A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 1

early east anglia

Neolithic Period, New Stone Age 3,500 - 2,000 BC

The Neolithic, or New Stone Age, saw a higher civilisation emerge, based on agriculture and stock raising. About 4,000 BC settlers arrived in Suffolk bringing with them the ability to grow wheat and barley and to husband cattle, sheep and pigs. They had efficient tools of flint, stone and bone, and were capable enough with these basic tools to cut down trees and forests to allow for the cultivation of new fields and to provide timber for building. This clearance had started by 3,500 BC in Suffolk and in the Breckland, Norfolk, area, where the Neolithic settlers had cut down most of the woodland. Clearing by fire must have been the general practice, with the trees being cut down with the flint axes and the stumps burned before grubbing out the roots to grow crops. Axes and adzes were used to prepare the ground and digging sticks used for sowing. Stone blades were attached at right angles to curved stakes to create a primitive plough, and it is possible that ploughs drawn by oxen were also in use.   

The Neolithic people were Suffolk's first farmers, building farmsteads as the nomadic way of life died out. This created a more certain supply of food which led to a rise in population and in the necessity of more permanent housing. The excavation of a Neolithic farmstead near Mildenhall, Suffolk, found traces of post-holes for timber uprights and small hollows in the ground used as storage pits for grain. These settlers seem to have built small rectangular or circular huts, sometimes with stone foundations on which a timber framework rested.

They also dug circular waist-high pits which they lined with stone as a base on which the upper part of the hut was built. In the centre would be a post to support the roof which was covered with branches or turf. A fire could be lit inside the hut within a stone hearth on which they could use their newly invented clay vessels. These were made for the cooking or storage of food and drink. The pots had rounded bottoms and were decorated with lines and impressions made by twisted cord or carved animal bone. Saddle querns were found locally which were used to grind grain, and elsewhere sherds of pottery had impressions of emmer-wheat and barley made on their surfaces.

Near the Angel Hotel was a hollow with a layer of flints, the bottom of which may have been used to store grain. Various flint tools also were located, and over 150 blades, broken blades and scrapers were found nearby, and about fifty micro-blades which would have been used to make cutting edges for knives, sickles and saws. The flints made in the Neolithic periods were often the work of experts, who produced very delicate shaped arrowheads and blades. The size of many tools were reduced and much finer points and sharper edges could be achieved by a secondary re-touching of the edges on both faces of the flint cutting edge. Leaf-shaped arrowheads are common, and scrapers, chisels and choppers are found on Neolithic sites as casual finds when field walking. A huge mining area was established at Grimes Graves, Norfolk, about 2,500 BC, a prehistoric group of flint mines a few miles north-west of Thetford. This was discovered in 1869 and a total of 366 shaft mines and pits have been located. They were mined by using sharpened red deer antlers as picks, and over two hundred antlers were found in one mine alone. Other workers in the area knapped and trimmed the roughly shaped flints to make axes which were traded long distances. This was one of the earliest examples of a village or location specializing in a particular industry - just like a modern industrial estate.

It seems likely that the smaller islands, marshy areas and reed beds on the river banks were flooded during the later years of the Neolithic period, as the rivers rose. The Blyth river would have flooded the community site which had been established on the dry sandy site by the river on the Angel Bowling Green site.     An important fact about the Neolithic period was the gradual ability to plan and undertake projects for the community, so that there are in Suffolk examples of enclosed camps, elaborate burial mounds and processional avenues similar to those which are found in the South of England and the Salisbury Plain.


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