You are in [Themes] [Prehistoric Hungerford]

Much evidence of prehistoric occupation of the area in and around Hungerford has come to light, partly from written records, and much from Roy Froom, who kindly contacted the Virtual Museum in Jun 2016. A tiny sample of his finds are shown in the Photo Gallery.

It is usual to include in "prehistory" the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. In England the approximate dates of these are:

- Stone Age
     Paleolithic Period: Up to 10,000 BC
     Mesolithic Period: 10,000 BC -> 5,500 BC
     Neolithic Period: 4,000 BC -> 2,000 BC
- Bronze Age: 2,200 BC - 750 BC
- Iron Age: 750 BC - 43 AD

In addition to the numerous local hill forts and barrows, evidence of local occupation in the prehistoric times comes largely from archaeological digs, including Undy's Farm (1988-89) whic revealed Bronze Age (and other) finds.

Roy Froom's collection includes the following finds:

- Paleolithic (pre 100,000 BC) worked flints near Folly Farm (Eddington Hill), north of Highclose Farm, and on the site later developed as Macklin Close.

- Late Paleolithic (c10,000 BC) worked flint at the Undy's Farm dig.

- Neolithic axe (c4,000-1,500 BC) just east of St Saviour's Church

- Neolithic or Bronze Age (c4000-1,500 BC) spear tip found in Hungerford Park

- Two Iron Age (c50BC - 50AD) pots found just east of St Saviour's Church

Photo Gallery:

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- Excavations at Undy's Farm, 1988-89 showing post holes and hearth, at what was a probable Bronze Age ceremonial site.

- (2735-2736) A reconstructed Iron Age pot, c25-50 AD, found by Roy Froom when he excavated a site just east of St Saviour's Church in the 1950s. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2738-2739) A reconstructed Iron Age pot, c50-25 BC, found by Roy Froom when he excavated a site just east of St Saviour's Church in the 1950s. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2740-2742) Neolithic Axe (c4,000-1,500 BC) found by Roy Froom when he excavated a site just east of St Saviour's Church in the 1950s. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2743-2744) A worked flint from the Late Glacial (Paleolithic) Period (>10,000 BC), found by Roy Froom in the spoil heap of a preliminary dig at Undy's Farm (SU 335 693) in 1989, prior to the main archaelological investigation of 1989. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2745-2746) A worked flint, found by Roy Froom near the electricity sub-station west of Kintbury (Av VI 1964) in 1964. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2747-2748) Broken tip of ?spear, ?Neolithic or Bronze Age (4,000 - 500BC), found by Roy Froom at Hungerford Park. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2749-2750) A worked flint, thought to be early Paleolithic (>100,000 years BC), found by Roy Froom at the dig 16 Aug 1964 before Macklin Close was built. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2751-2752) A worked flint, thought to be early Paleolithic (>100,000 years BC), found by Roy Froom at the dig 29 Aug 1964 before Macklin Close was built. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2753) An early Levallois worked flint, possibly Paleolithic (>100,000 BC) found by Roy Froom in the disused gravel pit near Folly Farm, Eddington Hill c1950. This was Roy's first find - and triggered his interest in prehistory. (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2754-2755) A worked flint, possibly Neolithic or Early Bronze Age (4,000-1,500 BC), found by Roy Froom at the dig in the 1950s just east of St Saviour's Church, Eddington (SU 346 692). (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

- (2756-2757) A worked flint, possibly Paleolithic (pre 100,000 BC), found c1958 by Roy Froom just north of Highclose Farm (SU 313 684). (With thanks to Roy Froom, Jun 2016)

Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age) (250,000 years BC):

This huge span of time is the period of the earliest known occupation of Britain by humans. Great changes in climate resulted in periods of occupation by hunter-gatherers, who roamed northern Europe following herds of animals or who supported themselves by fishing. These hunter-gatherers were driven back to the mainland and more southern areas during the colder ice-age periods. This occurred many times.

One such warmer period of occupation lasted from around 300,000 until 130,000 years ago. This period saw flint tools introduced, and these permitted more efficient hunting. Between around 130,000 and 110,000 years ago, meltwaters from the previous glaciation cut Britain off from the continent for the first time. As the climate warmed from 60,000 to 40,000, Britain became grass land with giant deer and horse, with woolly mammoths, rhino and carnivores.

By about 40,000 years ago, Neanderthal man arrived in Britain, and Homo sapiens by 30,000 years ago.

There were further periods of extreme cold (ice ages), and the final ice age covered Britain between around 70,000 and 10,000 years ago with an extreme cold snap between 22,000 and 13,000 years ago. This may well have driven humans south and out of Britain altogether, pushing them back to southern Europe, across the land bridge that had resurfaced at the beginning of the glaciation.

It is from this period that leaf-shaped points probably used as arrowheads occurred. Other more refined flint tools were made, but also items made from bone, antler, shell, amber, animal teeth, and mammoth ivory. These were fashioned into tools but also jewellery and rods of uncertain purpose. Flint seems to have been brought into areas with limited local resources; the stone tools found in the caves of Devon, such as Kent's Cavern, seem to have been sourced from Salisbury Plain, 100 miles (161 km) east. This is interpreted as meaning that the early inhabitants of Britain were highly mobile, roaming over wide distances and carrying 'toolkits' of flint blades with them rather than heavy, unworked flint nodules or improvising tools extemporaneously. The possibility that groups also travelled to meet and exchange goods or sent out dedicated expeditions to source flint has also been suggested.

In "Hungerford - A History" (pg 3) mention is made of Stone Age tools having been found near South View, on the old Hungerford Hospital site, at the John o' Gaunt School, Standen, Eddington, as well as at the Undys Farm site in 1988-89.

