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A Brief History of Time in the Ancestral lands around Farndale 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A journey back through time in the period before clear records of individual Farndales

 

 

 

  

Home Page

The Farndale Directory

Farndale Themes

Farndale History

Particular branches of the family tree

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General Sir Martin Farndale KCB

Links

 

Dates are in red.

Hyperlinks to other pages are in dark blue.

Royal dynasties are in blue

Headlines are in brown.

References and citations are in turquoise.

Local history of Farndale and its surrounding areas is in purple.

Geographical context is in green.

 

BCE - Before the common or current era. The contemporary equivalent of BC.

CE -  Common or current era. The contemporary equivalent of AD.

kya – abbreviation for a thousand years

YBP – Years before present

 

In contrast to other pages of this website, on this page we travel backwards through time.

 

 

Introduction

 

We have explored the Farndale ancestry through the clear and direct links provided by parish records and other sources to about 1500, and then used medieval sources to find direct links to Doncaster at the time of the Black Death in the fourteenth century. The medieval records have then provided some significant records of the lives of our ancestors back to about 1230. We have then explored the cradle of the Farndale family, and the people who lived there, back to the Norman Conquest.

 

We might imagine that those ancestral individuals who must have lived in the dale of Farndale in the thirteenth century, before leaving the dale but retaining its name, were in turn plucked from the cauldron or primeval sludge of Bronze Age Beaker Folk, Iron Age Settlers, Brigantes, Romans, Danes, Angles and Saxons that had roamed the moors and dales of Yorkshire since about 9,000 years BCE.

 

So where did those more distant medieval ancestors, who lived in Farndale, themselves come from? This page travels backward in time from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to consider the evidence of who our most distant ancestors may have been, roaming the area of the North York Moors.

 

This webpage will work backwards through the epochs of time as follows:

 

·         The early middle ages (866 CE to 1066). Saxon and Norman England. Anglo Saxon England was arguably united as the Kingdom of England by King  Æthelstan (927–939 AD), although the process was a long one. It later became part of the short-lived North Sea Empire of Cnut the Great, a personal union between England, Denmark and  Norway in the 11th century. During this period the majority of the Yorkshire population was engaged in small scale farming. A growing number of families were living on the margin of subsistence and some of these families turned to crafts and trade or industrial occupations. In the 9th Century, the Vikings settled in many places all around the North Yorkshire Moors, but there is no sign of them settling in the moors.

 

·         The post Roman period (410 CE to 866 CE). The first written law codes, histories and literature emerged.

 

·         The Roman Period (70 CE to 410 CE). When the Romans arrived in the area, they found organised resistance and strong tribes prepared to fight for their land. The Romans came into the area further east to patrol the coast. They built roads, part of which still exist and warning stations on the cliffs at places like Huntcliffe. It is possible that Roman patrols passed into the dales and even through Farndale, but there is no evidence that they stopped there. A large fortification in the location of modern day York was founded by the Romans as Eboracum in 71 CE. The Emperors Hadrian, Septimius Severus, and Constantius I all held court in York during their various campaigns. During his stay 207–211 CE, the Emperor Severus proclaimed York capital of the province of Britannia Inferior, and it is likely that it was he who granted York the privileges of a 'colonia' or city.

 

·         The Iron Age (700 BCE to 70 CE). Iron tools and weapons changed the fighting and working world, though dwellings and lifestyles did not change significantly. Communities and tribes, although warlike became more settled and cereal production and animal husbandry increased. Iron Age farmsteads were made up of groups of small square or rectangular fields and were often enclosed by low walls of gravel or stones. Their huts were made of branches, or wattle and stood on low foundations of stone. There was a massive hill fort at Roulston Scar, which dates back to around 400 BC. It is the largest Iron Age fort of its kind in the north of England. There are outlines of other such settlements near Grassington and Malham. The most impressive Iron Age remains are at Stanwick, north of Richmond.

 

·         The Bronze Age (1800 BCE to 700 BCE). The Bronze Age was the period when metal ore was discovered. Copper was alloyed with tin. By applying very high heat levels to ceramic crucibles it was possible to alloy bronze and to caste axe heads, knives, spear heads, and simple ornaments. This was the period represented by the Windy Pit discoveries, including Beaker People pottery and human remains. The use of bronze was probably introduced into Yorkshire by the Beaker Folk, who entered the area via the Humber Estuary in about 1800 BCE.

 

·         The Neolithic Period, the New Stone Age (3000 BCE to 1800 BCE). The New Stone Age was the period when tool making skills produced stone axes, flint axes, arrow heads, spear points, fired clay beakers and woven cloth. Neolithic society made pottery, weaved cloth and made baskets. These people no longer lived a semi nomadic existence. Permanent settlements were built, like to one at Ulrome, between Hornsea and Bridlington, where a dwelling built on wooden piles on the shore of a shallow lake has been found.

 

·         The Mesolithic Period (9,500 to 3,000 BCE). The Middle Stone Age was the period after the ice had receded. Microlith sites have been found on the Moors including at Farndale, including flint and stone chippings and tools. Early humans lived at Star Carr which was first occupied in about 9,000 BCE.

 

·         The last Ice Age dated from about 110,000 to 11,000 years ago. During that Ice Age there were warm and cold fluctuations which lasted long enough to explain the presence of sub tropical animals in Kirkdale cave.

 

·         The Palaeolithic Period or the Old Stone Age (10,000 BCE to 2.6 million year ago). The Palaeolithic Period, also known as the Old Stone Age, is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools. This period covers about 99% of human technological prehistory. It extends from the earliest known use of stone tools by hominids in Africa about 3.3 million years ago, to the end of the Pleistocene. Although this period covers human prehistory on a global scale, humans do not appear to have emerged on the North Yorkshire Moors until about 9,000 BC, during the Mesolithic Period.

 

The early middle ages (1066 back to 866 CE)

 

The period from the Danish colonisation of 866 AD to the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 was strongly influenced by Danish colonisation, especially in the area of the Deiran and Bernician lands that would merge into Northumbria.  Viking meant pirate or sea raider, but the English generally referred to them as Danes.

 

1066

 

Edward the Confessor died in January 1066.

 

Tostig’s brother, Harold II (Harold Godwineson) (1066 to 1066) was elected king by the Witan, but William I of Normandy claimed that Edward had promised the throne to him. In the context of a power struggle, Harold was then faced with a combined threat from a reinvasion by the Danes and from the Normans.

 

Tostig had fled to Flanders and had gathered a fleet of 60 ships. He entered Lincolnshire but was driven out and fled to Scotland with only 12 ships. Harld Hardrada, King of Norway accepted the exiled Tostig as allies and they sailed up the Humber and Ouse with 300 ships.

 

The Danes, led by the Norwegian King Harold Hardrada, sailed up the Ouse, with support from Tostig Godwinson and after the Battle of Fulford, they seized York. Harold then marched his army north to York (185 miles) in four days and took the invaders by surprise. They were defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge (some 10km east of York) in which Harold Hardrada and Tostig were killed.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the decisive English victory over Viking forces which took place in September 1066.

 

However Harold was then required to rush south again, with so much of his exhausted army as could keep up, to face William I at the Battle of Hastings.

 

1063

 

Earl Tostig had the supporters of his rival, Gospatrick of Bamburgh – Gamal son of Orm, and Ulf son of Dolfin, killed in York in 1063.

 

Tostig then sought to increase taxation which prompted opposition. The Northumberland folk revolted in 1065 and marched on York and Tostig’s Danish housecarfs (a force of about 200) were destroyed near the Humber. Tostig was outlawed.

 

1055

 

The beautiful Saxon Church of Kirkdale lies about a mile west of Kirkbymoorside, south of the North York Moors, and overlooks the Hodge Beck. Within the porch at the entrance door is housed a Yorkshire treasure. It is a Saxon sundial, and it bears the inscription “Orm the son of Gamel acquired St Gregory’s Church when it was completely ruined and collapsed, and he had it built anew from the ground to Christ and to St Gregory in the days of King Edward and in the days of Earl Tostig”. The inscription refers to Edward the Confessor and to Tostig, the son of Earl Godwin of Wessex and brother of Harold II, the last Anglo Saxon King of England. Tostig was the Earl of Northumbria between 1055 and 1065. It was therefore during that last peaceful decade, immediately before the Norman conquest, that Orm, son of Gamel rebuilt St Gregory’s Church.

 

A stone church with a cemetery

Description automatically generated  A stone wall with a door

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The Domesday book evidences that Kirkdale by about this time comprised ten villagers, one priest, two ploughlands, two lord’s plough teams, three men’s plough teams, a mill and a church. Orm seems to have held five carucates of land at Chirchebi. So presumably this area of land described the five carucates of cultivated land around Kirkdale.

 

Siward died in 1055, leaving one son, Waltheof. He was buried at St Olave’s Church, which he had built, just north of York’s walled boundary.

 

Siward’s son, Waltheof was too young to become Earl of Northumbria. King Edward chose Tostig, son of Earl Godwin of Wessex to succeed Siward.  

 

1053

 

Harold Godwineson became earl of Wessex. The Godwines by now were largely running the country.

 

By this time York had seven administrative districts, with one controlled by the Archbishop. The townsmen had extensive pasture rights in the surrounding area. Archaeology has revealed significant manufacturing in metal, glass, amber, jet, deer horn, wood and bone.

 

Local organisation focused around a lord’s great hall (later called manors by the Normans). From these would satellite outlying demesne farms which were called berewicks. Free men held soke estates. There were some larger sokes which belonged to the King, church or Earl. In other words, there was an informal hierarchy from larger to smaller lordships. (John Rushton, The History of Ryedale, 2003, 23).

Over seventy thegns are listed in the Domesday Book, including the large landowner Ormr, who held Kirkbymoorside, Earl Siward, Gamal, Tosti and Ughtred of Cleveland.

 

Arable farming focused around vills or towns.

 

Tax was assessed on cultivated land through caracutes (derived from the Latin carruca, plough) and bovates. Early assessments were therefore focused on the amount of ploughing that could be achieved in an area of land. These initial measures would last through time, even though methods of ploughing changed. A carucate was a medieval land unit based on the land which eight oxen could till in a year.

 

The dales flowing down from the moorland remained thinly settled. 

 

It is not clear how strongly held Christian belief were at a local level. Many pagan customs continue. The days Tuesday through to Friday are still named after Anglian and Norse Gods. Hills remained dedicated to the Norse Gods Odin and Woden, Much Yorkshire folklore remains rooted in Anglian and Norse traditions. Hobs and boggles remained in field names. However masonry at churches evidences Christian assimilation. The settlement at Chirchebi that would be the burgeoning lands of Kirkbymoorside was a small rural community focused around the church of St Gregory and its priest. The eleventh century sundial at Kirkdale is the best preserved of several including others at Edstone and Old Byland.

