By Stephen Harrison, BA, MPil Phd, Consultant Archaeologist
Bronze Age
Iron Age
Early Modern

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PALAEOLITHIC (c.250,000 8,300 BC)

It is not known precisely when people first inhabited what was to become the British Isles. There is, however, a small amount of evidence (but not from East Yorkshire) which indicates that this event took place sometime between 250,000 and 500,000 years ago, at a time, known as the Pleistocene, when much of the northern hemisphere was shrouded by vast ice sheets. This was not a single massive advance and subsequent retreat of the polar ice cap, but a series of five or more successive expansions, interspersed by periods when the climate was at least comparable to that of today.

It was during these warmer, interglacial, episodes that Palaeolithic ("Old Stone Age") people first came to Britain. They comprised small bands of hunters and gatherers, pursuing wild animals, such as, for example, horses, deer, bison, wild cattle aud elephants, and foraging for fruits and berries.

Palacolithic communities were highly mobile, ranging far across the landscape, establishing temporary camp sites wherever they happened to be; at this time, Britain was joined to Europe by dry land, across what is now the North Sea and the English Channel.

Except for their tool kits, Palaeolithic people have left almost no trace of their activities in the archaeological record. As a way of life, hunting and gathering requires very little equipment. Settlements were short-lived campsites, often situated beside a river or lake, or inside caves. Hunting territories were large and, undoubtedly, there were long periods when people were completely absent from Britain.

There are no certain traces of these earliest prehistoric peoples in East Yorkshire, but the early climatic and vegetational history of the region can be assessed through the analysis of pollen contained in peat and soil deposits. Similarly, the discovery of faunal remains provide evidence of the animals which inhabited this area - for example, wild horse, mammoth, bison and reindeer.

The last ice sheets retreated from Britain around 12,000 BC. After this date, the sequence of events becomes somewhat clearer, not least because the evidence survives, more often than not, in a relatively undisturbed state. The subsistence economy was still based on hunting and gathering, and groups remained highly mobile, roaming freely across the North European Plain.

Around 10,000 BC the arctic conditions associated with the last glacial episode began to ameliorate and the climate gradually became warmer. This was not a straightforward event; the warming-up process suffered several temporary setbacks as short, cooler spells intervened and disrupted the overall momentum. However, by about 9,000 BC the vegetation had changed from tundra to a closed woodland, dominated by pine and birch.

There is some evidence that indicates that Late Palaeolithic people were present in East Yorkshire during the climatic transition. Perhaps the most important, and certainly the most recent, piece of evidence comes from Gransmoor, to the east of Driffield, in Holderness. Here, in 1992, a small barbed antler point ("harpoon") was discovered lodged in a birch log. This implement has been dated to around 9,500 BC, and represents, presumably, an item of equipment lost during a hunting expedition. Whatever the circumstances of its deposition, it is an important addition to the late glacial human evidence from the region.

Pathaeolithic c.250,000 - 8,300 BC
Mesolithic c.8,300 - 4,000 BC
Neolithic c.4,000 - 2,000 BC
Bronze Agec.2,000 - 800 BC
Iron Agec.800 BC - AD 71
Romano-British c.AD 71 - 410
Anglo-Saxon and Vikingc.AD 410 - 1066
Medieval c.AD 1066 - 1540
Early Modernc.1600 -1800
Modern c.1800 to the present day

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