Prehistory of the Lea Valley: Stone Age to Iron Age c.1,000,000 BC – 43AD
This incredible period of history lasted over 1,000,000 years. Dramatic changes in climate shaped the landscape we see today. The oldest period is known as the Stone Age because of the main material people used to make tools with at the time. Remains of these tools, and the animals that were hunted with them can still be found around this area and many of them are on display in Lowewood Museum.
There are three periods within the Stone Age, which mark changes in the stone tools that were made. During the Palaeolithic, or Old Stone Age, the main tool was the handaxe. This was a large piece of flint with one rounded edge that fitted comfortably in the hand. There was also a sharp edge that could be used for a range of different jobs such as cutting meat and wood, scraping animal hides or making other tools. In the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, stone tools got smaller and a range of different tools were made to suit different jobs. In the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, stone tools were polished which made them much stronger.
During the Palaeolithic period there were great changes in the climate between cold and warm periods. During cold periods the landscape round here was covered by wide open grasslands where woolly mammoth, woolly rhino and bison thrived. In warmer periods grasslands were replaced by forests which suited different animals, such as straight tusked elephants and aurochs, an ancient type of wild cattle.
Molar tooth of a woolly mammoth.
Bone of a straight tusked elephant, flint axes and hammer stone.
During the Mesolithic period which started about 8,800 BC, the climate warmed again. Forests grew and different animals such as wild boar, deer, foxes and badgers moved here across the land bridge with Europe. Mammoth and other animals that preferred cold conditions moved further north and across to what we now know as Siberia. The land bridge was finally cut off about 6,500BC when sea levels rose. People had to adapt their tools to suit hunting different animals in a different landscape. They made small arrowheads for hunting deer in forests and smaller scrapers for cutting and cleaning meat and skins.
In the Neolithic period, people used stronger polished stone tools to cut down trees and plough land so they could grow food by farming as well as hunting.
The Bronze Age began around 2,600BC when people worked out how to extract metal ore from rock. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, could be heated until it turned into liquid, and then poured into clay moulds to make axe heads useful for clearing even more land for farming. The majority of Bronze Age objects in the Museum’s collection were found in Half Hide Lane, Cheshunt during an archaeological dig in 1983.
Around 800 BC, the Iron Age began when people worked out how to create the high temperatures needed to heat iron and hammer it in to shape. Iron was even stronger than bronze, allowing for more tools and equipment to be made. Wooden fragments on display in Lowewood Museum are evidence of a possible Iron Age Lake Village was found at Fishers Green.
Find out more about the prehistoric people, animals and places of Broxbourne within Lowewood Museum’s Braham Gallery.