Age date, one of the largest surviving examples in an area where most similar monuments have been ploughed out.
A fine example of a nationally rare type of hillfort (relatively small, with multiple ramparts) found mostly in the Marches and generally regarded as permanently occupied high status Iron Age settlements.
Caer-Din Ring: a small enclosed Iron Age or Romano-British settlement, an adjacent ancient field boundary, round barrow and cultivation remains
A fine and well-preserved example of a small enclosed settlement of Iron Age or Romano-British origin, of particular interest because of its association with a probably contemporary field boundary and holloway, and an earlier (Bronze Age) round barrow.
Round barrow 1100 yds (1000m) North of Bedstone, Hopton Castle
This site represents: a lynchet of probable Iron Age to medieval date, a field system of probable Iron Age date.
This site represents: a findspot of neolithic date.
Scheduled Monument: A fine and well-preserved example of a small enclosed settlement of Iron Age or Romano-British origin, of particular interest because of its association with a probably contemporary field boundary and holloway, and an earlier (Bronze A