People in Iron Age Britain

Lindow Man

Skeleton of a woman

Skeleton of a woman

Most of the millions of people who lived in the Iron Age are anonymous. Only in the last 100 years of the period are some of their names known to us from the writings of foreigners or from inscriptions on coins. Even then, we can name only a few individuals, mostly rulers and mostly men.

The Romans called the Iron Age people Britones or Britanni (Britons). The Britons spoke Celtic languages, which probably originally spread to the island through trade and other contacts. There is no evidence of any mass migrations of 'the Celts' into Britain.

Several million people probably lived in Britain at the end of the Iron Age. Most people lived in extended family units. Life expectancy was low. Many died in infancy; those who survived often died before they were 35-40. At the age of 15, one or both of your biological parents was probably dead. Arthritis was common, as were occasional periods of malnutrition, especially vitamin deficiency.

There is little evidence for what people looked like. Iron Age Britons almost never carved or made images of people. Almost no item of clothing from the period has been preserved. Basic clothing probably consisted of woollen or linen shirts and trousers for men, blouses, dresses or skirts for women; both genders wearing cloaks or shawls. Evidence from jewellery and other items shows that personal appearance changed over the centuries and that people from one part of Britain might have looked very different to those from another.

Other views: Skeleton of a woman aged 17-25, Grave 106, Rudston, East Yorks.