The Neolithic British Isles refers to the period of British, Irish and Manx history that spanned from c. 4000 to c. 2,500 BCE. The final part of the Stone Age in the British Isles, it was a part of the greater Neolithic, or “New Stone Age“, across Europe.
Humans first settled down and began farming. They continued to make tools and weapons from flint. Some tools stayed the same from earlier periods in history, such as scrapers for preparing hides.
But the Neolithic also saw the introduction of new stone tool. First there was a movement away from using microliths to make spears and arrows as composite weapons and instead the universal adoption of flint arrow heads.
Neolithic tools were often retouched all over, by pressure flaking, giving a characteristic appearance and were often laboriously polished, again giving them a distinctive look.
Pottery also developed in this period and there are examples of Neolithic Pottery recorded in this collection
Pottery during the Neolithic and early Bronze Age
Pottery was first used in the British Isles during the Neolithic. Pots from this period are found across Britain, all the way from the south of England and up into Scotland. The rapid uptake of pottery across the country at this time may be due to people beginning to settle, and move around their area less than they used to. The earliest known pottery was simple in style, largely without decoration or simply decorated, and with rounded bases. These pots are referred to as carinated bowls, developed bowls, baggy pots and decorated wares. Despite its widespread distribution across Britain, early Neolithic pottery is comparatively rare in the north East of England. One reason may be that people in north east England were living more mobile lives than people elsewhere in Britain. Alternatively, it may be that archaeological investigation has not been conducted to the same degree as in the rest of Britain.
During the middle and later Neolithic period pottery developed and diversified, with a range of decorative techniques and different forms. These are known as Neolithic impressed wares. Impressed wares were decorated with a wide variety of decorative techniques, including whipped cord, twisted cord, bird bones, finger tip and fingernail impression. There is considerable regional variation including Peterborough ware (which, despite its name, is found across England and also elsewhere in Britain and Ireland), and other types included Meldon Bridge and Ford style amongst others. As with earlier Neolithic pottery, impressed ware usually had a rounded base. Ford style pottery is found in the northern part of Northumberland – these vessels are decorated with impressed and incised decoration, particularly twisted cord impressions and short incisions. Another form of impressed ware that occurs in the north east of England is Meldon Bridge ware. Meldon Bridge ware is characterised by large vessels with angular rims and internal bevels, which are often impressed with bird bone and twisted cord decoration. Whilst found principally in the Scottish borders, an example has been found in the city of Durham
During the later Neolithic another pottery type was also in circulation in Britain. Grooved ware. Flat based Grooved ware and impressed wares were believed to be mutually exclusive, with neither found in association with the other. It is possible that Grooved ware developed in northern Scotland and spread southwards, but this isn’t properly understood yet. Grooved ware is characterised by barrel, bucket and flowerpot types decorated with incised and plastic decoration, particularly geometric motifs. Grooved ware does not occur in any significant quantity in north east England.
Whilst the quantity of pottery increased during the later Neolithic, there is still comparatively little pottery found in north east England. However, the quantity increases dramatically at the end of the Neolithic and into the Bronze Age with the arrival of the Beaker pottery tradition.
The arrival of the Beakers overlaps with the later Neolithic pottery, particularly Grooved ware, and Beakers are believed to have originated from continental Europe, although once they became established in Britain they developed an individual style of their own. Characterised by comb-impressed decoration, Beakers accompany a new artefact type in prehistoric Britain, objects made of metal, and were usually associated with ritual sites, for example burials, although they gradually became associated with domestic contexts too. One of the richest Beaker graves in the north east was found at Kirkhaugh in Northumberland, where a burial was found accompanied by a Beaker, gold ear-ring, barbed and tanged flint arrowheads, flint scrapers and a whetstone. It is important to note that local types of pottery did not disappear with the arrival of Beakers; types such as impressed wares and Grooved wares evolved into Bronze Age pottery types such as Food Vessels and Collared Urns.
This prehistoric Knive is beautifully made, small and delicate too
It measures 5.7cm x 1x7cm
Found in Essex, England in 2021
4000 BCE – 2500 BCE