Archaeological Periods

An Overview of the Ages of History

Periods of Prehistory

Palaeolithic - Old Stone Age

The period of the emergence of primitive man and the manufacture of unpolished chipped stone tools, about 2.5 to 3 million years ago until about 12,000 B.C.

  1. Lower Palaeolithic - Began c. 3 million years ago and ended about 70,000 B.C. upon the emergence of Neanderthal Man.
  2. Middle Palaeolithic - Lasted between 70,000 and 40,000 B.C.; also known as the Mousterian period.
  3. Upper Palaeolithic - Began around 40,000 B.C. and ended, in Europe, around 12,000 B.C. with the emergence of Modern Man.
"stone 1. the hard compact nonmetallic material of which rocks are made. 2. a small lump of rock; pebble. ... 4. a. a piece of rock designed or shaped for some particular purpose. ... [Old English stan; related to Old Saxon sten, German stein, Old Norse steinn, Gothic stains, Greek stion pebble]"

Mesolithic - Middle Stone Age

This period started c. 12,000 B.C. and ended, in Europe, about 3,000 B.C. The period is characterised by the first appearance of microliths, small flint tools which were part of a composite weapon, such as an arrowhead, a knife blade, or a spear-head.

"flint 1. an impure opaque microcrystalline greyish-black form of quartz that occurs in chalk. It produces sparks when struck with steel and is used in the manufacture of pottery, flint glass, and road-construction materials Formula: SiO2; 2. any piece of flint, esp. one used as a primitive tool or for striking fire. ... [Old English; related to Old High German flins, Old Swedish flinta splinter of stone, Latin splendere to shine]"

Neolithic - New Stone Age

The cultural period that lasted in south-west Asia from about 9,000 to 6,000 B.C. and in Europe from about 4,000 to 2,400 B.C., characterized by primitive crop growing and stock rearing and the use of polished stone and flint tools and weapons.

"monolith 1. a large block of stone or anything that resembles one in appearance, intractability, etc. 2. a statue, obelisk, column, etc., cut from one block of stone. ... [C19: via French from Greek monolithos made from a single stone]"

Bronze Age

A technological stage between the Stone and Iron Ages, beginning in the Middle East about 4,500 B.C. and lasting in Britain from about 2,000 to 500 B.C., during which weapons and tools were made of bronze and there was intensive trading.

"Bronze 1. a. any hard water-resistant alloy consisting of copper and smaller proportions of tin and sometimes zinc and lead. ... [C18: from French, from Italian bronzo, perhaps ultimately from Latin Brundisium Brindisi, famed for its bronze]"

Iron Age

The period following the Bronze Age characterized by the extremely rapid spread of iron tools and weapons, which began in the Middle East around 1,100 B.C., reaching Britain by 500 B.C.

"iron 1. a. a malleable ductile silvery-white ferromagnetic metallic element occurring principally in haematite and magnetite. It is widely used for structural and engineering purposes. ... Symbol: Fe; atomic no.: 26; atomic wt.: 55.847; valency: 2, 3, 4 or 6; relative density: 7.874; melting pt.: 1535°C. ... [Old Elglish iren; related to Old High German isan, Old Norse jarn; compare Old Irish iarn]"
Above quotes from The Collins English Dictionary

The Periods of History

The Roman Period

In Britain lasted from the time of the A.D. 43 Claudian invasion, and formally ended A.D. 410 when emperor Honorius informed Britannia that she 'must look to her own defences'.

"The civilisation of Roman Britain was a synthesis of things Roman and Native. Though it owed an incalculable debt to introductions from abroad and its preponderating element was imported from the civilisation of the Mediterranean, this civilisation took root in the land of the Britons and enjoyed a native contribution: 'Romano-British' is a term not wholly synonymous with 'Roman'. Britain formed part of the Roman Empire for close on 400 years, a not inconsiderable slice of her total recorded history; and during this time there was ample opportunity for interaction and development. ..."
Opening passage from Britannia by Shepperd Sunderland Frere

The Dark Ages or 'Arthurian' Age

The period between the withdrawal of the Roman occupation army at the start of the 5th century and the eventual wholesale colonisation by the Anglo-Saxons in the 7th, has long been known as 'The Dark Ages'. This is primarily because of the dearth of contemporary written material, also due to the fact that for most of this period the British Isles was beset by foreign armies. It was during this time that the legendary King Arthur was reputed to have lived, based somewhere in the south-west of England where he organised the last stand of the Britons against the Anglo-Saxon invaders at the battle of Badon Hill.

"ARTHUR ... When Uther dies of poison the fifteen-year-old Arthur becomes king. The gallant youth, who like his father has a golden dragon as his device, inflicts a series of decisive defeats on the Saxons. With his shield Pridwen, which bears an image of the Virgin Mary, and his sword Excalibur, forged on the Isle of Avalon, Arthur is an invincible warrior. After defeating the Saxons he succeeds in subjugating also the Picts, Scots and Irish. ..."
Extract from A Dictionary of Medieval Heroes by Gerritsen and van Melle, translated by Guest

Anglo-Saxon England

The original Anglo-Saxon tribes were the Angles, a people from north-west Germany, the Saxons from Saxony, and the Jutes from Jutland. They were to conduct a series of raids during the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., followed by the invasion and settlement of all of lowland Britain, excepting Wales, Cornwall and north-east England during the 7th and 8th centuries.

"A.D. 617. This year was Ethelfrith, king of the Northumbrians, slain by Redwald, king of the East-Angles ; and Edwing, the son of Ella, having succeeded to the kingdom, subdued all Britain, except the men of Kent alone, and drove out the Ethelings, the sons of Ethelfrith, namely, Enfrid, Oswald, Oswy, Oslac, Oswood, Oslaf, and Offa."
Above quote from The Saxon Chronicle translated by the Reverend J. Ingram

The Danelaw

The north-eastern coastal areas of Britain were troubled with raiders from the Scandinavian countries from the late 8th century to the latter half of the 11th. The northern, central and eastern parts of England were subject to the rule of the Viking invaders; Danish law was enforced, Scandinavian tradition and custom was observed and heathen religious festivals were prevalent. The ruling dynasty in England during the Danelaw stemmed from the royal house of Sweden.

"A.D. 833. This year fought king Egbert with thirty-five pirates at Charmouth, where a great slaughter was made, and the Danes remained masters of the field. Two bishops, Hereferth and Wigen, and two aldermen, Dudda and Osmod, died the same year."
Above quote from The Saxon Chronicle translated by the Reverend J. Ingram

The Bloody Normans

This is the first period for which we know the exact date of commencement, that being recorded in the Saxon Chronicle as April 1066, when the Saxon king Harold died valiantly at Hastings, or more precisely, some nine miles north-east of the port, at Battle, close to the spot where William the Conqueror was later to build his great Abbey:

"A.D. 1066. ... Meantime earl William came up from Normandy into Pevensey on the eve of St. Michael's mass ; and soon after his landing was effected, they constructed a castle at the port of Hastings. This was then told to king Harold ; and he gathered a large force, and came to meet him at the estuary of Appledore. William, however, came against him unawares, ere his army was collected ; but the king, nevertheless, very hardly encountered him with the men that would support him : and there was a great slaughter made on either side. There was slain king Harold, and Leofwin his brother, and earl Girth his brother, with many good men : and the Frenchmen gained the field of battle, as God granted them for the sins of the nation. ..."
Above quote from The Saxon Chronicle translated by the Reverend J. Ingram