What was prehistoric Britain like?

The story of prehistoric Britain began when the first humans arrived in Britain. It ended when the Romans conquered the ancient Britons and Britain became part of the Roman Empire.

The earliest humans were hunter-gatherers. They survived by hunting animals and finding food to eat. Then, very gradually people learned new skills. First they learned to herd animals and grow crops. Later they discovered the secrets of making bronze and iron.

Prehistoric people couldn't read or write, but they were astonishing builders. Their tombs, forts and monuments have survived for thousands of years.

Take a trip through 900,000 years of prehistoric history.

How do we know about prehistory?

Prehistoric people left no written records, so how do we know about their lives?

Archaeologists work like detectives looking for evidence. They use this evidence to build up a picture of the past.

The remains of homes and temples show how people lived and worshipped. Tools and weapons give clues about the way people worked and fought. Bumps and ridges in the landscape show the layout of ancient villages, fields and forts.

Some of the best evidence comes from human remains. Skeletons have been found buried with their possessions and a few bodies have been preserved in bogs.

By examining human remains, experts can work out when a person lived. Sometimes they can even suggest what they looked like!

The skeleton of a Neolithic man displayed next to a recreation of his face
Meet a Stone Age man! Experts have recreated the face of this man whose body was found in a tomb near Stonehenge.

The prehistoric period is divided into three ‘ages’. They are known as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

Click on the image to find out more.

Take a look at three very different archaeological sites: a fort, a mine and a tomb.

Click on the images to uncover evidence about prehistoric Britain.

The end of prehistoric Britain

The prehistoric period came to an end when the Romans invaded Britain. In 55 BC Julius Caesar tried to invade Britain, but he was driven back by British warriors. The next year he tried again and failed.

Almost 100 years later, in AD43, the Roman general Agricola launched a new invasion. This time the Romans conquered Britain.

Some ancient Britons retreated to Cornwall, Wales and Scotland, where they continued to follow their Celtic customs. Many others decided not to move. They stayed on in Britain and learned to live like the Romans.

A few Roman writers described the ancient Britons. Their writings provide a valuable source of evidence for life in Iron Age Britain.

Julius Caesar pictured the Britons as fierce warriors who rode their chariots into battle. He wrote that 'All the Britons paint themselves with woad, which produces a dark blue colour, and for this reason they are much more frightful in appearance in battle.'

Caratacus was an Iron Age chief who fought against the Romans. He is also known by his Celtic name Caradog, and he became a hero for the Celts.
Prehistoric family living in cave