 

1051

 

The rivalry between the Godwine family and the Normans started to bubble over. There was a violent dispute in Dover between Normans and the locals. The Godwines were ordered by the King to punish the Dover folk, but they refused. They were outlawed and exiled, but they were sufficiently powerful that Edward was persuaded to reconciliation.

 

1050

 

According to William, Duke of Normandy, Edward named William as Edward’s successor to the English crown. 

 

There was a succession battle waiting to happen:

 

·         Cnut’s heirs were waiting in the wings.

·         The Godwine family, vast landowners and now married in to the royal family, were staking their claim.

·         William of Normandy had also staked his claim.

 

1044

 

Edward the Confessor married Edith, daughter of Earl Godwine. They had no children.

 

1042

 

Edward “the Confessor” (1042 to 1066) restored the House of Wessex to the English throne. He became king in 1042 as Aethelred’s surviving son, Cnut’s sons having died early. He is remembered for his deep piety which led to his focus on the building of Westminster Abbey while the country was generally run by Earl Godwin and Harold.

 

By this time many of the names of towns and places were of Viking origin, such as those ending in by or thorp. However the old Anglo Saxon names remained abundant suggesting an assimilation during the Viking times rather than a period of ethnic cleansing. Scandinavian language survived widely in the countryside. 

 

1040

 

Harthacanute (1040 to 1042) was the son of Cnut and Emma of Normandy was quickly accepted as king as he sailed to England with a fleet of 62 ships. He died at the age of 24 at a wedding when toasting the health of the bride. He was the last Danish King of England.

 

1035

 

Harold I (Harold Harefoot) (1035 to 1040) was Cnut’s ‘illegitimate’ son claimed the throne while his brother Harthacanute was in Scandinavia, but died before Harthacanute needed to invade to retake the throne.

 

1033

 

Cnut chose a fellow Dane, Siward, as his Yorkshire Earl.

 

1030

 

The Horn of Ulph is an eleventh-century oliphant (a horn carved from an elephant's tusk). It is two feet four inches long, and has a diameter at the mouth of five inches. Given its size and condition, it is a particularly good example of a medieval oliphant. Tradition holds that it is a horn of tenure, presented to York Minster by a Norse nobleman named Ulph sometime around 1030. This suggests that a powerful Scandinavian nobleman was willing to donate a very valuable object to the Christian church by this time.

 

1016

 

Edmund II “Ironside” (1016 to 1016), was chosen by the folk of London as Aethelred’s successor but the King’s Council, the Witan, chose Cnut. Ironside denoted Edmunds strength and endurance in battle, but Edmund was defeated at the Battle of Assandun and made a treaty with Cnut for a form of power sharing until he was assassinated.

 

Cnut (or Canute) “the Dane” (1016 to 1035) then became king of a united England, divided into four earldoms of East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex. Siward of Northumbria appeared in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Leofric, Earl of Mercia was married to Lady Godiva who rode naked through Coventry to persuade him not to impose a tax increase. There is an In Our Time podcast on Cnut.

 

In an attempt to reassure the indigenous population, he married the widow of Aethelred II, Emma of Normandy and he recognised the limitations of his powers in the famous scene when he ordered the tide not to come in, in the knowledge that he would not succeed.

 

About 130 years into the birth of the English nation, she had become a part of the North Sea empire.

 

1013

 

By 1013 he had fled to Normandy after the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard had invaded the burgeoning English lands from 1013 on the pretext of a massacre of Danes living in England on St Brice’s Day. Sweyn had come up the Humber that year.

 

Sweyn was pronounced King of England on 25 December 1013, but died 5 days later.  Aethelred returned to England but spent his remaining years at war with Sweyn’s son, Cnut.

 

1000

 

By about 1000, the lands were commonly referred to as Engalond, of various spellings.

 

991 CE

 

The renewal of Danish attacks on southern England from 975 CE led to the payment of a regular tribute, the Danegeld from 991 CE.

 

Aethelred made a fateful treaty in 991 CE with Richard , Duke of Normandy. In the same year a fleet led by King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway led to the death of his ealdorman Byrhtnoth at Maldon in Essex. After Maldon, Aethelred raised he sums by a universal land trax to bribe the Danes, known as the Danegeld. The weight of taxation drove the peasantry to servitude. Rudyard Kipling later lamented that once you have paid him the Dane geld, you never get rid of the Dane.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on the Danelaw.

 

Yorkshire had a Danish leadership who were unwilling to fight other Danes and there was less trouble there.

 

978 CE

 

Aethelred II “The Unready” (978 to 1016 CE) failed in the ongoing resistance against the Danes. He was dubbed unready from unraed or ill advised.

 

Ethelread the Unready was the first Weak King of England and was thus the cause of a fresh Wave of Danes (1066 and all that, Walter Sellar and Robert Yeatman, 1930).

 

975 CE

 

Edward the Martyr (975 to 978 CE) became king at the age of 12 and was the victim of a family power struggle until his murder by his stepmother at Corfe Castle.

 

959 CE

 

Edgar (959 to 975 CE) met the “six kings of England” and gained their allegiance at Chester, including from the King of Scots, the King of Strathclyde and various Welsh princes.  Edgar imposed lighter taxation and allowed greater autonomy across the area of modern Yorkshire, which became assimilated into the wider English Kingdom.

 

York remained the only sizeable town and became a centre for craftsmen and merchants. The town had a level of self government under the hold or High Reeve.

 

The wider district started to take its name after the town of York. The Shire started to recognise three Ridings, which were themselves divided into some 28 wapentakes (perhaps named after the brandishing of weapons at gatherings to show approval). Often the waopentakes were named after their meeting places at hills, burial mounds, crosses or trees.

 

The land of St Cuthbert at Durham retained a separate identity.

 

For a period there were no invasions. Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury increased the power and the wealth of the monasteries.

 

By about this time:

 

·         Agriculture started to prosper.

·         Law enforcement was generally conducted at a local level. Men were divided into tithings or groups of ten men, to look out for each other, and bonded together through feasting and drinking together. Ten tithings would form small units to chase rustlers and bandits.

·         A relatively homogenous form of customary law emerged.

·         There was an English church and English saints.

·         A wide coinage was in circulation with the King’s head.

·         An administrative system emerged based upon the scir or shire, governed on behalf of the king by an ealdorman and his deputy or scirgerefa (sheriff).

·         Significant numbers came to be involved in the administration of the kingdom, including the collection of tax.

·         The people of the kingdom were given a form of representation by gatherings of thegns and prelates who became councillors of the witan who were summoned from time to time by the king.

·         The export of wool became a mainstay.

·         Roads, bridges and harbours were maintained publicly.

 

The new kingdom was perhaps one of the stablest and richest lands amongst the European states. However its fragile process for the succession of kings (by a mix of inheritance, bequest and election) was a weakness which would dominate the following century.

 

955 CE

 

Eadwig (955 to 959 CE) was a teenage king who was perhaps best remembered for being late for his coronation after sleeping in.


954 CE

 

Then, in 954 CE, King Eric I of Norway of the Fairhair dynasty (Eric Haraldson known as Eric Bloodaxe) was slain at the Battle of Stainmore by King Eadred who retook the city at Jorvik and completed the unification of England.

 

946 CE

 

Eadred (946 to 955 CE) continued to resist the Danes.

 

939 CE

 

Edmund (939 to 946 CE) became king at the age of 18, having fought with his half brother at the Battle of Brunanburh. He consolidated Anglo Saxon control over northern England.

 

937 CE

 

The Norse-Gaels, Ostmen or Gallgaidhill became Kings of Jorvik after long contests with the Danes over controlling the Isle of Man, which prompted the Battle of Brunanburh. After his victory against an invading army of Irish Vikings, Scots and Britons at Brunanburh. Aethelstan was proclaimed rex Anglorum, king of the English. In one of the bloodiest battles faught in Britain, Aethelstan defeated a combined army of Danes and Vikings, Scots and Celts. The battle meant that for the first time the Anglo Saxon kingdoms were brought together to establish a unified England.

 

927 CE

 

Aethelstan defeated the Vikings at York and there was peace until 934 CE.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on the reign of King Athelstan, whose military exploits united much of England, Scotland and Wales under one ruler for the first time.

 

The Vale of York Hoard, also known as the Harrogate Hoard and the Vale of York Viking Hoard, is a 10th-century Viking hoard of 617 silver coins and 65 other items. It was found undisturbed in 2007 near Harrogate. It was deposited in about the period 927 to 927 CE.

 

924 CE

 

Aethelstan (924 to 939 CE) extended the boundaries of the Anglo Saxon lands.

 

920 CE

 

All the rulers in Britain submitted to Edward the Eler as father and lord.

 

899 CE

 

Edward the Elder (899 to 924 CE) retook the south east from the Danes up to the Humber and united Mercia with Wessex. However there were multiple Danish invasions including from Ireland and Scandinavia. Edward was killed fighting the Welsh at Chester.

 
The Swedish Munsö dynasty became overlords of Jorvik because the Danes in Britain had promised loyalty to the Munsö Kings of Dublin, but this dynasty was focused on the Baltic Sea economy and quarrelled with the native Danish Jelling dynasty (which originated in the Danelaw with Guthrum).

 

890 CE

 

In the late 9th century Jorvik was ruled by the Christian King Guthfrith. It was under the Danes that the ridings and wapentakes of Yorkshire and the Five Burghs were established. The ridings were arranged so that their boundaries met at Jorvik, which was the administrative and commercial centre of the region.

 

886 CE

 

Alfred seized London and the Anglo Saxon Chronicle wrote that all the English race turned to him. This might be taken to be the birth of the English nation, but not yet the mark of a united English kingdom. Alfred was perhaps the first king who might have been believed to be king of Angelcynn and defender of the eard (the land). Yet the English were not yet a nation.

 

866 CE

 

Aethelred I (866 to 871 CE) struggled with the Danes throughout his reign who started to threaten Wessex itself.

 

In 866 CE, when Northumbria was internally divided, the Vikings captured York. The Danes changed the Old English name for York from Eoforwic, to Jorvik. The Vikings destroyed all the early monasteries in the area and took the monastic estates for themselves. Some of the minster churches survived the plundering and eventually the Danish leaders were converted to Christianity. Jorvik became the Viking capital of its British lands and it would reach a population of 10,000. Jorvik became an important economic and trade centre for the Danes. Saint Olave's Church in York is a testament to the Norwegian influence in the area. Jorvik perhaps prospered from its trade with Scandinavia.

