Since this age is so long, archaeologists divide it into another three parts: Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic. The dates for these periods vary from region to region, according to the type of stone tool being used. The earliest humans living at least 500,000 years ago had anatomically modern human-like hands, giving the physical ability to make things. This is the finding of researchers studying a particular stone tool used at that time, a Stone Age treasure unearthed in Sussex.
Some beautifully made prehistoric flint hand axes had been found at Boxgrove in West Sussex, made by early Stone Age humans despite being a human species ancestral to our own that became extinct more than 300,000 years ago. Each had required a special technique to shape them. Rather than simply hitting a lump of flint repeatedly with a stone, knocking bits off it until the desired shape is achieved, a two-step process in which small portions of the flint’s surface would be prepared in a way to more accurately remove flakes from it, therefore making a more sophisticated and effective tool with a better and more refined cutting edge.
The discovery of the ‘Near Lewes’ Middle Bronze Age hoard, dating back to between 1400 and 1250BC) has led to the question about how and why such an incredible buried treasure should be in the Sussex landscape. When discovered, the earthenware vessel held more than 50 objects, many of them seem to be dress adornments including multiple versions os coiled finger rings, gold applique discs, ring-headed pins and ceramic and amber bead necklaces. Also included where the well-known type of axe-head from this period in Southern England, known as bronze palstaves, whilst other items were more local, including the ‘Sussex Loop’ bracelets which have only ever been found within the vicinity of Brighton. The mix of local and regionally-produced items with rare objects including amber beads from the Baltic, gold decorative discs normally only found to France and special ‘tutuli’ type mounts produced in Germany suggests the items were important to the individuals that buried them, whilst at the same time can help further research into prehistoric trade relationships between Sussex people and those from the Continent.
The Iron Age is marked by the use of iron for tools and weapons. Outside Northern Europe, it also saws the development of writing. For the first time, people were able to record detailed information. In South East England, the term ‘Iron Age’ is used to describe a 700-year period which ended with the Roman invasion in 43AD. Iron Age Britons lived in small farmsteads that would have supported small, isolated communities, producing enough to live on and a little extra to exchange for goods they were unable to provide for themselves. Harvested cereal crops were often stored in deep chalk pits. Many such pits have been found within the hillfort at Caburn, near Glynde, East Sussex and whilst some were a focus for communal storage, some appear to have been used for communal rituals. It is thought that Caburn originated as a late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age settlement, becoming heavily fortified during the Middle Iron Age, with the outer ditch added much later.
Coinage was introduced, and wheel thrown pottery was being made in some areas. There was also a population increase in Southern England during the late Iron Age, probably linked with advances in agriculture including the use of iron-tipped ploughs drawn by oxen. There is also evidence of iron working at sites near Crowhurst and Sedlescombe.