|The Famous Stonehenge, dating from around 3100 to 2000 B.C.|
Kinda, Sorta Highlights of British History. Part I covers ancient Britain, sorta.
These few short forays into the history of Britain are not complete, kinda like your wife offering you a sip of her champagne, when what you really need is a Scotch please, and leave the bottle.
Plan on becoming a historian? Skip my thumbnails and head for libraries, museums. Sign up for archeological digs from Southampton to the Orkney Islands. Plan on spending years toiling, unsung and unappreciated. Or, grab that Scotch and read on.
If you’re shallow, impatient and only want to feel smart around people who haven’t yet left the Nevada desert, I’m your guy. I can guarantee you’ll sound positively brilliant at cocktail parties. Others who are very shallow will find you fascinating, or alternatively say things that make you cautiously back away.
“My wife’s cousin went to Britain to have his penis removed. Here, I’ve got photos in my wallet.”
“Britain? Is that near Shreveport? One of my mothers lived in Tampa.”
Ok. Tell those people you have to go floss, while we dive into the rubbish bin of British history.
A quick reference: The Stone Age started about 2 million years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago. The Bronze Age began about 4000 years ago. The Iron Age began about 1200 years ago. Something to Remember: The people and tools and weapons didn’t change in one fell swoop, hence the gaps between when one age kinda stopped and another kinda began. We’re now in the So Smart We’re Stupid Age.
900,000 years ago humans of one form or another migrated in and out of Britain, because until 10,000 B.C. Britain was connected to the continent. Then a mega flood separated Britain and Ireland from the mainland. This was the original Brexit. No written language from the early human periods has survived. For this, students should be forever thankful.
Who were these ancestors who came and went, lived and died and finally disappeared? The oldest was homo antecessor, but many others of whom we know little, called Britain home. Of course you recognize Neanderthals, who lived in Britain for a while, then returned some 20,000 years later, only to disappear again.
Here’s a tidbit: Non-African humans share between 1% and 4% genomes with Neanderthals, which explains a lot. By the way, know why these early humanoids are called Neanderthals. Drop back to 1856, where ancient bones were discovered in Germany’s Neander Valley, which in German is Neandertal, named after Joachim Neander, a preacher.
After the Neanderthals left Britain, eventually other migrations brought in farmers and such. Tribal life took over, but tribes shifted and were overrun and moved out of the way, or moved to another valley, etc. Best guess is there were 27 recognized tribes. Where did they come from? Who were they? Not much known that I’ve read. But they shared Celtic languages spoken across Europe. A good place to start your own excursion into Britain’s ancient past.
But, even if we don’t have written records of Neanderthals or any of the tribes, of course, there are some remnants of written history from explorers who touched the shores of Britain, including one Greek in particular, Pytheas of Marssalia. Marssalia was a Greek colony and the city’s modern name is Marseille. Although his written records have not survived, other sources have preserved what he wrote.
There are also remnants of the Celtic language in Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, Wales, and the Isle of Mann. In some places, such as Ireland, the remnants are pretty large. About 20 % of those in the Republic of Ireland can speak Gaelic.
One thing constantly fascinates me about the earth and it’s populations. Changes. Climate changes. Whole continents shifting. People coming and going and conquering and leaving again. One thing for sure, today is never exactly the same as tomorrow will be.
Before the Romans and even after the Romans conquered the majority of Britain, the island tribes traded with Europe. As a matter of fact, in spite of various Roman campaigns, including Julius Caesar’s invasion of 43 B.C., which marks the beginning of recorded British history, it’s interesting to note that the Romans did not choose to occupy. Some historians say that the Romans refrained from immediate and direct military occupation of Britain because the amount the tribes paid in tribute and taxes to Rome was greater than if the Romans took over.
Here’s another tidbit: Somewhere around 40 A.D., Caligula, the Roman Emperor noted for his vicious and otherwise perverse and demented ways, planned a conquest of Britain. He assembled an army in battle formation facing the English Channel, then ordered them to go to the beach and collect seashells, saying it was the plunder that the ocean owed to Rome and the Palace.
In the next part, we’ll deal more with the Roman occupation, what caused the Romans to withdraw and what happened next.
NOW THE QUIZ:
1. How many tribes were there in Britain during the pre-history days?
Ans: Lots. “I don’t know,” is also a good answer because evidently nobody else does either.
2. Did Neanderthals marry into my family?
Ans: If you have to shave the bottoms of your feet, I'm pretty sure the answer is yes.
3. What did Caligula do for a living?
Ans: It’s pretty hard to say. He collected seashells down by the sea shore.
4. Why was it called the Stone Age?
Ans: I’ll give you two hints: California and Colorado are starting a new Stone Age called the Stoned Age.
5. Is it terribly important to know what happened in Britain in the thousands of years before anyone knew what was happening?
Ans: Yes, but I don’t know why either.