 

Genetic mapping indicates that whilst Norwegian DNA is still detectable in northern groups, especially in Orkney, no genetic cluster in England corresponds to the areas that were under Danish control for two centuries. The Danes were highly influential militarily, politically and culturally but may have settled in numbers that were too modest to have a clear genetic impact on the population.

 

879 CE

 

In 879 Alfred summoned his army to meet at Ecgberht’s Stone and they were joined by the folk of Somerset and Wiltshire, hey attacked the Danes at Ethandun (Edington) and defeated the Danes who agreed to be baptised.

 

875 CE

 

In 875 CE, Guthrum became leader of the Danes and he apportioned lands to his followers. Most of the indigenous population were allowed to retain their lands under the lordship of their Scandinavian conquerors. Ivar the Boneless became "King of all Scandinavians in the British Isles".

 

871 CE

 

Alfred the Great (871 to 899 CE) has been remembered in history as educated and practical, a Christian philosopher king. After some initial success against the Danes under Guthrum, the Danish king of East Anglia, the Danes launched a counter attack and Alfred famously retreated to the marshland of Athelney in the Somerset levels to regroup. He established Christian rule over Essex and then more widely across the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms. He founded a permanent army and a small navy. He began the Anglo Saxon chronicles.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on King Alfred and the defeat of the Vikings at Battle of Edington and Alfred's project to create a culture of Englishness.

 

865 CE

 

By 865 CE a great heathen horde (a micel here) attacked in East Anglia and began to challenge the political balance of the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms. Large mobile encampments arose across the land, including at Aldwark near York.

 

858 CE

 

Aethelbald (858 to 860 CE) was the second son of Aethelwulf.

 

Aethelbert (860 to 866 CE) witnessed the sacking of Winchester by the Danes, although the attackers were then defeated.

 

850 CE

 

After 850 CE, Viking raiding parties started to camp through the winter. They started to obtain horses and became more mobile.

 

839 CE

 

Aethelwulf (839 to 858 CE) was King of Wessex and father of Alfred. He defeated a Danish army at Oakley.

 

By the mid ninth century there was an increasing influence of Scandinavian culture including upon the language. Many words of modern use in northern dialect have Norse origins, including dale (from the the Norwegian ‘dalrvalley), beck (stream) and fell (mountain).

 

835 CE

 

Opportunistic raids by Viking warrior seamen continued over the next half century. By 835 larger Viking fleets began to engage in more significant confrontations with royal armies.

 

The effects of Viking raids on the indigenous peasant population, who were exposed to violence and enslavement, must have been profound. The impact was also political as warlords sometimes made alliances with the Danes, or were forced to resist them.

 

827 CE

 

Egbert (827 to 839 CE) was the first Saxon King to establish relatively stable rule across Anglo Saxon England.

 

Wave of Egg Kings. Soon after this event, Egg Kings were found on the thrones of all these kingdoms, such as Eggberd, Eggbreth, Eggfroth etc. None of these, however, succeeded in becoming memorable, expect, insofar as it is difficult to forget such names as Eggbirth, Eggbred, Eggbeard, Eggfish etc. Nor is it remembered by what kind of Eggdeath they perished (1066 and all that, Walter Sellar and Robert Yeatman, 1930).

 

793 CE

 

The first known Viking raid on the British Isles was the assault on Lindisfarne off the modern Northumbrian coast in 793 CE. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle and accounts by Alciun in the Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne describe a violent a bloody scene.

 

On 8 June 793 Vikings raided Lindisfarne, their first attack on the British Isles. The raid was devastating for the community of Lindisfarne, but had ominous implications for the wider religious and political world. By 875 CE monks at Lindisfarne decided to leave and they took St Cuthbert’s coffin with them to Chester le Street and then to Durham.

 

A screenshot of a computer

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                                                                                Viking Raiders, ‘Judgement Day” Stone, c800 to 825 CE – a procession of seven men, six armed with swords and axes.

 

At that time, there was no united kingdom called England. Instead there were smaller kingdoms dominated by Wessex in the south west, Mercia in the Midlands, East Anglia in the eastern fenlands, and Northumbria in the north, with which we are most interested. These kingdoms had evolved out of the chaos after the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain. They are often collectively referred to as Anglo Saxon kingdoms.

 

Alcuin, the Scholar of York, wrote of the Lindisfarne raid: … never before has such a terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. Nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold, the church of Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments, a place more venerable than all in England is given as a prey to pagan peoples.

 

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle recorded This year came dreadful forewarnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully; these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine; and not long after … the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God on Holy Iland, by rapine and slaughter.

 

The post Roman period (866 CE back to 410 CE)

 

During the period 410 to 866 CE, Angle and Saxon farmers settled in the dales and small villages started to emerge.

 

The town at the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Foss, today known as York, had developed from Roman Eboracum, following a period of decline, to a settlement of the Angles by the fifth century CE. By the seventh century CE, Eoforwic was the chief city of King Edwin of Northumbria. The first wooden monster church was built in Eoforwic in 627 CE for Edwin’s baptism. After 633 CE the wooden church was rebuilt in stone. In the eight century CE Alcuin of Eoforwic was at the centre of a Cathedral school.

 

There is a separate page on Alcuin of York.

 

The area of Farndale has been described as and area stretching, ‘northwards from the Wolds, of windswept moors of Hambleton and Cleveland (Cliffland) and still remain much as they were in pre-historic times. A refuge of broken peoples, a home of lost causes.’ Bede described the area as ‘vel bestiae commorari vel hommines bestialiter vivre conserverant.’ (A land fit only for wild beasts and men who live like wild beasts). When the Romans left the Saxons in very small numbers did venture into the dales on the moors and left their burial mounds and stone crosses on the high ground and these can still be seen. Thus the people who today come from the dales of the North Yorkshire Moors were a relatively isolated population for several hundred years and they had developed very special characteristics. In many respects, this has provided a uniqueness.

 

Diet

 

In Northumbria from about 500 CE, the diet of the folk who lived in Anglo Saxon Britain was likely based on cereals, bread and porridge with vegetables including onions and leaks,. Peas and white carrots. Meat was eaten very rarely and fish was caught in rivers. Hunting was a sport of nobles and wild boar and deer might have been taken from time to time. Food would have been cooked at an open fire in the middle of a dwelling in a large iron pot hung over the fire. Bread might have been baked in clay or stone ovens outside.

   

A person sitting in a room with a fire

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731 CE

 

The Venerable Bede (672 or 673 to 26 May 735) (“Saint Bede”) was an English monk and an author and scholar who wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People which he completed in about 731 CE. He was one of the greatest teachers and writers during the Early Middle Ages, and is sometimes called "The Father of English History". He served at the monastery of St Peter and its companion monastery of St Paul at Monkwearmouth and Jarrow in the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria.

 

The Life of the Venerable Bede, on the state of Britain in the seventh century, begins: In the seventh century of the Christian era, seven Saxon kingdoms had for some time existed in Britain. Northumbria or Northumberland, the largest of these, consisted of the two districts Deira and Bernicia, which had recently been united by Oswald King of Bernicia ... The place of his birth is said by Bede himself to have been in the territory afterwards belonging to the twin monasteries of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Weremouth and Jarrow. The whole of this district, lying along the coast near the mouths of the rivers Tyne and Weir, was granted to Abbot Benedict by King Egfrid two years after the birth of the Bede.... Britain, which some writers have called another world, because from its lying at a distance it has been overlooked by most geographers, contained in its remotest parts a place on the borders of Scotland, where Bede was born and educated. The whole country was formed formerly studded with monasteries, and beautiful cities founded therein by the Romans, but now, owing to the devastations of the Danes and Normans, has nothing to allure the senses. Through it runs the Were, a river of no mean width, and of tolerable rapidity. It flows into the sea and receives ships, which are driven thither by the wind, into its tranquil bosom. A certain Benedict built churches on its banks, and founded there two monasteries, named after St Peter and St Paul, and united together by the same rule and bond of brotherly love.

 

Bede gave intellectual and religious significance to as burgeoning nation at Jarrow from where many centuries later John William Farndale was the youngest member of the Jarrow marchers. Bede first defined an English identity. Bede produced the greatest volume and quantity of writing in the western world of his time. At his monastery at Jarrow he had access to a university library with more books than were in the libraries of Oxford or Cambridge 700 years later. (Robert Tombs, The English and their History, 2023, 24, 26).

 

685 CE

 

By about 685 CE, the early church at Kirkdale was dedicated to St Gregory. There are two elegant tomb stones within its grounds which are once said to have borne the name of King Oethelwald. More recent excavations tend to suggest that the church at Kirkdale was important.

 

The origin of parish churches emerged at about this time. A parish was a district that supported a church by payment of tithes in return for spiritual services. Some churches were linked to manor houses and others originated as the districts of missioning monasteries. The church at Whitby was near a major settlement, whilst the church of St Gregory’s at Kirkdale was located remotely in a dale. By 1145, Kirkdale was described as the church of Welburn. Recent excavations tend to confirm the view that an important church was at Kirkdale (John Rushton, The History of Ryedale, 2003, 19).

In contrast to the trackless moorland wilderness haunted by wild beasts and outlaws where Lastingham was built, in Kirkdale, an ancient route from north to south descended out of Bransdale to form a crossroads with an ancient route from west to east along the southern edge of the moors. Travellers needed shelter, medical attention and perhaps spiritual sustenance. It may well have been to provide these Christian ministrations and to teach the gospel in the region that a small community of monks was established there as a minster (Latin monasterium) dedicated to Gregory the Great, English Apostle. It has been speculated that the original settlement in Kirkdale was an early offshoot of Lastingham. Inside the Minster, two finely decorated stone tomb covers, generally agreed to date from the eighth century, hint that this early church had wealthy patrons - perhaps royal patrons at least one of whom may have been venerated in Kirkdale as a saint.

We don't know exactly when the first church was built at Kirkdale. It may have been a daughter house of the monastic community at nearby Lastingham, which was founded in AD 659. The first church at Kirkdale was a minster, or mother church for the region. It may have included a chancel - a rarity for Anglo-Saxon churches. Surviving from that early building are two finely carved 8th-century stone grave covers inside the church. The quality of the carving suggests that the church had wealthy patrons, perhaps of a locally royal family. The Friends of St Gregory's Minster Kirkdale suggest that at least one of these 8th-century patrons may have been venerated locally as a saint. There are also three fragments of Anglo-Saxon cross shafts built into the church walls. These cross shafts date to the 9th and 10th centuries.

