Evolution of Life on Earth (1/2)

As humans we have been successful in the art of spreading ourselves across the world, from one continent to the next.  We should never forget that the human race started out as animals, and evolved into humans.

Human evolution is a process of change, for we as people originated from our apelike ancestors.  They who walked this land many millions of years ago, and evolved into the human race, we see today.

Humans are primates, who more than likely started out in life, walking on all fours, and some four million years ago found the ability to walk on two legs.

Early humans are believed to have migrated from Africa to Asia, and later into Europe, over the last two million years.

Discoveries of early human fossils and archaeological finds, such as ancient bones, tools and footprints, help us learn about our past.  Like the 44,200-41,500 year old jaw fragment, discovered in Kent’s Cavern in Devon, known to be the earliest human fossil discovered in Britain.

Some 700,000 years ago, the primate… the early human, walked upon this land, we now know as England, and our island was joined to mainland Europe.

Northern Europe and much of England was plunged into a deep Ice Age around 25,000 BC.  Our ancestors were forced out, and headed south to warmer areas.

England became a habitable land between 250,000 and 30,000 years BC, and the Neanderthal man in England was the dominant species of the time.

England was not always an island as it is to-day.  Following periods of glacination, the bed of the North Sea, was known to dry up, and become rolling plains.

Humans are said to have headed south around 27,000 years ago as temperatures plummeted and returned around 15,000 years ago, during the thaw.  Then some 13,000 years ago forced south yet again, and return 1,000 years later.

Prior to the last Ice Age, Britain was connected to Europe by a land mass.  As the ice slowly melted, the ice age was ending, and the oceans would return, and sea levels would rise.  Coastlines would change, with the creation of new water areas; rivers, streams and lakes, when before there was none.

Two significant changes, Britain was no longer part of Europe, the land mass that connected us to Europe, had been replaced by the English Channel.  Britain was no longer joined to Ireland, for we were an island in our own right, separated by the Irish Sea.

The last Ice Age came to an end around 10,000 BC, and nomads a primitive human roamed this land of ours for thousands of years.  These people clothed in animal skins, with spear in hand, trekking across this land, in search of food.  By 4,000 BC this island of ours showed signs of a Neolithic culture inhabiting Britain.

Early man would be in a time of learning as they made tools from bones and rocks.  Tree branches would form a handle, for their early styled weapons; knives, cleavers and mallets.

They would have been afraid in the beginning when lightning struck a tree, seeing it topple over or even catch fire.  They would learn that food left out in the sun, would smell and taste bad after a few days.  Fruit from the trees was sweet to the taste.

As man learnt to light fires, by banging stones together, rubbing wood in a stone hole or rubbing wood together.  They were entering a new world of discovery…

They brought with them heavy pottery vessels, which supplied archaeologist’s information about their lives, for the earth had protected these pots buried in the ground for centuries.

Humans evolved, they learnt other ways to exist, and by 3,500 BC they started to farm the land and feed their family, and so communities settled down, and their lives as wanderer’s slowed down.

One would have to deduce that the change of lifestyle from a wandering hunter – gatherer to that of a farmer, defines the beginning of the New Stone Age or Neolithic times.

They fashioned stone tools, using a process of knapping, which chipped away at the stone, then polished it using water and a shaped rubbing stone.

These Neolithic farmers, bred dogs from wolves, pigs from wild boar, and brought cattle, sheep and goats from Europe.

It is believed that the early farmers of this land would have been Middle Stone Age or Mesolithic people.  They, who travelled across the country over the next 2,000 years, would introduce farming to other parts.

The Neolithic farmers, formerly from the lands of Europe, brought with them wheat and barley seed grains, which had been bred from wild grasses.  Cereals were grown in plots, harvested, and grain stored for a later time.

So what we had in those early times in Britain were two different types of people: The Neolithic farmers gradually settled down, whilst the Mesolithic would move around the country based on the seasons of the year.  They tended to follow the lifestock, birds and fish; their prey.

An interesting piece of early history, Neolithic sites, turned up in areas which were once a Mesolithic settlement.  This practice took place between (5,000 – 4,000 BC).  Then around 3,800 BC, they moved into non exploited areas.

