Prehistory of the Lea Valley: Stone Age to Iron Age

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.

Mammoth Tooth

Molar tooth of a woolly mammoth. 


Elephant Tusk and Flints

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.



Archaeological objects on display at Lowewood Museum

Last year, Lowewood Museum refurbished its archaeology display which explores the history of the Borough of Broxbourne, from the very earliest times up to the 1600s.

On display are some of the most interesting objects in the Museum’s collection. Find out more about them in this blog and pop into the Museum and see them and many more fascinating objects on display.

Cloak toggle

Iron Age 800 BC to 43 AD


This toggle, made from a piece of antler, was found in Turnford in 1954. Antlers and bones were used throughout the later prehistoric period to make things like toggles for fastening clothing, as well as needles, pendants and dice. The objects themselves, like this one, are often decorated with concentric circles, a pattern typical of the Iron Age period.


Gold Aureus of Trajan

AD 114-117

Gold Aureus of Trajan. Lowewood Museum Application

Found by metal detectorists on land adjoining Ermine Street, Cheshunt, this coin came to the museum through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The finder kindly waived their prize money and the Museum was able to purchase it with a grant from the Hertfordshire Heritage Fund.

Baselard Dagger

Late 1300s


In 1918, this dagger was found by a workman beneath a hedge near Dark Lane, Cheshunt. It was sent to the Royal Armouries Museum in 1954 to be identified, and was found to be a most interesting find. It remained on loan with them until 2014 when it returned to Lowewood Museum. This type of dagger was specifically for civilian use and the form of its surviving silver sheath-mount shows it was originally accompanied by a small by-knife for domestic use.


Lowewood Museum is free to attend and open Wednesday – Friday, 10am – 4pm and Saturday, 10am – 5pm. Members of the public can call the Museum on 01992 445596 to find out more or follow the Museum on Twitter @Lowewood.