Virtual tour - Ice Age to Iron Age (family friendly)

Take a family friendly virtual tour of the Great North Museum's permanent gallery Ice Age to Iron Age

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In the Ice Age to Iron Age Gallery you can find out how people lived in the North East of England thousands of years ago, before writing was introduced into Britain.

The time before people used writing is called Prehistory and because we have no written records about peoples’ lives, we have to rely on the items they made and used to learn about them. Many of the objects on display in the gallery were carefully dug up by archaeologists who look for evidence to help them understand how people lived in the past.

Archaeologists sometimes divide Prehistory into different periods named after the materials people used to make their tools, these are the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. In Britain, Prehistory comes to an end in 43 AD when the Romans invaded and began to take over much of the island.

Where is everyone?

There is very little evidence of human activity in the North of England before significant numbers of people began to arrive in the Middle Stone Age, the Mesolithic, about 12,000 years ago. 

This is not surprising as conditions were unsuitable for people before this time. Much of Britain was covered with sheets of ice and only creatures adapted to extreme cold, like the Elk and the mighty Mammoth, were able to live in such a hostile environment.

The North's first hunter gatherers

By about 10,000 BC the ice sheets that covered the North of Britain began to retreat and the Ice Age came to an end. Gradually much of the country became covered with forests, which attracted a wider range of animals. People, who were nomadic hunter gatherers followed them.

The people living at this time were very resourceful. They had to know how to build shelters, make tools for hunting and clothing from animal skins, as well as how to gain food from as many different sources as possible. Many of the tools used were made from flint, a stone that can be shaped into blades and sharp points relatively easily. 

Archaeologists have found axes, knives and microliths, which were tiny flints attached to wooden arrows for hunting. People did not just hunt animals and fish, they also gathered nuts, seeds and berries from the forests and would have had a very varied diet.

The start of farming

By around 6,000 years ago the way of life of people in the North East started to change. People began to adopt settled farming as a way of life. This period is called the New Stone Age, or the Neolithic. 

Many Archaeologists believe that the idea of farming travelled with people moving from Asia, into Europe and eventually into Britain. Farming meant that people stayed in the same place for longer and needed to develop different tools for agricultural work, as well as their more settled lives. 

They used stone to make axe heads which were attached to wooded handles and used to fell trees to create fields and structures. Pottery was also introduced in the Neolithic, creating useful storage containers for the more settled, farming lifestyle.

Continue your journey

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