In the Middle Neolithic, large communal tombs known as long barrows or mounds and ceremonial monuments started appearing. 

People from communities gathered together, and socialised, exchanged ceremonial gifts, and acquired fresh lifestock.

These ceremonies, where rituals took place, were an important part of their lifestyle.  They were known to buy significant items like early axe heads, pottery or human skulls.

Some ceremonial monuments in the Middle Neolithic periods are aligned based on the position of the sun during summer or winter solstice.

The long passage of a passage grave, is positioned so the sun on the shortest days shines into the burial chamber.  They were known to provide good acoustics, possibly for theatrical performance of some kind.

From around 3,000 BC huge monuments similar to “Stonehenge” were created by digging a circular ditch surrounded by stones, and entrance is by way of entrances laid out in stones.  Most lie within pre-set ritual landscapes.

Stonehenge consisted of a double circle of bluestones, with a pair of Heel Stones creating an entrance, and other stones in the centre creating a monument.

A large henge was constructed in 3,100 BC, comprising of a ditch, bank and fifty-six Aubrey holes (round pits cut into the chalk with flat bottoms).  They formed a 284 foot diameter circle.

In 2,150 BC, eighty-two bluestones from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales created an unfinished double-circled circle.  Heel Stones were placed at the entrance, plus stones to create a central monument.

In 2,000 BC Sarsen Stones from Marlborough Downs created an outer circle with lintels.  Five Trilithons were placed inside the circle in a horseshoe design.

In 1,500 BC Bluestones were re-arranged in a horseshoe and circle layout, consisting of sixty stones.  An earthwork avenue was built, connecting Stonehenge with the River Avon.

Avebury Henge consisted of three stone circles; one larger as the outer, with two smaller inner circles.

Druids believe Avebury Henge and Stonehenge are connected by an astronomical axis.

They are known to incorporate lunar and solar alignments, as a means of linking physical and social structures within society, with powers of the natural world.

Neolithic designed houses, were rectangular in shape, made from timber, with timber walls of wattle (woven hazel rods) covered with daub (clay, straw and cow dung) with a thatched roof.

The “Bronze Age” started around 2,500 BC when bronzes started appearing in Britain, along with copper and tin.  The only notable changes were seen in burials, when bronze or tin metal work on dagger and axes were discovered in burials with rings, bracelets adorning bodies.

Lifestyles changed little in the “Bronze Age” yet the difference were only noted in burials

Early Bronze Age houses were round in design with a conical roof and a single entrance.

The “Middle Bronze Age” (1,500 – 1,250 BC) saw an important change in burials, moving away from mounds towards cremations where one’s ashes were placed in pottery urns.

These new settlements, consisted of round houses grouped together possibly for defence, as large hoards of spearheads axes and daggers were buried within easy reach.

In the “Late Bronze Age” (1,250 – 800 BC) hoards found in southern Britain contained fancy bronze ornaments; bracelets, rings, pins and swords of a similar design to that of the cavalry cutlass.

The Bronze Age has left us many reminders of the past, but one which stands out proud for all to see, has to be the “Uffington White Horse” believed to have been created in 1,000 BC.

This image is a Geoglyph, which has been cut into the landscape, revealing the white chalk beneath a layer of grass.  The image is that of a horse, based on the fact that the area is known as “Mons Albi Equi (Hill-White-Equine.”

At the beginning of what had been referred to as the “British Iron Age” around 800 – 750BC iron reached Britain from Europe.  It was harder and stronger than bronze, and it revolutionised much of agricultural working practices.

Iron tipped ploughs, could dig up the land more efficiently and quicker.  Iron axes, would de-forest wooded areas quicker.

By 500 BC, the common language spoken by the inhabitants was “Brythonic” and by the Roman era, their language was similar to that of the Gauls.

Skilled craftsmen showed their wares, producing patterned gold jewellery, weapons made of bronze and iron.

Iron Age Britons lived in groups ruled by a chieftain.  As the population grew, wars broke out between different tribal groups, which led to the construction of “Hill Forts.”  By 350 BC these forts had fallen out of favour.

Prior to the Roman invasion, many Germanic-Celtic speaking refugees from the lands of Gaul, who had been displaced by the expansion of the Roman Empire, and settled in Britain. 

