800,000 BC to around 8000 BC
Often called the Old Stone Age this was the time when the first humans made the first stone tools. Early humans arrived here about 400,000 years ago but modern people like ourselves probably arrived in England only about 40,000 years ago. The Ice Age climate varied between cold (glacial) periods and warm (interglacial) periods. In Britain today we are in a warm period which started about 12,000 years ago. The climate the first modern people lived in was still very cold at first, with a bleak landscape covered by shrubs, herbs and sedges.
At this time people lived by moving in family groups. They gathered food, firewood and materials for tools, clothes and shelter from the land they travelled. The animals they hunted included wild horse, red deer, arctic hare, reindeer, wild cattle, lynx, and red fox. They used as much as they could from the animals – meat for food, skin for clothes, and bones for marrow and glue. They discovered how to make fire, which kept them warm, cooked their food and frightened away dangerous animals. These people are generally called ‘hunter-gatherers’.
They set up camps on open ground, near rivers on dry gravel soil like the site at Church Lammas, Staines, and sometimes in caves. They would always be close to drinking water, raw materials for making what they needed, or small herds of animals. Some camps were used specially in the summer months and some in the winter, for working bone, animal hides or flint tool making. A main tool was the hand axe, which was used to kill animals, cut meat, clean skins, dig up roots and shape wood. Some of these have been found near Farnham. Microliths (flint points) set in wood handles were used as knives and for piercing and cutting. They also made needles from bone.
We don’t know very much about their society, but they have left behind some clues about their lives. Drawings of horses, cows, and pigs were made in caves. Delicate engravings were made on stones, bones and ivory. Clothes were made from animal skins, and necklaces from shells and animal teeth. There were even musical instruments made from bone, although none have ever been found in Surrey.
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- A large flint axe, 400,000 years old, was found in a gravel terrace formed by the River Wey at Farnham. Modern experiments have confirmed how effective such tools were for butchering animal carcasses.
- A hand axe was found during excavations at Farnham Quarry, probably related to the period around 30,000 BC when the Wey flowed along the Blackwater Valley. Finds of mammoth tusks from the pit are from this time, and date to a period when Neanderthal people were living.
- At Wey Manor Farm, near Addlestone, a flint scatter was recorded during excavations of the site.
- Evidence for a temporary camp was found during an excavation at Church Lammas, Staines. Beautifully worked long flint blades, made around 9000 BC, were also found.
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