Britain in the Iron Age

The Iron Age in Britain lasted from 800 BC until the time of the Roman conquest, which began in AD 43. However, Iron Age ways of life carried on in most of Scotland and all of Ireland. Iron was first used in this period and replaced bronze for tools such as axes and knives and weapons such as swords and spears. Bronze continued to be used for many other objects, such as jewellery.

Iron Age Britain was essentially rural. There were no towns, factories, large quarries or major roads. Neither were there complex ways of organising society into states or empires. People lived in large communities or tribes, some ruled by chiefs, some not. Money was unknown until the very end of the period. Britain was a land full of farms and small villages, although in some areas people lived in larger settlements or hillforts. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large number of people lived in Britain at this time: at least a million, perhaps several.

The people probably spoke one or more Celtic languages. The tribes had many contacts and much in common with each other, and with similar peoples in other parts of western Europe. It is through these contacts that La Tène or Early Celtic Art spread. However, there is no evidence for the mass migration of people into this country from the Continent at this time, as once was thought to be the case.

Although there were many aspects of life that remained the same, there were also important differences between the peoples living in one part of Britain compared to another. For example, some people buried their dead in cemeteries; other people did not bury their dead at all. Equally, over the 850 years of the Iron Age, aspects of life did change, sometimes dramatically.

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