How The Iron Age Changed The Face Of Britain

The Iron Age in Britain began around 800 BC and lasted until the Roman invasion of AD43, and it had a transformative effect on the way that people lived their lives. Incomers from the European mainland brought their iron-working skills with them during this period, prompting the transition out of the Bronze Age. Here’s a brief look at how it unfolded.

Iron is stronger than bronze and at that time was relatively easy to obtain. In fact, it is still widely used today for all kinds of practical and decorative purposes. Advances in metalworking technology meant that iron could be melted and manipulated, and it is much lighter and easier to work with than bronze.

This helped to revolutionise farming practices, because iron tipped ploughs were faster and more effective at turning the land than wooden or bronze ones. Iron axes enabled farmers to clear land quickly, increasing the amount of crops they could grow. This led to increased food production, and reduced the time spent on hunting and gathering.

At the same time, iron replaced bronze as the metal of choice for weapon making. This was important because at this time, Britons lived in tribal clans on hillfort settlements that were led by warrior kings. Defending themselves and attacking rival tribes was a way of life, and more effective weapons allowed populations to travel further.

With better means of defence and attack, tribes were able to migrate to more fertile and hospitable areas of the country and even into mainland Europe and Asia. Better farming methods and greater access to food meant that populations swiftly grew, and towns and cities began to proliferate. 

A surplus of food and denser populations meant that people could devote more time to developing other skills, including forging decorative metalwork for jewellery, ornaments and buildings. Other crafts such as cloth making flourished. Iron led to the introduction of the potter’s wheel, which enabled people to produce pots of different shapes and sizes. 

All these new developments led to a huge growth in the amount of trade carried out nationally and between different civilisations. There were major changes to the structure of societies, which quickly shifted from primitive hunter-gatherer tribes to the beginnings of the urban settlements that the majority of us still live in today. 

It is fascinating to see how profound and far-reaching the effect of iron was across Britain, and indeed the entire globe. The Iron Age didn’t occur consistently at one time throughout the world, spreading to different regions over a span of several centuries.

Of course, iron eventually led to the production of steel, which was the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution between 1760 to 1830. Britain led the way in the technological changes which allowed for goods to be mass produced for the first time.

As we become conscious of sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of life, we are seeing a return to the value of handcrafted products, which are often of far better quality and more durable.

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