Pope Gregory (St Gregory) sent St Augustine on his mission to convert the English to Christianity in AD 597 (see below). The Minster is dedicated to him.

It seems likely that the minster fell into ruin, perhaps as a result of Danish raids. We know that the church was rebuilt around 1055 because of the clue in the sundial (see further above).

Pope Gregory had encouraged the conversion of pagan holy places to Christianity and the church at Kirkbymoorside is near a large burial mound.

 

670 CE

 

In the 670s Cuthbert, said to have been inspired by a vision of Aidan’s death to have joined to monasteries at Ripon and then Melrose, joined Lindisfarne as prior and became 7th Bishop of Lindisfarne in about 685 CE. He aimed to reform the monk’s way of life in compliance with the religious practices of Rome, rather than Ireland. He later became a hermit on St Cuthbert’s island and later on Inne Farne. He died on 20 March 687 and is buried inside he church at Lindisfarne.

 

Bishop Eadrith (died in 721 CE) later commissioned Bede to write the Life of Saint Cuthbert. In about 700 CE Eadrith also created the illuminated manuscript Lindisfarne Gospels, in honour of St Cuthbert. Bishop Aethelwold of Lindisfarne bound it and Billfrith created a jewelled metalwork cover. The manuscript combined influences from Mediterranean, Irish and Anglo Saxon traditions.

 

663 CE

 

There was for a time some disagreement between the Roman and Lindisfarne missions. This caused conflict within the church until the issue was resolved at the Synod of Whitby in 663 by Oswiu of Northumbria opting to adopt the Roman system.

 

The schism had come about because the church in the south were tied to Rome, but the northern church had become increasingly influenced by the doctrines from Iona. The Synod was held in the monastery at Streoneschalch near to Whitby.

 

659 CE

 

Christianity in Ryedale and the stone crosses of the Ryedale School

 

Many local churches in Ryedale date back to the Anglo-Saxon period. The churches are not the earliest evidence of the arrival of Christianity to the north of England. The first evidence was the establishment of a chain of monastic sites from Lindisfarne down the coast to Whitby, their influence then extending inland to Crayke, Lastingham and Hackness. The Venerable Bede recorded that in 659 CE the monk Cedd hallowed an inauspicious site at Lastingham and established there the religious observances of Lindisfarne where he had been brought up. By the time Bede was writing in circa 730 CE, there was a stone church at Lastingham.

 

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Christianity was spread through the work of missionaries who travelled the countryside, often erecting preaching crosses. They were originally made of wood, but with the re introduction of building in stone, stone crosses became the norm. These preaching crosses depicted scenes from the Bible and were often elaborately decorated with motifs from the Mediterranean. The carvings may have originally been painted in bright colours. In the central part of Ryedale there were local Craftsman who produced such crosses which were unique in their design. A typical Ryedale School cross was about 6 feet tall with a slightly tapering, flat, oblong section shaft. The style occurs in Kirkbymoorside, Levisham and Middleton. The Ryedale dragon is an ornamentation on the back panel of the cross shaft. A single beast, often in an S shape, filled the whole panel.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on the Celts.

 

Bede, in his History of the English Church and People (731 CE), records that in 659 CE, a small monastic community was planted at Lastingham under royal patronage, partly to prepare an eventual burial place for Æthelwald, Christian king of Deira, partly to assert the presence and lordship of Christ in a trackless moorland wilderness haunted by wild beasts and outlaws.

 

Chap. XXIII. How Bishop Cedd, having a place for building a monastery given him by King Ethelwald, consecrated it to the Lord with prayer and fasting; and concerning his death. [659-664 a.d.] The same man of God, whilst he was bishop among the East Saxons, was also wont oftentimes to visit his own province, Northumbria, for the purpose of exhortation. Oidilwald,425 the son of King Oswald, who reigned among the Deiri, finding him a holy, wise, and good man, desired him to accept some land whereon to build a monastery, to which the king himself might frequently resort, to pray to the Lord and hear the Word, and where he might be buried when he died; for he believed faithfully that he should receive much benefit from the daily prayers of those who were to serve the Lord in that place. The king had before with him a brother of the same bishop, called Caelin, a man no less devoted to God, who, being a priest, was wont to administer to him and his house the Word and the Sacraments of the faith; by whose means he chiefly came to know and love the bishop. So then, complying with the king's desires, the Bishop chose himself a place whereon to build a monastery among steep and distant mountains, which looked more like lurking-places for robbers and dens of wild beasts, than dwellings of men; to the end that, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, “In the habitation of dragons, where each lay, might be grass with reeds and rushes;”426 that is, that the fruits of good works should spring up, where before beasts were wont to dwell, or men to live after the manner of beasts.

 

650 CE

 

An aristocratic burial ground at Street House near Loftus and Carlin How, dates to about 650 CE, a period of transition from paganism to Christianity in England. The cemetery was superimposed on a prehistoric monument and contained a high ranking woman on a bed surrounded by 109 graves, arranged two by two. The location would have been just within the northern border of Deira. The royal princess watched over Carlin How (“the hill of witches”) for thirteen centuries until she was excavated in 2005 to 2007.

 

The cemetery was only used for a short period of time. The cemetery is focused on one burial near the centre of the cemetery, known as grave 42. The objects from this grave were the first indication to archaeologists that this was an important person. The grave contained three gold pendants, each one unique in northern England. The female had been placed on a wooden bed with iron fittings and decoration. Bed burials are very rare and had only been found previously in southern England.

 

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There are only a small number of bed burials in England including two at the royal cemetery at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The bed was placed in a chambered tomb with a low mound marking the site of the grave. Other graves define the extent of the burial area as an irregular square 36 metres by 34 metres. There are two buildings within the cemetery, one possibly a mortuary house where the princess from grave 42 may have been laid prior to her burial. The cemetery was created within an earlier Iron Age enclosure dating to about 200 CE and the link to the past may have been deliberate. Grave 42 is the richest single Anglo-Saxon grave in the North East defined by the quantity and quality of the material found. The main pendant is unique in its shield like shape. The pendant is made of gold with 57 small red gemstones sitting on a thin gold alloy foil. The pendant may have been made from gold coins from the continent that had been debased.

 

During the seventh century CE, burial practises in England had changed. The people had converted to Christianity and Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had emerged. The more gold or precious objects the more important the person.

 

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This diorama at the Kirkleatham Museum represents the Royal Saxon settlement excavated at modern day Street House. It shows the unusual layout of the cemetery, including the bed burial structure, the people and the building of the settlement, and a small ship at the beach at nearby Skinningrove, as her crew traded goods with the local inhabitants.

 

Lindisfarne became one of the focal Christian centres in Europe between about 650 to 750 CE. It gained power and wealth, taking grants of land from kings and noblemen, and many precious objects.

 

642 CE

 

Oswald died after a short reign in 642.The new king was Oswy (Oswald’s brother). He gave land on six estates to monasteries through Deira including Streoneshalch (later Prestby) near Whitby in 657.

 

634 CE


Edwin's successor, Oswald (634 to 642 CE), dominated the northern region from his royal fortress at Bamburgh. He was sympathetic to the Celtic church and around 634 he invited Aidan from Iona to found a monastery at Lindisfarne as a base for converting Northumbria to Celtic Christianity. The monastery at Lindisfarne observed Irish Christian customs.

 

Aidan was the first Bishop of Lindisfarne. He was known as the ‘Apostle of Northumbria’. He died in 651 and was reportedly buried in the church at Lindisfarne.

 

Aidan soon established a monastery on the cliffs above Whitby with Hilda as abbess.


Further monastic sites were established at Hackness and Lastingham and Celtic Christianity became more influential in Northumbria than the Roman system.

 

There is a traditional story that a monastery was built at Oswaldkirk in Ryedale, but was never finished.

 

633 CE

 

Edwin’s defeat at the Battle of Hatfield Chase by Penda/King Caedwalla of Mercia in 633 was followed by continuing struggles between Mercia and Northumbria for supremacy over Deira.

 

The Northumbrian empire briefly fell apart, but it was recovered by the Christian King Oswald.


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627 CE

 

Edwin converted to the Christian religion, along with his nobles and many of his subjects, in 627 and was baptised at Eoforwic. Edwin built the first church at Eoforwic (York) amidst the Roman ruins and it was later replaced by a larger stone church.

 

When Augustine came to Britian, he does not appear to have attempted to bring his mission to Northumbria. However Edwin, King of Northumbria, married the daughter of Ethelbert, the converted king of Kent and it was agreed that she should freely exercise her religion. She was accompanied by a zealous pupil of Augustine, Paulinus, and this provided the basis for Edwin’s conversion. From that time, Paulinus was increasingly employed in conversion across the region of Northumbria (South Yorkshire, the History and Topography of the Deanery of Doncaster in the Diocese and County of York by Rev Joseph Hunter, 1828, page xiv, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, Chapter 9).

 

Stone crosses or spelhowes/spel crosses started to appear in the landscape, which seem to have been meeting places of early local government. There is a story that Kirkdale church was first built on the site of such a stone cross.

 

617 CE

 

A later ruler, Edwin of Northumbria (son of Aelle of Northumbria)(617 to 633) completed the conquest of the area by his conquest of the kingdom of Elmet, including Hallamshire and Leeds, in 617 CE. He killed Æthelfrith and became King of all Northumbria.

 

Edwin married Princess Aethelburgh of Kent who brought a priest, Paulinus, from Augustine’s mission in Canterbury and Edwin was baptised in 627 CE.

 

604 CE

 

Æthelfrith took over Deira in about 604 CE and there was significant expansion of Anglo Saxon power.

 

From about 604 CE, Æthelfrith was able to unite Deira with the northern kingdom of Bernicia, forming the kingdom of Northumbria, whose capital was at Eoforwic, modern day York.

 

By the early seventh century, there was a diversity of language – Germanic, Brittonic, Gaelic and Pictish and later Norse. In the north, predatory chieftains were occupied in raiding, rustling and slaving. Rival kingdoms appeared with Northumbria emerging as the most powerful, with its main city at York.  (Robert Tombs, The English and their History, 2023, 23).

 

Place names which end ingaham, ing, ham, ington, burn, lea, feld, tun were originally Anglo Saxon homesteads.

 

599 CE

 

King Aethelric ruled Deira in about 599 to 604 CE.

