The Stone Age and after
The Neolithic refers to the most recent phase of the Stone Age, when only recent animals and plants existed and people practised farming and a number of new industrial arts, including polishing flint axes, textile weaving and pottery. In the first part of the Stone Age, the Palaeolithic, people lived by hunting and foraging, depending on flaked stone tools, and extinct Pleistocene animals, such as mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, were common. In the intermediate Mesolithic, there were no Pleistocene animals but neither did Mesolithic people practise farming, textile weaving or pottery (Clark).
1. Mesolithic Age – 9000 to 6000 BC
The last of the large mammoths and the sabre-toothed tigers died out around 8000 BC and the last Ice Age also finished about 8000 BC. Britain became separated from mainland Europe around 6000 BC.
Domestication of sheep in central Asia started around 7-8000 BC, but initially sheep were kept for meat and not for wool.
2. Neolithic Age – 6000 BC to 2500 BC
Pottery appeared over a wide area around the Mediterranean and the Middle East close to 6000 BC. From 4500 BC, farming started to develop and flint and stone was mined for flint tools. The first stone circles and henges were built around 3000 BC.
Flax used for linen in Middle East in 6500 BC and by the Ancient Egyptians from 3000 BC. Swiss Lake Dwellers used a native flax to make cloth around 4000 BC. Sheep were introduced to Britain by Neolithic settlers around 4000 BC. Cotton cultivation started in Mexico, Pakistan and Peru from about 3500 BC to 2500 BC.
3. Bronze Age – 2500 BC to 800 BC
Bronze axes and other metal tools and ornaments developed but flint tools continued to be used. Celtic culture starts to develop from 1200 BC.
By the beginning of the Bronze Age, livestock is being farmed in Britain and Soay sheep was the predominant sheep type. Nettle cloth was used in northern Europe.
4. Iron Age – 800 BC to 43 AD
800 BC first hill forts developed and Iron starts to become widely used in Britain, although bronze was still in use. First coins used in 100 BC.
The introduction of shears allowed sheep to be sheared rather than plucked but Soay was still the predominant sheep type in Britain.
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5. Roman – 43 AD to 410 AD
The first Roman invasion of Britain was in 54 BC, but Claudius’s invasion in 43 AD established a long period of Roman rule.
Romans imported white-face short-wool sheep and white-face hill sheep developed from crosses with Soay.
6. Anglo-Saxons and Vikings – 410 AD to 1066
This period is often referred to as ‘The Dark Ages’ but more is now known about this time. 789 AD – first Viking attack and settlement established in 886, through division of England by treaty into a Viking Danelaw in the north-east and a Saxon Wessex or Kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons in the south-west.
Danes introduced black-face short-wool sheep in the north-east.
7. Norman Britain – 1066 to 1154
Bayeux tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings is completed in 1077. Domesday Book started in 1085.
8. Medieval (Middle Ages) – 1154 to 1485
The first Plantagenet king was in 1154 AD and the Black Death in 1348
Flax was predominant plant fibre in Europe of the Middle Ages.
Medieval short-wool (Ryeland) and medieval long-wools (Cotswold and Lincoln) were the most common sheep breeds through the Middle Ages.
9. Tudor – 1485 to 1603
Henry VIII starts dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 and Exploration of the world takes off.
10. The Stuarts and the Commonwealth – 1603 to 1714
Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector of England during the ‘Commonwealth’ era (1653 – 1658). The Great Plague of London in 1665 and Great Fire of London in 1666.
11. Georgian – 1714 to 1837
French Revolution in 1789 and the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Lustre long-wool developed from medieval long-wools and Downs sheep developed from black-face short-wools.
12. Victorian - 1837 to 1901
The age of invention and the Industrial Revolution, accompanied by a sharp decline in home-based flax and linen production.
See the BBC History Timeline for more details of the general historical background (but not, of course, of sheep and wool or plant fibres...)
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