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The Heritage of the Ancient Britons - Farming!

By:Francis Pryor
Date: Wed,12 Dec 2012
Submitter:Paul smith
Views:6285

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Francis Pryor

In the first of a two-part documentary, archaeologist Francis Pryor explores ancient Britain demonstrating how our ancestors were more sophisticated than previously thought. Selected Transcript with minor editing:

Francis Pryor:

''It was in the Stone Age that Britain was to discover something which was to transform life on this island forever. The invention of farming has to be the single most important development in human history. Once people gained control of food production their lives changed beyond recognition. It became possible to settle down and construct fixed societies.

It was an ancient British farming community that I discovered in East Anglia while I was looking at some aerial photos of Flag Fen. I was to discover something very unusual. Two parallel crop marks caused by ancient ditches of some kind. What I was to find here clashed with conventional ideas about the origin of farming.

To explain I must go right back to a time when Britain wasn't even an island.

10,000 years ago and its the end of the Ice Age. As the ice melts sea levels rise, and Britain is becoming an island. Isolated from the rest of Europe. Our isolation persuaded archaeologists that all new developments must have come from abroad.

When I was a student we were taught that farming arrived pretty well fully formed from the eastern Mediterranean and spread across Europe around 5,000 BC. We were running around in skins as hunter gatherers, savages if you like, then suddenly this enormous improvement arrived and people even called it the 'Neolithic' or 'farming revolution'.

But there was no revolution because the origins of farming had been forming in this country for thousands of years. New research now proves that right from the beginning we did things rather differently...

Some 9,000 years ago in the Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire there was a hunting and living site on the edge of a huge post Ice Age lake. Star Carr was inhabited by humans 4,000 years before the Pyramids were build. What was found has made me even more certain that the origins of British farming lay on British soil.

Huge numbers of animal bones have been found here and amongst these dozens of dog bones which are dated to about 7,000 BC, obviously used for hunting. All of which have been identified as domesticated dogs, rather than European wolves.

Archaeologists always believed that these were only used for hunting, to chase and retrieve prey. But I believe they were doing quite a lot more than that. Years of working as a sheep farmer had already convinced me that these prehistoric dogs would have been used, not only to hunt, but also to herd prey, just like sheep dogs do today. The dog bones found at Star Carr prove that the ancient Britons were managing animals 4,000 years before the so-called farming invasion.

Crops, livestock and ideas were introduced into this country from the near east but this wasn't a violent invasion. The people of Britain had been managing animals in their own particular way for thousands of years. It was the remains of their unique farming system which had appeared on those aerial pictures over Flag Fen. What you see from the air is the roots of the crops going down and tapping into the water below the ground. Those ditches, we now realize, went either side of a drove way which is a highly sophisticated form of trackway for moving large numbers of animals from one part of the farm to another.

Today we relay on barbwire and electric fences but the ancient British farmers designed something which did the work of all of this equipment. These ditches must have worked really well because some of them became used for a thousand years!

There are field systems like this right across Britain but they are nowhere to be found on the continent.

It was a truly British invention.''


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