 

597 CE

 

Pope Gregory sent Augustine, prior of a Roman monastery to Kent on an ambassadorial and religious mission to convert the Angli, and he was welcomed by King Aethelberht.

 

The English church would come to own a quarter of cultivated land in England and it brought back literacy. English identity began in a religious concept.

 

The country was now almost entirely inhabited by Saxons and was therefore named England, and thus (naturally) soon became C of E. This was a Good Thing, because previously the Saxons had worshipped some dreadful gods of their own called Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday … (1066 and all that, Walter Sellar and Robert Yeatman, 1930).

 

580 CE

 

The historian Procopius (500 to 565 CE) described the people of Brittia as Angiloi to Pope Gregory the Great, Gregory had seen fair haired slaves for sale and replied that they were not Angles, but angels. His pun is sometimes taken to define the origin of the English and Gregory continued to class them as a single peoples.

 

Noticing some fair haired children in the slave market one morning, Pope Gregory, the memorable Pope, said (in Latin), “What are those?” and on being told they were Angels, made the memorable joke (‘not Angels, but Anglicans’) and commanded one of his saints called St Augustibne to go and convert the rest (1066 and all that, Walter Sellar and Robert Yeatman, 1930).

 

Hence there grew a single and distinct English church. It adopted Roman practices in its dogma and liturgy (as later confirmed at the Synod of Whitby in 663 CE), but it venerated English saints and developed its own character.

 

569 CE

 

King Aella ruled Deira in about 569 to 599 CE. You will find a dynastic history of the Kings of Deira.   

 

560 CE

 

This was followed by the subjugation of all of eastern Yorkshire and the British kingdom of Ebruac in about 560 CE. The name the Angles gave to the territory was Dewyr, or Deira. Early rulers of Deira extended the territory north to the River Wear.

 

There is a legendary story that an Anglian called Soemil founded the Kingdom of Deira. There were early settlements at Fyling south of Whitby. Early movement inland tended to branch out along the old Roman roads.

 

The indigenous population suffered from mid sixth century plague and rising water levels, so it is possible that there was little resistance to the Angles.

 

Circa 500 CE

 

In the late fifth and early sixth centuries Angles from the Schleswig-Holstein peninsula began colonising the Wolds, North Sea and Humber coastal areas.

 

Fifth Century CE

 

At the end of Roman rule in the fifth century, the north of Britain may have come under the rule of Romano-British Coel Hen, the last of the Roman-style Duces Brittanniarum (Dukes of the Britons). However, the Romano-British kingdom rapidly broke up into smaller kingdoms and York became the capital of the British kingdom of Ebrauc. Most of what became Yorkshire fell under the rule of the kingdom of Ebrauc but Yorkshire also included territory in the kingdoms of Elmet and an unnamed region ruled by Dunod Fawr, which formed at around this time as did Craven.


Saxon settlements appeared across Britain, especially to the south and east, but also in the north. The Saxons didn’t displace the indigenous population, but there was violence evidenced by hoards of treasure buried to escape the increasing threat.

 

The population of Britain fell from a few million to fewer than one million people after the Romans left in the fifth century. Over the next few centuries, groups of Angles and Saxons arrived from northwest Germany and southern Denmark, taking advantage of a ‘failed state’. They established a dominant Anglo-Saxon culture which influenced the lands that would become England.

 

Life was nasty, brutish and short. This was the context of the Arthurian legends.

 

Genetic mapping indicates that most of the eastern, central and southern parts of England formed a single genetic group with between 10 and 40 per cent Anglo-Saxon ancestry. However, people in this cluster also retained DNA from earlier settlers. The invaders did not wipe out the existing population; instead, they seem to have integrated with them.

 

Transforming events were taking place across the world at this time – the Chinese Empire reunited under the Tang dynasty, the Roamn empire reestablished itself at Constantinople and Islam began its conquest of western Asia and Iberia (Robert Tombs, The English and their History, 2023, 21).

 

The Scots (originally Irish but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) our of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce vice) (1066 and all that, Walter Sellar and Robert Yeatman, 1930).

 

The Roman Period (410 CE back to 71 CE)

 

Yorkshire was part of the Roman Empire between 71 CE and 410 CE. The Romans did not advance into north eastern Yorkshire beyond the River Don, which was the southern boundary of the Brigantian territory.

 

The legions were recruited from all across the Roman Empire. However, there is very little evidence today of a genetic legacy from other Roman dominions.

 
The Romans built roads northwards to Eboracum (modern York), Derventio (Malton) and Isurium Brigantum (Aldborough).

 

During the period 700 BCE to 410 CE, the climate was cooler and wetter. Soils on the high ground of the North Yorkshire moors had been exhausted. Farmers moved to lower ground. The moorland generally reached about the same extent as exists today.

 

410 CE

 

In 410 CE Rome was sacked by the Visigoths from eastern Europe. Roman control of Britain ceased by about this time.

 

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There is an In Our Time podcast on the causes and events leading to the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and assesses the role of Christianity, the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths and the Vandals.

 

The withdrawal of the Roman legions … left Britain defenceless and subjected Europe to that long succession of Waves of which History is chiefly composed (1066 and all that, Walter Sellar and Robert Yeatman, 1930).

 

408 CE

 

Roman Britain faced threats from north Britain and Scots in Hibernia. Saxons from northern Germans and southern Scandinavia started to threaten the north sea coast and the Romans stationed increasing troops along the coast and built extensive fortifications. By the time of a significant Saxon attack in 408 CE, Britain was becoming a drain on Roman resource who were facing simultaneous threats across Europe.

 

402 CE


In 402 CE the Roman garrison at Eboracum was recalled because of military threats from other parts of the empire. The Roman legions started a process of withdrawal from Britain.

 

306 CE

 

Constantius I died in 306 CE during his stay in Eboracum, and his son Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor by the troops based in the fortress.

 

296 CE

 

A century or so of relative peace seems to have ended by about 296 CE and Eboracum became more of a command post for the Dux Britanniarum, the Roman Commander of northern Britain. The Dux Britanniarum was a military post in Roman Britain, probably created by Emperor Diocletian or Constantine I during the late third or early fourth century. The Dux (literally, "(military) leader" was a senior officer in the late Roman army. His responsibilities covered the area along Hadrian's Wall, including the surrounding areas to the Humber estuary in the southeast of today's Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland to the mountains of the Southern Pennines. The headquarters were in the city of Eboracum (York). The purpose of this buffer zone was to preserve the economically important and prosperous southeast of the island from attacks by the Picts (tribes of what are now the Scottish lowlands) and against the Scots (Irish raiders).

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on the Picts.

 

The fortifications at Malton were rebuilt.

 

Romano British site near Hutton le Hole (Ryedale Historian Vol 2, 1966)

 

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The Beadlam Villa (Ryedale Historian Vol 3, 1967)

 

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Excavations Roman Villa at Beadlam, 1996.

 

207 CE

 

During his stay 207–211 CE, the Emperor Severus proclaimed Eboracum capital of the province of Britannia Inferior, and it is likely that it was he who granted York the privileges of a 'colonia' or city.

 

122 CE

 

The Emperor Hadrianus sealed off the far north by a military zone focused on Hadrian’s Wall which was built between 122 to 138 CE and was one of the most significant engineering projects of the ancient worlds.

 

During the Roman period, Most of Britannia remained rural: 80 per cent of the population lived in over 100,000 small settlements and some 2,000 villas (Robert Tombs, The English and their History, 2023, 12).

 

77 CE

 

In 77 CE Agricola became governor and extended Roman domination northwards.

 

The rulers organised agriculture and economic activity, some based on slave labour, around villas in the countryside. They expanded towns and built roads to speed the progress of their legions between military forts. Yet in the more remote areas of western and northern Britain, life continued much as before.

 

The Romans came into the area further east to patrol the coast. They built roads, part of which still exist and warning stations on the cliffs at places like Huntcliffe. It is possible that Roman patrols may have passed through the heavily forested dales flowing from the high moors, including  Farndale, but there is no evidence that they stopped there, and it seems more likely that they would have ignored the impenetrable woodland areas.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on Roman Britain.

 

71 CE

 

In 71 CE the newly appointed Roman Governor, Petillius Ceralius marched north to occupy Brigantes and Parisii territory. The Ninth Legion perhaps erected a large camp near where Malton stands today.

 

A significant military camp was founded by the Romans as Eboracum (modern day York) in 71 CE.

 

The Emperors Hadrian, Septimius Severus, and Constantius I all held court in Eboracum during their various campaigns.

 

Urban settlements grew around the Roman fortifications at York (Eboracum), Malton and Stamford. Eboracum became a significant Roman provincial capital.

 

To the south Roman urban settlements grew around fortifications at Calcaria (Tadcaster) and Danum (Doncaster).

 

The Roman legions brought with them craftsmen who made nails, shoes and pottery, or maintained iron edged tools, lead piping and the like. The towns around the military zones developed their own craftsmen and patterns of trade. The Roman army needed food, clothes, horses, drink and the like. The towns developed forms of amusement and relaxation and amenity and administration.

 

Evidence of imported goods from the Roman period have been found, Bronze statues of Venus and Hercules have been found around Malton. Pieces of toilet seats have been found in Gillamoor.

 

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There has been a find of a bronze arm-purse on a high moor track above Farndale in 1849. Roman copper-alloy arm-purses appear to have been principally, if not exclusively, a male, military accoutrement, with examples found both in auxiliary and legionary contexts in Britain and on the Continent. British examples include finds from Birdoswald (x2), Corbridge, South Shields, Thorngrafton (near Housesteads), Colchester, Wroxeter, Silchester and Farndale. The find is from a track above Farndale, so may not evidence Roman activity within the dale, but it does suggest some influence, perhaps patrolling, in the immediate vicinity.

 

At the time of writing, the purse can be seen in the British Museum (Museum Reference Number 1873,1219.175), on display in Room 49, case 9. This gallery is located on the upper floor of the museum.

 

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43 CE

 

From the year 43 CE, Roman influence had transformed the way of life of people in southern and eastern Britain. The emperor Claudius commanded a force of some 40,000 men, with elephants to boot. They were grouped into four legions supported by auxiliaries.

 

Over the following decades the Romans came to dominate Britain. Resistance by Caratacus was quickly subdued and the druids were massacred on Anglesey in 60 CE. He then faced revolt to the east from the Iceni and their king’s widow, Boadicea.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on the Druids.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on Boudica.

 

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Initially the Romans did not venture north of the Humber/Don, but traded with the Parisii, though the Brigantes remained hostile.