In the year 175 BC highly developed pottery making skills appeared in Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex.

The tribes of the South East became Romanised, and were attributed with the creation of early settlements.

The Roman Empire expanded into parts of Northern-Britain, as Rome took interest in Britain.  Was it the large number of refugees from Europe or the large mineral reserves held by Britain?

Most Iron Age settlements were small, the main family and descendants, often enclosed by banks and ditches, but large enough to create a defensive position.  Their buildings were built of a roundhouse design, built out of timber and stone, covered in thatch or turf.  Another type of dwelling, often found on marsh edges and lakes, involved the creation of a man-made island, built of stone and timber, thought to be a form of defence.  Another type of settlement found at that time consisted of a tall tower like structure, surrounded by smaller round houses, more commonly found in the eastern parts of the country.

The Iron Age gave us some of the finest pre-historic metalwork of Britain.  Bronze and goldsmiths produced high quality items, richly decorated with fancy designs and enamelled inlays.  Anything from delicate works of rings, brooches to shields, helmets and swords.

Iron Age, saw much warfare among the Celtic tribes, in this land of ours, requiring the construction of many hill forts.  These Celts were true warriors in every sense of the word, for they fought from horses or wooden chariots, and threw spears and fought with swords, and carried wooden shields.  Some even wore chain mail for added protection.

The Celts were an accomplished race of people, they were much more than farmers, for they could pick up a weapon and fight for their people.  Many of their number were blacksmiths, bronze smiths, carpenters, whilst others worked with leather and made pottery.  They also created elaborate jewellery from gold and precious stones.

They took their art further, by adding artistic designs made from metal, leather and precious stones to their swords, daggers and shields.

Celtic society was organised, based on the part you played within your designated tribe.  At the head would be the King or Chieftain, and next in line, the nobles, followed by the craftsmen, then the farmers and warriors, last in line would be the Celtic slaves.

Trade with European countries, was an important part of everyday life to them.  Copper, tin and iron, along with skins, grain and wool were exported.  In turn they imported fine pottery and quality metal goods.  Celtic currency started out as iron bars, and by 50 BC they had switched to gold coins.

Celtic houses were round in design, with a central pole, with horizontal poles radiating outwards.  Walls made of wattle and daub, with a thatched roof.  They made dyes from plants; weld for yellow, woad for blue and madder for red.

The Druids were the priests of the Celtic people, and played an important part in their lives.  These druids were scholars and advisors to the Celtic Kings, who worshipped more than one God.

These Druids worshipped nature in the truest sense of the word, by bringing man in harmony with nature.  They are responsible for many occult beliefs and religious symbolisms used in the practice of Christianity, Judaism and Wicca.  The number three plays a major part in their practices; tripods and trinities.

During Celtic times, the old tradition of building barrows for the dead was phased out, and replaced with individual graves.  Yet, some parts of tradition still carried on; the practice of burying grave goods with the dead, what was required by him to gain access to the afterlife. (A similar practice to that carried out by the Pharaoh’s in Ancient Egypt).

The Celts were no match for the warriors of Rome, and were defeated by the might of Julius Caesar in 55 BC and again in 54 BC. 

In 43 AD the Romans invaded Britain under Empereor Claudius with Aulus Plautius their supreme leader.  The Romans and Celts faced each other in battle, but resistance to these Roman invaders proved futile.  By 47 AD the Romans had control of Britain from the River Humber to the River Severn.

The Celtic Iceni tribe in East Anglia rebelled against these Roman warriors.  A deal was struck and their King’s retained their position at head of their tribes, and accepted Roman Rule.

Only one leader refused to accept Roman Rule: Queen Boudicca.  For it was upon the death of the Iceni King, the Kingdom was left to his wife Boudicca and Emperor Nero, but Nero wanted it all.  Boudicca was appointed leader by the Celts and led an army of 100,000 warriors, and burned Colchester, St.Albans and London to the ground with no survivors.  Her army met the Romans in battle, and the Celts were defeated… with their leader dead, the Celts were forced into accepting Roman Rule.

