The earliest ancestors of humans are called hominids, descended from apes, and very different in size and appearance to modern people. They walked on two legs, made and used primitive tools from stone and flint, and wandered the lands in small groups, hunting, scavenging and gathering to survive. The tools they made allowed them to develop and survive: flint tipped spears for example allowed them to successfully tackle bigger game.
Although these hominids are known from up to 5 million years ago, and stone tools are known from about 2.5 million years ago, the earliest evidence in Britain dates to around 800,000 to 1 million years ago. However, numbers were always low, as they wandered the lands. Britain was at this point still joined to Europe allowing people to cross. This period is called the Palaeolithic, or Old Stone Age.
Early hominids evolved through many species over the millions of years. These early populations were very vulnerable to climate change, especially to Ice Ages, and it appears that Britain was completely uninhabited from 180,000 to 40,000 BC. Modern humans (homo sapiens) emerged from around 30,000 years ago, and replaced the Neanderthals as the main species of people, but again Britain was empty during the last Ice Age from 20,000 – 12,000 BC. These last glaciers left behind the landscape we see today, including for example to large amounts of gravel in the river valleys.
After the last Ice Age, the period known as the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), and the earliest known activity in Caldecote dates from this time. The glaciers also left behind lots of flints, which in the Mesolithic were used to make blades and tools. These flint scatters are found in the area and show where people were making tools and are usually found near rivers, which provided water and fish for food.
The Neolithic period saw many changes: the land bridge had finally broken by then, and increasingly animals were tamed. This meant that people no longer had to follow the animals around and could settle down, and grow crops and this era sees the first settled farms and houses surrounded by fields. Studying ancient pollen and insects found on archaeological sites tells us what the environment was like at the time, and we can see that areas of forest were being cleared to plant crops. Pottery is first found at this time, and they often buried their dead in large burial mounds.
The first metals were introduced from 2500BC marking the Bronze Age. The climate continued to warm up, making land more productive and fertile, and the improvement in technology allowed for greater crop yields and a rise in the population. Material culture also becomes more complex, as the remains around Flag Fen show, with roundhouses, timber causeways and log boats. However, early settlement is often governed by geology and soils, and Caldecote lies on heavy clay that is difficult to cultivate without suitable tools. This was beyond the Neolithic and Bronze Age farmers, and there are no known settlements here. More advances in technology were needed before this could happen.
NB – we have chosen to use the conventional BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – the year of our Lord) to describe the dates on this website, rather than BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era). We consider that these terms will be more readily recognised and understood by the majority of readers.by