Our Oldest Ancestors

Over the last million years or so there have been long periods of time when what is now the British Isles was uninhabitable. The spread of ice sheets during these most recent phases of The Ice Age covered much of the land, and the rest was permafrost and tundra like the Canadian Arctic today. In the warmer phases, though, our human ancestors moved north from what is now mainland Europe, and evidence of their times and lives emerges from archaeological digs around the country. In every one of our counties that evidence shows when and where our earliest ancestors lived

Greater Manchester is one of our most densely populated counties and is home to 2.7million people today. The oldest evidence of human occupation is mostly found on the moorlands in the east of the county on the edges of The Pennines. Human tools dating from the Mesolithic period have been found in several sites around Rochdale and Oldham, and also in the peat of Kersal Moss in Salford in the west of Greater Manchester. At Mellor Iron Age fort, which sits on a spur above the River Goyt north of Mellor, 7km east of Stockport, excavations have revealed over 200 bladed flint tools dating from 8000 to 6000BC showing that Mesolithic humans occupied the site long before it became an Iron Age fort. (Grid Reference SJ98208893).So our earliest ancestors in Greater Manchester were living in the area some 10,000 years ago.

Further south our oldest ancestors arrived rather earlier,. “Londoners”, for example, have been around much longer than “Mancunians”! In Greater London there is evidence of human occupation which dates back to about 400,000 years ago. An archaeological dig at Wantsunt Pit in Galloway Drive, Crayford, on Dartford Heath in the London Borough of Bexley revealed hand axes in the ancient river gravels. Their shape and size indicated they were of the Acheulian style, which dates them to the period between 424,000 and 374,000 years ago. This was a period known as the Hoxnian interglacial, when the ice sheets temporarily retreated, and the evidence shows that human ancestors migrated into the region from further south as the climate improved (Grid Reference TQ51637390).

Lanarkshire is one of Scotland’s most densely populated ceremonial (and historic) counties. At Howburn Farm, about 7km north of Biggar in the south of the county, archaeologists discovered over 5000 flint tools during excavations between 2005 and 2009. These have been dated to the late Palaeolithic period about c12000 years BC, which makes them evidence of the earliest inhabitants not only in Lanarkshire but also in Scotland. (Grid Reference NT07364401).

In comparison to the oldest inhabitants of Wales, though, the earliest “Scots” are mere newcomers. The oldest human evidence in Wales has been dated to the Lower Palaeolithic period of about 225,000 years ago, and comprises a jawbone, teeth and handaxes of a Neanderthal, found between 1978 and 1995 in a cave at Bontnewydd near St.Asaph in the ceremonial county of Clwyd / historic county of Denbighshire. (Grid Reference SJ01537108).

And where is the earliest evidence of humans anywhere in the British Isles? Well, that was found at Happisburgh on the west coast of Norfolk in 2014 in the shape of footprints in sediments found on the shoreline. The footprints were dated to c800,000 years old, and were left as human ancestors travelled through the area during one of the warmer periods in the Ice Age (Grid Reference TG38083128).

However, although there are isolated examples of very early ancestors, most of them would have been ‘temporary’ visitors who migrated back to Europe when the Ice Age turned cold again. For most of us our earliest ancestors were migrants to the British Isles some time in the last 8000 to 10,000 years. Where is the earliest evidence of human ancestors in your own county?


And Finally….!

The Must Get Out More Question !

Where is the oldest family business in the UK based, and when was it founded?


The Answer to the Last Question

Where is the largest inland island in the UK?

The largest “inland island” in the UK is the island of Inchmurrin, which lies in Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow in the ceremonial county of Dumbartonshire. It is 120ha in size, and has a long history of human occupation, from a 7th century monastery to a 14th century castle to its current tourist cottages and restaurant.

(Grid Reference NS37908710)


The Record Locations

You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk

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