Neolithic 4000 BC to 2200 BC
In four brief centuries, 4200 BC – 3800 BC, the landscape of Britain was transformed by the arrival and spread of new practices and behaviours that together make up what is referred to as the ‘Neolithic package’. The transformations were fundamental and irreversible and set in motion dynamics of change that are still being played out today.
The most far-reaching of the innovations was the introduction of an already fully developed food-producing strategy based on the cultivation of emmer wheat and barley and the husbanding of domestic cattle, sheep and pigs. All of these crops and animals had to be carried to Britain by boat from Continental Europe as the land bridge no longer existed. The new subsistence strategy reduced the dependence on hunting and gathering to such an extent that even in coastal regions the majority of protein intake was from land-based animals. Samples of animal bones taken from Neolithic sites across Southern Britain show that domesticated cattle were the dominant source of animal protein with sheep and pig competing for second place. So, cattle were very important to the community and the status of the group or the individual may well have been measured by the size of the herd.
Alongside these major changes in food sourcing came much reduced mobility in everyday life. While flocks and herds would have been allowed to wander as they browsed, the need to tend them and to protect fields of grain meant that populations became more sedentary and the home base became increasingly important. Arrangements also had to be made to store the all-important seed grain essential for the well-being of the community. It is no coincidence that large timber-built houses now begin to appear for the first time. The construction of large timber halls was a statement of society’s wish to make a permanent mark on the landscape which was not present in the preceding Mesolithic period.
A new range of material culture was also introduced. The first pottery appears widely across the country in the first two centuries after 4000 BC. This is the first artificial material to be made in Britain, the product of carefully controlled pyrotechnics. Another technological innovation was the grinding and polishing of stone to make symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing axe-heads. The flaked stone repertoire also developed to include leaf-shaped arrow heads and plano-convex knives.
There are finds of flint in our area, but unfortunately there is little differentiation in the archaeological record between Neolithic and Mesolithic flints. However, they do show that there was significant activity on the slopes of the upper Meon Valley.
As the new communities settled into their ecological niches, so their surplus energies were harnessed and directed towards communal works and monuments. The first were the flint mines on the Sussex Downs. Not long after, long barrows, long mortuary enclosures, and cursus monuments (parallel earthworks defining strips of land) were being built. There is a well-known long barrow on Salt Hill, south of East Meon.