 

55 and 54 BCE

 

Prior to the Roman period in Britain, Julius Caesar, having expanded northwards and fighting his wars in Gaul, was drawn to an early invasion when Britons allied with the Gauls. He landed in Kent with a force about 30,000 strong and advanced to the Thames. Though he met a disunited resistance, he withdrew quickly to deal with the ongoing threat to the Roman army in Gaul.

 

The Iron Age (70 CE back to 700 BCE)

 

The Bronze Age people, such as the Beaker Folk were conquered by Celtic speaking invaders from the Mediterranean and later focused in northern Gaul. They settled in Britain and became known as the Brigantes, who have colloquially been referred to as Ancient Britons. The Celts were skilled horsemen. They went into battle with iron wheeled, horse drawn chariots, and attacked their enemy with swords and spears.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on the dawn of the European Iron Age, a period of great upheaval when technology and societies were changed forever.

 
The Brigantes were not the only Celtic tribe to occupy northeast Yorkshire. In Holderness and the Wolds area, were a folk known as the Parisii (who came from France and Belgium).

 

The Brigantes were a highly organised society, with a hierarchy of military rulers. The mobility provided from their horsemanship enables them to control lager areas.

 

Their farmsteads were made up of groups of small square or rectangular fields and were often enclosed by low walls of gravel or stones. Their huts were made of branches, or wattle and stood on low foundations of stone.

 

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There was a massive hill fort at Roulston Scar, which dates back to around 400 CE. The site covers 60 acres, defended by a perimeter 1.3 miles long. It is the largest Iron Age fort of its kind in the north of England.

 

There are outlines of other such settlements near Grassington and Malham. The most impressive Iron Age remains are at Stanwick, north of Richmond.


The Brigantes fought hard to defend themselves against the Roman invaders. Several large fortifications witness their efforts. The last inhabitants of the area before the Romans were illiterate, but left their mark in the place names of Yorkshire. Many Yorkshire rivers carry Celtic names - Aire, Calder, Don, Nidd, Wharfe.

 

 

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The Brigantes were a Celtic tribe who lived between the Tyne and the Humber.

 

The Brigantes and Parisii were led by a tribal leader, sometimes elected, and sometimes from a leading aristocratic family such as Boudicca who later fought the Roman army. They lived in large settlements, sometimes on hilltops and sometimes in the lowlands. There is such a site at Stanwick near Darlington where pottery has found covering a large area which had come from the continent. The main Parisii settlement was probably close to Brough near Hull. There is evidence that the aristocracy lived in rectangular enclosures often about 60 by 80 metres with two metre wide defensive ditches piled high inside for further protection. The homes, similar to Iron Age roundhouses, may have been established in groups of two or three. Each enclosure farm worked about 250 acres and the fields around the farms grew cereals and hay for winter feed. The non aristocratic folk would have worked the land in the enclosure farms for their masters.

 

The Brigantes and Parisii have left evidence across modern Ryedale of round houses within enclosed sites.

 

Roulston Scar at Sutton Bank is a limestone cliff which overlooks the Vale of York, between Helmsley and Thirsk (some 20km to the west of Kirkbymoorside and Farndale). It is a large Iron Age promontory fort dating to about 500 to 400 BCE.

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Iron furnace remains and slag from smelting have been found. Iron ore may have been mined in Rosedale. Those living closer to the sea may have picked up or from the beaches. The Bronze Age is the period when for the first time the land had been cleared for growing crops and rearing cattle and sheep. Significant advancement was made in culture and politics and the use of land. The landscape may have looked similar to the present day but with more woodland in the valleys and no towns or roads. There may have been tracks for wheeled vehicles.

 

Costa Beck is a small river in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. Excavations from ther 1920s have revealed Iron Age lakeside settlements through the Vale of Pickering. Animal bones, pottery sherds and a human skull have been excavated.

 

There are several sites in the Pickering Vale, including at Heslerton where there were small enclosures for stock breeding and growing crops in the wetlands around the once Lake Pickering.

 

In 320 BCE, the Greek explorer, Pytheas sailed around Britain and called it Pretannike, probably from the Celtic for ‘tatooed’, from which evolved Britannia over time. The larger island of the British Isles came to be called Alba or Albion and the western island (modern Irland) Ivernia or Hibernia. Centuries later in the History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in 1136, a story emerged that the Trojan Brutus had landed in Albion finding only giants and named the land Brutaigne.

 

The Bronze Age (700 BCE back to 1,800 BCE)

 

The use of bronze was probably introduced into Yorkshire by the Beaker Folk, who arrived in the area via the Humber Estuary in about 1800 BCE.

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Beaker folk

 

They came across the Wolds and crossed the Pennines. Their name is derived from their tradition to bury beaker shaped urns with their dead.

Beaker Folk reached Malham Moor and occupied sites on the Wolds. There is evidence that they cultivated wheat and there is evidence of trade. They imported flat bronze axes from Ireland. They exported ornaments made of Whitby jet. They traded in salt and had sea connections with Scandinavia.

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Possibly transition into the Bronze Age came about by invasion, or it may have evolved through trade and peaceful contacts.

 

The people of the Bronze Age continued to hunt in upland areas. There have been finds of their barbed and tanged flint arrowheads. Gradually these were replaced with metal tools and weapons. There is evidence during the Bronze Age of metal working and tin mining, leather and cloth manufacturer, pottery and salt production. There was domestic trade and trade beyond the island’s shores.

 

The population steadily grew to perhaps about 2 million.

 

The Bronze age was a time of changes in burial rituals. Bodies were buried beneath circular mounds (round barrows) often accompanied by bronze artefacts. There are many barrows in upland locations on the Wolds and the Moors.

 

Early Bronze Age burials were performed at Ferrybridge Henge.

 

There is a Street House Long Barrow (later added to by an Anglo Saxon royal burial site) at Loftus, where many later Farndales lived and are buried.

 

Round barrows of the early part of the Bronze Age are the most conspicuous archaeological features of the North York Moors. The scarcity on lower ground is due mainly to agricultural activity. Those on higher ground have generally been found to contain cremations, while those on lower ground in limestone areas contained both burnt and unburnt bodies. The skeletons are most often accompanied by pottery (beakers, food vessels, collared urns and accessory cups), and flints, and sometimes by jet ornaments, stone battle axes and occasionally by bronze daggers. Collared urns and cremations have also been found with stone embanked circles such as at Great Ayton moor.

 

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Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 22 January 1936: In Cleveland, and especially on the eastern moorlands, remains are few and far between. Yet Guisborough has produced a bronze helmet, and Farndale moor a bronze arm purse, probably loot; while on the coast from Saltburn to Filey stand the foundations of five watchtowers erected at the time of Saxon peril.

 

The Ryedale Windy Pits are archaeologically significant natural underground features within the North York Moors National Park. This series of fissures in the Hambleton hills, near Helmsley, is located on the western slope above the river Rye. Warm or cold air rises from the fissures and comes into contact with the air outside the entrance. In winter a steamy vapour rises in puffs or jets from the holes. There are over 40 known windy pits, but only four windy pits have known significant archaeological deposits. These are Antofts, Ashberry, Bucklands and Slip Gill. The windy pits have strange vertical shafts with occasional horizontal chambers rising within the limestone cliffs. They are accessed from the surface through small openings in the woodland floor. The near vertical shafts are sometimes 70 feet deep. In all the skulls and bones of at least eight people were found in Antofts and animal bones from pigs, wild boar, red deer, roe deer, sheep, goat and dog as well as four or five beakers have also been found. The human remains include the skull of an elderly woman with a fatal wound inflicted by a long sharp, metal weapon and many disarticulated human bones.

 

Bronze age hoards of axes cast in bronze have been found at Keldholme and Gillamoor. There are barrows and tumuli such as at Whinny Hill Farm near Kirkbymoorside and Keldholme and a road in the centre of Kirkbymoorside, Howe End, circles the site of a howe, a large round mound which contained several burial sites.

 

Ryedale Historian Vol 9, 1978:

 

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There is an In Our Time podcast on the Bronze Age collapse, sudden, chaotic change around 1200 BC, mainly in the eastern Mediterranean.

 

The Neolithic Period, the New Stone Age (3,000 BCE to 1,800 BCE)

 

The New Stone Age was the period when tool making skills produced stone axes, flint axes, arrow heads, spear points, fired clay beakers and woven cloth.

 

A revolutionary advance was made in the cultural development of northeast Yorkshire at around 3000 BCE. This was the arrival from continental Europe of the first Neolithic (New Stone Age) settlers. These people must have crossed in boats; probably in dug out canoes. The Neolithic Revolution involved arable farming and the domestication of animals.


Neolithic society made pottery, weaved cloth and made baskets. These people no longer lived a semi nomadic existence. Permanent settlements were built, like to one at Ulrome, between Hornsea and Bridlington, where a dwelling built on wooden piles on the shore of a shallow lake has been found.

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Ulrome

 

The Neolithic people buried their dead with ceremony, in chambered mounds called barrows. There are examples of long and round barrows.

 

The start of stone age farming in the area of the north Yorkshire moors was in about 3,000 BCE, though there is some evidence of farming from about 5,000 years ago. By 3,000 BCE permanent settlements were built by Neolithic people.

 

From about 2,000 BC huge prehistoric monuments appeared in the Megalithic Period. The organisation required erect the large megalithic structures and the barrows suggests highly developed society.

 

The largest standing stone in Britain is a single pillar of grindstone, 25 feet high. It dominates the churchyard at Rudstone, a few miles west of Bridlington. The nearest source of stone is 10 miles north of the site.

 

Small village communities became settled, more reliant upon domestic animals and less on hunting. They built stone enclosures for animals, and developed rituals for the dead and forms of religion. Burial was in long barrows, in caves and in stone lined graves.

 

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The development of grinding and polishing stone allowed a variety of stone as well as flint to be used. Hard boulders from local glacial deposits were useful raw material. Flint axes, some polished, were found at Peak, South of Robin Hood’s Bay and green stone axes were found in Seamer. Seven miles east of Pickering in the centre of a round barrow were found a burnt flint knife and a round axe.

 

The Yearsley Moor long barrow has been excavated at the home of the later ancestors of the Ampleforth line of Farndales.

 

The Mesolithic Period (3,000 BCE back to 9,500 BCE)

 

3,000 BCE

 

Over the past half millennium, the landscape of Britain had been transformed and by 3,000 BCE ritual sites spread southwards from the inlands far to the north.