Avebury Henge

Avebury Henge monument consists of three stone circles, located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire.  It was erected in 2,600 BC, comprising of one large outer circle, with two smaller stone circles situated inside.  Along with a large circular bank with an internal ditch measuring some 460 yards in diameter.

What is its purpose, a question that has baffled archaeologists for years, but they believe it was more than likely used for some form of rituals or ceremonies.

By the time of the Iron Age, it had been abandoned, yet human evidence existed into the time of the Roman occupation, showing that the Roman’s had used the site.

The outer stone circle of the henge, measures 1,088 feet in diameter, originally constructed with ninety-eight Sarsen stones.  With two large polished stones at the southern entrance.

The northern inner ring stone circle, measures 322 feet in diameter, with a cove of three stones in the middle, with a north-east facing entrance, but when erected probably consisted of twenty-seven stones.

The southern inner ring stone circle, measures 354 feet in diameter, with a single stone some 21 feet in height located centrally, along with an alignment of twenty-nine smaller stones.

Around the central point of the obelisk, small yet rough sarsen stones were positioned in a near rectangular format.  The obelisk stone has long since disappeared.

The Avenue:

The West Kennet Avenue of paired stones leads from the south-eastern henge entrance to Beckhampton Avenue to the western entrance.  Which linked the Avebury Henge with ceremonial sites at Beckhampton and Overton Hill.

The henge, with its imposing boundary to the circle, has no defence purpose, because the ditch and bank are located inside the larger circle.

Being a henge, one has to accept that the positioning of the stone circle are related to astronomical alignments.  The site is more than likely laid out for some form of religious function.

The Druids believe that there was an astronomical axis which connected Avebury Henge to Stonehenge, flanked by West Kennet Long Barrow on the west which symbolised the Mother Goddess and Silbury Hill the symbol of masculinity.

In the 5th century following on from the end of Roman Rule, Anglo-Saxons migrated to Southern Britain, where suggestions have been put forward that they used the site as a defensive site.

During the middle ages, many of the stones were buried or destroyed, as it was believed they had a connection to pagan and devil worshipping.

In the early part of Saxon life in Britain, around AD600, a settlement had been built at the henge; a seme-fortified settlement.

King Athelstan recorded a charter in 939 defining the boundaries of Overton, a parish which laid adjacent to Avebury.

In the 11th century Anglo-Saxon armies fought with Viking raiders at Avebury, and the pre-historic monument at Silbury Hill was fortified creating a defensive position.

In 1114 a Benedictine Priory and Church was built upon the site.

In the latter part of the 12th century, Avebury parish church was enlarged at a time of religious revival.

The Avebury stones, which stood tall for all to see along with nearby barrows were given names relating to the devil, before being toppled:  The Devil’s Chair, The Devil’s Den and The Devil’s Brandirons.

Shortly afterwards the “Black Death Plague” struck the village in 1349, reducing the village’s population, as many died.

In 1541 John Leland; Librarian and Chaplan to King Henry VIII, noted the existence of Avebury and its pre-historic monuments.  William Camden published his guide book to British Antiquities in 1586, but made no mention of Avebury, but his 1610 version made a fleeting remark to it.

John Aubrey Antiquarian rediscovered the Avbrey Henge in 1649, and recorded many drawings of the site.  In 1663, King Charles II visited Avebury Henge.

In the early part of the 18th century, William Stukeley doctor-clergyman and antiquarian studied Avebury Henge between 1719-1724.

The village was growing, and stone was much needed for the houses and the church.  He left a drawing for them to follow, how to break these large boulder stones, formerly part of Avebury Henge Pre-historic Monument.  Burn straw in a large pit to heat the stones, pour cold water on the stones, creating a weakness then split them open with a sledge hammer.

The Avebury Henge became listed as a pre-historic and sacred complex with ceremonial avenues lined with stones.  Silbury Hill the largest known man-made mound, the West Kennet Long Barrow a Neolithic burial chamber. A former stone circle Sanctuary.

Druidic rites held at Avebury are called Gorseddau, where they invoke Awen (a druidic concept of inspiration).  They recite the Druid Prayer by Morganwg and the Druid Vow.

One group of Druids (Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri) hold their rites at Avebury’s pre-historic monument.

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