Prehistory Timeline: Age of Iron

The Prehistory Gallery houses objects covering a vast expanse of time: from when the earliest humans living in and around the South Downs made simple stone tools, to the beginning of the Roman occupation. This time can be divided into different ages: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

The Iron Age is marked by the use of iron for tools and weapons. Outside Northern Europe it is also saw the development of writing. For the first time, people were able to record detailed information.

In South East England, the term ‘Iron Age’ is used to describe a 700 year period which ended with the Roman invasion in 43 AD. Iron Age Britons lived in small farmsteads, but also began to build hillforts, large banked enclosures in prominent hilltop positions.

It was a period of rapid economic and social development. Coinage was introduced and wheel thrown pottery was being made in some areas.

There was also a population increase in Southern England during the late Iron Age, probably linked with advances in agriculture including the use of iron-tipped ploughs drawn by oxen.

 Fact file

Reconstructed roundhouse at Michelham Priory. East Sussex

Reconstructed roundhouse at Michelham Priory. East Sussex

  •  Iron Age farmsteads would have supported small, isolated communities, producing enough to live on and a little extra to exchange for goods they were unable to provide for themselves.
  • Harvested crops were often stored in granaries or in deep chalk pits. Many such pits have been found within the hillfort at Caburn. Cereals could be cut with iron reaping hooks.
  • Roundhouses with wattle and daub walls were the standard form of housing. We can tell what these houses looked like from the layout of post-holes left behind in the soil where timber posts have rotted away. Archaeologists have experimented with different ways of building them to find the most likely design.
  • Specialised industrial sites were developed to produce iron, probably for redistribution over a wide area. In Sussex, archaeologists have found evidence of iron working at sites near Crowhurst and Sedlescombe.

The end of the Iron Age in southern Britain was the time of Boudicca, leader of the Iceni tribe, and Lindow Man.


Reconstructing a roundhouse

 Living in the Iron Age

Britain before the Romans