 

4,000 BCE

 

The earliest evidence of domestic crops and animals in the region dates back to about 4,000 BC. Permanent settlements were built by the Neolithic people and their culture involved ceremonial burials of their dead in barrows. The development of farming in the Vale of Pickering during the Neolithic period is evident in the distribution of earth long barrows throughout the area. These early farmers were the first to destroy the forest cover of the North York Moors. Their settlements were concentrated in the fertile parts of the limestone belt and these areas have been continuously farmed ever since. The Neolithic farmers of the moors grew crops, kept animals, made pottery and were highly skilled at making stone implements. They buried their dead in the characteristic long low burial mounds on the moors.

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We discover the first hints of our distant ancestors who would beget their poacher descendants and the inspiration for Robin Hood.

 

Their food came from wild animals, birds and fish and from berries and other fruit. They sheltered in caves, such as Kirkland Cave near Pickering. There is evidence in such caves of animals which had previously flourished in a warmer sub-tropical climate such as the bones of lions, elephants, rhinoceros and hippopotami. The Leeds Hippopotamus was found in a clay pit at Wortley in 1854. However when the first humans arrived, the climate was still sub-arctic and the earlier animals which were found were mammoths, woolly rhinoceros and reindeer.

 

5,000 BCE

 

In a different area of Britain, the Severn Estuary footprints date back to about 5,000 BC. On the southern edge of the Vale of Pickering lies West Heslerton, where recent excavation has revealed continuous habitation since the Late Mesolithic Age, about 5,000 BC. This site has revealed a great deal of dwelling and occupation evidence from the Neolithic period to the present day. 

6,500 BCE

 

As the climate continued to warm, sea levels rose, and Britain became an island. By about 6,500 BC, the British Isles became an island. By 5,000 BC Britain was separated from mainland Europe after rising sea levels had created the southern area of the North Sea. Chapel Cave, near Malham in the northern Pennines, may have been used as a hunting lookout during the Mesolithic period. Trapezoidal microliths used in wooden shafts as arrows were found in the collection of flint when the cave was excavated. Animal bones which were found there included hare, fox, roe deer, badger and a large bird. Fish scales, particularly perch, were also found. Further south, the Marsden area of the Pennines also became a seasonal hunting ground for early humans in the Mesolithic period. There were seasonal hunting encampments on the high ground by 7000 BC. Stone Age tools have been found at Pule Hill, Warcock Hill, Standedge and March Hill.

 

Those who inhabited these lands from its isolation are the genetic ancestors of those of us who live in the isles today.

 

The population was initially perhaps only a few thousand hunter gatherers, but those folk began to slash and burn the forests and lay out fields for growing cereal and rearing animals.

 

8,500 BCE

 

By about 8,500 BC, the Howick House was built.

 

9,000 BCE

 

The first settlers following the last great Ice Age entered Britain across Doggerland, the lowlands of what is now the North Sea, probably following animals such as reindeer, or travelled in boats along the Atlantic coast to the western parts of Britain. When the first people arrived the climate would have been sub arctic and the animals that the Paleolithic groups found would have been included the mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and reindeer The appearance of the terrain differed greatly from that which exists today. There was a land connection between what is now Germany and eastern England, making it possible for groups of hunters to wander into the area.

 

Map showing sea levels around Britain 10,000 years ago.

There is an In Our Time podcast on Doggerland, and the humans, plants and animals once living on land now under the North Sea, submerged in the Stone Age.

The first people appear to have arrived in the area of the North Yorkshire Moors about 10,000 years ago (perhaps about 8,000 BCE). They were hunters, hunting wild animals in the forests that covered the moors. Over time the woodland was cleared to provide grazing for animals and the start of agriculture. Large areas of high ground were cleared. Fields were cultivated. Hillforts and dykes started to appear.

 

During the 5,000 years following the arrival of the first migrants the climate improved steadily and a richer natural vegetation started to cover the land including birch, hazel, elm, pine and oak trees.

On the North York Moors relics of this early hunting, gathering and fishing community have been found as a widespread scattering of flint tools and the barbed flint flakes used in arrows and spears. The earliest known evidence of human presence in the area of the Vale of Pickering dates back to the Mesolithic period, around 7,000 BCE. The most important remaining settlement of this period is that at Star Carr near Seamer south of Scarborough in the area called The Carrs, where, due to waterlogged conditions, a considerable quantity of organic remains as well as flint tools, have survived. This is Britain’s best-known Mesolithic site. The site, on the eastern shores of glacial Lake Pickering, was surrounded by birch trees, some of which had been cleared and used to construct a rough platform of branches and brushwood. Lumps of turf and stones had been thrown on top of this construction to make a village site. The site was probably visited from time to time by about four or five families who were engaged in hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants as well as manufacturing tools and weapons and working skins for clothes.

A Mesolothic group settled at Star Carr, near Scarborough. They lived in tents made from animal skins which were erected on wooden platforms around the edge of a large ice-dammed lake, Lake Pickering. Star Carr is a Mesolithic archaeological site, about 5 miles south of Scarborough. It is generally regarded as the most important and informative Mesolithic site in Great Britain. It is as important to the Mesolithic period as Stonehenge is to the Neolithic period.

The site was occupied during the early Mesolithic archaeological period, contemporary with the preboreal and boreal climatic periods. Though the ice age had ended and temperatures were close to modern averages, sea levels had not yet risen sufficiently to separate Britain from continental Europe. Highlights among the finds include Britain’s oldest structure, 21 red deer stag skull-caps that may have been head-dresses and nearly 200 projectile, or harpoon, points made of red deer antler. These organic materials are preserved due to burial in waterlogged peat. Normally all that remains on Mesolithic sites are stone tools.

 

Another site was occupied by fishermen and hunters at Flixton, a few miles from Filey.

 

Archaeological finds at Star Carr provide evidence of early human activity. Microlith sites have been found on the Moors at Brandsale, Blakey, Bilsdale, Farndale and many more locations including flint and stone chippings and tools. Star Carr was first occupied in about 9,000 BC.

 

The last glaciation left a series of smaller lakes and meres and a vast deposit of mud on the bed of lake Pickering as the river Derwent, rushing through Kirkham Gorge, drained the Vale. Around the meres life had once abounded, Reed swamps fringed the shores and aquatic plant life grew in profusion. The higher land was densely forested by birch willow and later hazel as the climate warmed. In 1947 John Moore of the Scarborough and District Archaeological Society discovered flints which in turn lead to excavations by Professor J G D Clark near Flixton at Star Carr. On the eastern fringe of the long lost Lake Pickering, long after the larger waters had drained away and the area had become productive agricultural land, he discovered the remains of human occupation dating to 9,000 BCE beneath the pasture. He excavated in the peat where once a lake shore had existed and named the area Lake Flixton. There he found a platform of felled beech trees and on it some 16,000 pieces of flint, stone and amber beads, worked bone, antler points, implements and numerous bones of animals which had been hunted for food and for their skins.

 

The first settlers in Star Carr built a camp within the birch forest, close to the lake on a peninsula, with willow and aspen trees along the shore. The settlement continued in constant use for two or three hundred years. A large number of worked flints have been recovered in the area showing a variety of different tools were produced. They would have been used for wood and antler working; hide processing; for cutting and working plant material; and for butchering animals. Much use was made of wood for building homes. A shore side platform was perhaps used in the form of a landing stage between water and shore. The canoes, paddles, spears, harpoons, mattock handles, and bows and arrows, were all fashioned in wood. Hunting took place away from the settlement, sometimes by boat and involving a wide range of animals. Aurochs and deer were largely hunted in woodland, or by the water when they came to drink. Beavers would have been hunted around the lake. Family groups would roam the countryside collecting nuts, edible plants, fruit, and gathering raw materials for the manufacturer of artefacts such as baskets. Star Carr people might have travelled at least 16 miles to gather suitable flintstones from the coast, often walking through dense birch woodland. The camp site would have been buzzing - flintstones to knap; arrows to be tipped and fletched; bows to be painstakingly fashioned into dependable weapons. The jobs were endless, and the days never long enough. Burnt stones have revealed where groups of families sat about a fire to cook, share food and tell stories. This would have been a damp and swampy region with strong pungent smells from the water side reeds; the cooking food; from freshly killed game being gutted and skinned; and from the aroma of skins curing and of the leather and heavy woven clothing being worn. This was a place where people would experienced familiarity through their senses (from Kirkleatham Museum).

 

There is an exhibition of artefacts at Scarborough Museum and the Yorkshire Museum.

 

A hunter’s camp dating to about 6,500 YBP has been excavated at nearby West Heslerton in the Vale of Pickering. This marks a record of the later hunter gathering community.

 

11,000 BCE

 

The Middle Stone Age was the period after the ice had receded. The Ice Age ended by about 11,000 years ago.

 

There is an In Our Time podcast on the Ice Ages.

At that time, there was a land connection with continental Europe, across the southern half of the North Sea. Early stone age hunters were able to wander from north Germany and Jutland to eastern England in search of food and shelter.

 

The Palaeolithic Period or the Old Stone Age (10,000 BCE to 2.6 million year ago) 

 

The Palaeolithic Period, also known as the Old Stone Age, is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools. This period covers about 99% of human technological prehistory. It extends from the earliest known use of stone tools by hominids in Africa about 3.3 million years ago, to the end of the Pleistocene.

 

Between about 115,000 to 11,000 years ago, there were warm and cold fluctuations. The warm periods lasted long enough to explain the presence of sub tropical animals in Kirkdale cave.

 

For instance during a warm period about 80,000 years ago, the ice receded and sub tropical forest covered the land. This included the area of Kirkdale Cave, where hyena remains have been discovered. Those hyena continued to use the den into the following cold spell, then the land became more like the steppes of Russia today, so that mammoth and sabre tooth tigers roamed. At that time ice filled the North Sea and dammed up the drainage of the vale to the east.

 

Then a warmer period returned and the ice melted again to flood the Vale of Pickering.

 

The last ice age then froze the British Isles and made the lands uninhabitable for about 10,000 years from circa 22,000 BCE.

 

Around 11,600 years ago the temperature began to rise very rapidly and the ice that had covered most of Britain began to retreat to the Arctic.

Humans in Britain during the Palaeolithic period

There is evidence from bones and flint tools found in coastal deposits near Happisburgh in Norfolk and Pakefield in Suffolk that a species of predecessors to Homo sapiens were present in what is now Britain at least 814,000 years ago, when the land was tropical and hippos swam in the Thames. At this time, Southern and Eastern Britain were linked to continental Europe by a wide land bridge (Doggerland) allowing humans to move freely. The species itself lived before the ancestors of Neanderthals split from the ancestors of Homo sapiens 600,000 years ago. The current position of the English Channel was a large river flowing westwards and fed by tributaries that later became the Thames and Seine. Reconstructing this ancient environment has provided clues to the route first visitors took to arrive at what was then a peninsula of the Eurasian continent. Archaeologists have found a string of early sites located close to the route of a now lost watercourse named the Bytham River which indicate that it was exploited as the earliest route west into Britain.

