Almost everyone has seen a picture of Stonehenge, the famous circle of large upright stones in southern England. Yet very few people know that it was built in several stages over a period of more than a thousand years, starting nearly five thousand years ago. Most are unaware that it is surrounded by dozens of burial mounds and other earthworks that created a vast Bronze Age ritual landscape. Moreover, despite its fame, Stonehenge is only one of many arrangements of upright stones in the British Isles. Archaeologists puzzle over the Bronze Age societies that built these monuments; however, they know that they were not Druids, to whom popular literature often attributes Stonehenge. The burial mounds have yielded traces of gold, copper, bronze, and amber artifacts—the relics of an elite social class that was able to acquire exotic materials from a distance. Very little is known of where they lived, although it appears that their settlements were simple farmsteads similar to others in the surrounding countryside.
[...] BARBARIAN LANDS THROUGH TO MEDIEVAL TIMES The next major environmental changes of wide significance to human societies in Europe were a significant deterioration in climate after 700 B.C., with a better phase during A.D. 1–600 and then a period of warmth between c. A.D and 1250 known as the Little Optimum or the Medieval Warm Epoch (MWE). The very existence of this latter fluctuation is to some extent uncertain, but it seems best attested to in northern and Western Europe. [...]
[...] HUMAN IMPACTS ON THE ENVIRONMENT OVER ELEVEN MILLENNIA Accepting that agriculture spread into northern and Western Europe during the period 6000–4000 B.C., then some westernmost parts housed 4,000 years of Holocene hunter-gatherers. More central and southerly regions had hunter- gatherer populations from the Late Pleistocene right through to the time when farming became an irreversible way of life. The notion that food- collecting economies do not manage their environments in the manner of agriculturalists has long been abandoned, especially with the realization that fire is a potent management tool at the landscape scale. [...]
[...] Conclusion As with most preindustrial societies, there is no doubt that the inhabitants of barbarian Europe were closer to the natural world than their fossil-fueled successors. The story is one of a generally one-way movement toward more intensively productive agro-ecosystems capable, in the end, of supporting craftspeople, aristocrats, merchants, and townsfolk. Granted there were reversals when the pollen diagrams record the recolonization of scrub and woodland, when disease was regionally devastating, or when an authoritative power withdrew, as when the Romans left some parts of northern Europe or when a lord decided to punish his neighbors. [...]
[...] After the ice began to retreat, they pursued the herds of reindeer north, ambushing them as they migrated across the tundra in northern Germany and Denmark. Why are the barbarian societies of Europe important? We believe that there are several reasons. The first is that the barbarian societies of Europe provided the technological, economic, social, and cultural foundations for the late medieval and modern European societies that we know from historical accounts. HUMANS AND ENVIRONMENTS Even if humans had never evolved, Europe would look different compared with the same area ten thousand years ago. In about 9500 B.C. [...]
[...] One feature of the deglaciated land of Europe was a scattering of lakes, some long and thin in valleys formerly occupied by glaciers and others more round in hollows in glacial debris or in front of ice sheets, as with the Scandinavian basin that was to become the Baltic Sea. The whole was flanked to the west and south by saltwater seas, the open Atlantic and its inlets to the west and the more enclosed and warmer Mediterranean in the south. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee