• Microliths
  • Quern Beehive
  • Pocklington Burial
  • Cup-and-ring-rock
  • Cave Bear

Prehistoric Yorkshire

A rich and complex prehistory

In Yorkshire, the earliest evidence of human occupation goes back around 125,000 years, but it is only from around 10,000 BC, at the end of the last Glacial period, that continuous occupation occurred. The intensification of settlement during the Later Bronze Age and Early Iron Age then led to large scale land division notably in the Later Iron Age.

The county's ability to attract human settlement is demonstrated by a wealth of sites and finds, extending from early hunter/gatherer sites to the activities of the first farmers, who left behind their various ceremonial monuments and the wide range of burial evidence.

Yorkshire’s rich and complex archaeological heritage covers all prehistoric periods and landscapes: from the Mesolithic site of Star Carr to the huge Neolithic burial mounds or ‘howes’ of the Wolds, from Bronze Age stone circles, burial cairns and rock art on gritstone Pennine moors to Iron Age chariots on the Wolds, from the pre-glacial Palaeolithic harpoon found in Victoria Cave in the limestone scars above Settle to the unique Neolithic henge complex between the Swale and the Ure at Thornborough.

Palaeolithic

Palaeolithic

The period stretching from the dawn of humanity to the end of the last Ice Age, characterised by the first use of tools, the beginnings of art (cave paintings, decorated objects, jewellery), and ritual (e.g. burial): approximately 1.5 million years ago to 10,000 BC

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Mesolithic

Mesolithic

The period after the end of the last Ice Age when hunting and gathering was the predominant economy in a mobile way of life, which saw the domestication of the dog, the development of the bow and arrow, and the production of small-scale flint tools known as microliths: approximately 10,000-3800 BC

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Neolithic

Neolithic

The period which saw the introduction of farming (the growing of crops and the domestication of animals), the beginnings of permanent settlement, and the construction of major monuments in the landscape such as long barrows and henges: approximately 3800-2500 BC

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Bronze Age

Bronze Age

The period marked by the introduction of the first metal, bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), for both ritual and everyday objects such as axes, and weapons such as spears and swords. Burials (often cremations) were in round barrows and cairns, and distinctive vessels were in use such as Beakers, Food Vessels, and Collared Urns. There is increasing evidence of an expansion in farming and settlement in buildings such as round houses: approximately 2500-750 BC

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Iron Age

Iron Age

The period when iron was used for ritual and everyday objects such as sickles, swords, and horse and chariot trappings, and the construction of hillforts. There is evidence of a rapidly expanding population with major land division on the Wolds, followed by the widespread creation of field systems around settlements: approximately 750 BC-AD 75

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To learn more

Copies of the most comprehensive and up-to-date survey of the prehistory of the county are available from the Section’s Secretary

Manby, T.G., Moorhouse, S. and Ottaway, P. (eds), ‘The Archaeology of Yorkshire: an assessment at the beginning of the 21st century’ Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No. 3, Leeds. £20.00 Or, for a shorter guide to the highlights of the period – the most important prehistoric sites and artefacts – use the following links:

If like us you are fascinated by these aspects of Yorkshire’s past, why not join us?  Or you can read more about the Prehistory Research Section