Sites such as Boxgrove in Sussex illustrate the later arrival in the archaeological record of an archaic Homo species called Homo heidelbergensis around 500,000 years ago. These early peoples made Acheulean flint tools (hand axes) and hunted the large native mammals of the period. One hypothesis is that they drove elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses over the tops of cliffs or into bogs to more easily kill them.

The extreme cold of the following Anglian Stage is likely to have driven humans out of Britain altogether and the region does not appear to have been occupied again until the ice receded during the Hoxnian Stage. This warmer time period lasted from around 424,000 until 374,000 years ago and saw the Clactonian flint tool industry develop at sites such as Swanscombe in Kent. The period has produced a rich and widespread distribution of sites by Palaeolithic standards, although uncertainty over the relationship between the Clactonian and Acheulean industries is still unresolved.

Britain was populated only intermittently during this period, and even during periods of occupation may have reproduced below replacement level and needed immigration from elsewhere to maintain numbers.

According to Paul Pettitt and Mark White: The British Lower Palaeolithic (and equally that of much of northern Europe) is thus a long record of abandonment and colonisation, and a very short record of residency. The sad but inevitable conclusion of this must be that Britain has little role to play in any understanding of long-term human evolution and its cultural history is largely a broken record dependent on external introductions and insular developments that ultimately lead nowhere. Britain, therefore, was an island of the living dead.

From 180,000 BCE to 60,000 BCE there is no evidence of human occupation in Britain, probably due to inhospitable cold in some periods, Britain being cut off as an island in others, and the neighbouring areas of north-west Europe being unoccupied by hominins at times when Britain was both accessible and hospitable.

The earliest evidence for modern humans in North West Europe is a jawbone discovered in England at Kents Cavern in 1927, which was re-dated in 2011 to between 41,000 and 44,000 years old. The most famous example from this period is the burial of the "Red Lady of Paviland" (actually now known to be a man) in modern-day coastal South Wales, which was dated in 2009 to be 33,000 years old. The distribution of finds shows that humans in this period preferred the uplands of Wales and northern and western England to the flatter areas of eastern England. Their stone tools are similar to those of the same age found in Belgium and far north-east France, and very different from those in north-west France. At a time when Britain was not an island, hunter gatherers may have followed migrating herds of reindeer from Belgium and north-east France across the giant Channel River.

The climatic deterioration which culminated in the Last Glacial Maximum, between about 26,500 and 19,000–20,000 years ago, drove humans out of Britain, and there is no evidence of occupation for around 18,000 years after 33,000 BCE. 

Kirkdale Cave

 

St Gregory's Minster is an Anglo-Saxon church in Kirkdale near Kirkbymoorside in the Vale of Pickering. It was rebuilt in 1055 to 1065 perhaps after a Danish raid. In 1821, a quarry close to the Minster was being worked for road stone. The quarry men cut through a cave entrance. They spread stone chippings on the road, not noticing small bones. This cave was later found to have been covered by many inches depth of animal bones beneath a layer of dried mud. The local vicar later spotted the bones and reported his find to the Reverend William Buckland, who was a professor of minerology and geology at Oxford University. Buckland came to the site in 1822. He later reported to the Royal Society in London the discovery of (1) straight tusked elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, bison and giant bear finds from the earlier warmer period; and (2) mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, reindeer, horse and sabre tooth tiger remains from the later cold spells. The hyena bones were abundant and evidenced that hyena dragged animal parts into the cave to eat them.

 

All the bones at Kirkdale were accumulated across the cave floor and later a sediment of mud was introduced on a single occasion. This covered thousands of bone remains. Perhaps this mud was carried in by a rush of water, perhaps from glacial melt flooding through Newton Dale to lift Lake Pickering to a height of 250 metres. Thereafter a gradual reduction in the depth of Lake Pickering followed over many years, as water escaped through Kirkham Gorge, to flow towards the Humber Region. The Vale was then left as a great wetland of scattered small lakes, later turned by humans to agricultural land.

 

Travelling even further back in time - Migrations of humans from Africa across the globe, to Europe

 

Humans have been on the move since our ancestors first evolved in Africa, meeting and mixing, staying and separating, as they tried to survive in changing circumstances. Human relatives of the species Homo erectus began to spread across the world two million years ago. Modern people are all descended from members of our species, Homo sapiens (first skull image), some of whom came out of Africa much more recently – less than 100,000 years ago.

 

The period when human relatives first arrived in Britain, the period, geologically speaking, in which we still live, has swung between ice ages and relatively warm interludes such as we enjoy today. Species of Homo – such as Homo neanderthalensis (second skull image) and Homo heidelbergensis (third skull image) were in Britain from 800,000 years ago, living by hunting wild animals and gathering plant foods as long as the climate was warm enough.

The migration of modern humans into Europe

                                                                              

To 37,500 YBP                                                  To 35,000 YBP                                                  To 32,500 YBP                                                         Up to 30,000 YBP

The recent expansion of anatomically modern humans reached the periphery of Europe around 40,000 years ago from Central Asia and the Middle East, as a result of cultural adaption to big game hunting of sub-glacial steppe fauna. Neanderthals were present both in the Middle East and in Europe, and the arriving populations of anatomically modern humans (also known as "Cro-Magnon" or European early modern humans) interbred with Neanderthal populations to a limited degree. Populations of modern humans and Neanderthal overlapped in various regions such as the Iberian peninsula and the Middle East. Interbreeding may have contributed Neanderthal genes to palaeolithic and ultimately modern Eurasians and Oceanians.

An important difference between Europe and other parts of the inhabited world was the northern latitude. Archaeological evidence suggests humans, whether Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon, reached sites in Arctic Russia by 40,000 years ago.

Cro-Magnon are considered the first anatomically modern humans in Europe. They entered Eurasia by the Zagros Mountains (near present-day Iran and eastern Turkey) around 50,000 years ago, with one group rapidly settling coastal areas around the Indian Ocean and another migrating north to the steppes of Central Asia. Modern human remains dating to 43–45,000 years ago have been discovered in Italy and Britain, as well as in the European Russian Arctic from 40,000 years ago.

Humans colonised the environment west of the Urals, hunting reindeer especially, but were faced with adaptive challenges; winter temperatures averaged from −20 to −30 °C (−4 to −22 °F) with fuel and shelter scarce. They travelled on foot and relied on hunting highly mobile herds for food. These challenges were overcome through technological innovations: tailored clothing from the pelts of fur-bearing animals; construction of shelters with hearths using bones as fuel; and digging “ice cellars” into the permafrost to store meat and bones.

The timing of global human migration

Homo sapiens (anatomically modern humans) are assumed to have emerged about 300,000 years ago. Previously, the Omo remains, excavated between 1967 and 1974 in Omo National Park, Ethiopia, and dated to 200,000 years ago, were long held to be the oldest known fossils of anatomically modern humans.

In July 2019, anthropologists reported the discovery of 210,000 year old remains of a Homo sapiens and 170,000 year old remains of a Homo neanderthalensis in Apidima Cave in southern Greece, more than 150,000 years older than previous Homo sapiens finds in Europe.

Populations of Homo sapiens migrated to the Levant and to Europe between 130,000 and 115,000 years ago, and possibly in earlier waves as early as 185,000 years ago. These early migrations do not appear to have led to lasting colonisation and receded by about 80,000 years ago. There is a possibility that this first wave of expansion may have reached China (or even North America as early as 125,000 years ago, but would have died out without leaving a trace in the genome of contemporary humans.

There is some evidence that modern humans left Africa at least 125,000 years ago using two different routes: through the Nile Valley heading to the Middle East, at least into modern Israel (Qafzeh: 120,000–100,000 years ago); and a second route through the present-day Bab-el-Mandeb Strait on the Red Sea (at that time, with a much lower sea level and narrower extension), crossing to the Arabian Peninsula and settling in places like the present-day United Arab Emirates (125,000 years ago) and Oman (106,000 years ago), and possibly reaching the Indian Subcontinent (Jwalapuram: 75,000 years ago). Although no human remains have yet been found in these three places, the apparent similarities between the stone tools found at Jebel Faya, those from Jwalapuram and some from Africa suggest that their creators were all modern humans. These findings might give some support to the claim that modern humans from Africa arrived at southern China about 100,000 years ago (Zhiren CaveZhirendongChongzuo City: 100,000 years ago; and the Liujiang hominid (Liujiang County): controversially dated at 139,000–111,000 years ago ). Dating results of the Lunadong (Bubing Basin, Guangxi, southern China) teeth, which include a right upper second molar and a left lower second molar, indicate that the molars may be as old as 126,000 years. Since these previous exits from Africa did not leave traces in the results of genetic analyses based on the Y chromosome and on MtDNA (which represent only a small part of the human genetic material), it seems that those modern humans did not survive in large numbers and were assimilated by our major antecessors. An explanation for their extinction (or small genetic imprint) may be the Toba eruption (74,000 years ago), though some argue it scarcely impacted human population.

The so-called "recent dispersal" of modern humans has taken place after beginning about 70–50,000 years ago. It is this migration wave that led to the lasting spread of modern humans throughout the world.

A small group from a population in East Africa, bearing mitochondrial haplogroup L3 and numbering possibly fewer than 1,000 individuals, crossed the Red Sea strait at Bab el Mandib, to what is now Yemen, after around 75,000 years ago. A recent review has also shown support for the northern route through Sinai/Israel/Syria (Levant). Their descendants spread along the coastal route around Arabia and Persia to the Indian subcontinent before 55,000 years ago. Other research supports a migration out of Africa between about 65,000 and 50,000 years ago. The coastal migration between roughly 70,000 and 50,000 years ago is associated with mitochondrial haplogroups M and N, both derivative of L3.

A fragment of a jawbone with eight teeth found at Misliya Cave, Israel, has been dated to around 185,000 years ago. Layers dating from between 250,000 and 140,000 years ago in the same cave contained tools of the Levallois type which could put the date of the first migration even earlier if the tools can be associated with the modern human jawbone finds.

Along the way Homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans, with Denisovan DNA making 0.2% of mainland Asian and Native American DNA.

The end of a journey

Here we end our travels backwards through time. To go further still, you might explore the evolutionary history of life on earth, perhaps starting with Darwin’s theories.