Roy Froom's collection includes Paleolithic (pre 100,000 BC) worked flints near Folly Farm (Eddington Hill), north of Highclose Farm, and on the site later developed as Macklin Close, and Late Paleolithic (c10,000 BC) worked flint at the Undy's Farm dig.

The dominant food species were equines (Equus ferus) and Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) although other mammals ranging from hares to mammoth were also hunted, including rhino and hyena. From the limited evidence available, burial seemed to involve skinning and dismembering a corpse with the bones placed in caves.

From 12,700 to 11,500 years ago the climate became cooler and dryer. Food animal populations seem to have declined although woodland coverage expanded. Tool manufacture revolved around smaller flints but bone and antler work became less common.

Mesolithic (around 10,000 to 5,500 years ago):

Around 10,000 years ago the ice age finally ended. Temperatures rose, probably to levels similar to those today, and forests expanded further. By 9,500 years ago, the rising sea levels caused by the melting glaciers cut Britain off from Ireland and by around 6500 to 6000 BC continental Europe was cut off for the last time.

The middle reaches of the Kennet Valley between Hungerford and Thatcham are renowned for the presence of Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites and finds (Froom, F R, 1971, 'Some Mesolithic sites in south west Berkshire', Berkshire Archaeol J 66, 11–22; and Barton, R N E and Froom, F R, 1986, 'The long blade assemblage from Avington VI, Berkshire', in S N Collcutt (ed), The Palaeolithic of Britain and its Nearest Neighbours: Recent Trends, Sheffield, 80–4)

The modern town of Hungerford lies on the southern slopes of the Kennet Valley. This river plays an important part in the history of the town, and has been famous for centuries for its fine trout fishing. It originates from springs high up on the chalk downlands of Wiltshire, and these downs, along with those of Berkshire and Hampshire, lay at the very centre of Britain's earliest inhabitation - by Stone Age man.

The archaeological dig at Undy's Farm in 1988-89 investigated a 12-hectare site north of Undy's Farm, between the Hungerford to Chilton Foliat Road and the flood plain of the River Kennet.

Evidence was to be found of habitation on the site from the Mesolithic period (10,000BC), Bronze Age (2200-750BC), and the Medieval period (1100-1500AD). Follow this link for more on the Archaeological Digs in the area.

"Hungerford - A History" (pg 3) also mentions numerous finds between Avington and Leverton.

The warmer climate changed the Arctic environment to one of pine, birch and alder forest; this less open landscape was less conducive to the large herds of reindeer and wild horse that had previously sustained humans. Those animals were replaced in people's diets by pig and less social animals such as elk, red deer, roe deer, wild boar and aurochs (wild cattle) which would have required different hunting techniques.

Tools changed to incorporate barbs which could snag the flesh of an animal, making it harder for it to escape alive. Tiny microliths were developed for hafting onto harpoons and spears. Woodworking tools such as adzes appear in the archaeological record, although some flint blade types remained similar to their Palaeolithic predecessors.

The dog was domesticated because of its benefits during hunting and the wetland environments created by the warmer weather would have been a rich source of fish and game.

The older view of Mesolithic Britons as nomadic is now being replaced with a more complex picture of seasonal occupation or in some cases, permanent occupation. Travel distances seem to have become shorter, typically with movement between high and low ground.

The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition:

Though the Mesolithic environment was of a bounteous nature, the rising population and ancient Britons' success in exploiting it eventually led to local exhaustion of many natural resources.

Farming of crops and domestic animals was adopted in Britain around 4500 BC at least partly because of the need for reliable food sources. Hunter-gathering ways of life would have persisted into the Neolithic at first but the increasing sophistication of material culture with the concomitant control of local resources by individual groups would have caused it to be replaced by distinct territories occupied by different tribes. Other elements of the Neolithic such as pottery, leaf-shaped arrowheads and polished stone axes would have been adopted earlier. The climate had been warming since the later Mesolithic and continued to improve, replacing the earlier pine forests with woodland.

The Neolithic (around 4000 – 2000 BC):

The Neolithic was the period of domestication of plants and animals. A debate is currently being waged between those who believe that the introduction of farming and a sedentary lifestyle was brought about by resident peoples adopting new practices, and those who hold the opinion that it was effected by continental invaders bringing their culture with them and, to some degree, replacing the indigenous populations.

Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of modern European populations shows that over 80% are descended in the female line from European hunter-gatherers. Less than 20% are descended in the female line from Neolithic farmers from the Middle East and from subsequent migrations. The percentage in Britain is smaller at around 11% . Initial studies suggested that this situation is different with the paternal Y-chromosome DNA, varying from 10–100% across the country, being higher in the east. This was considered to show a large degree of population replacement during the Anglo-Saxon invasion and a nearly complete masking over of whatever population movement (or lack of it) went before in these two countries. However, more widespread studies have suggested that there was less of a division between western and eastern parts of Britain with less Anglo-Saxon migration. Looking from a more Europe-wide standpoint, researchers at Stanford University have found overlapping cultural and genetic evidence that supports the theory that migration was, at least, partially responsible for the Neolithic Revolution in Northern Europe (including Britain). The science of genetic anthropology is changing very fast and a clear picture across the whole of human occupation of Britain has yet to emerge.

Pollen analysis shows that woodland was decreasing and grassland increasing, with a major decline of elms. The winters were typically 3 degrees colder than at present but the summers some 2.5 degrees warmer.

The Neolithic "Revolution" introduced a more settled way of life and ultimately led to societies becoming divided into differing groups of farmers, artisans and leaders. Forest clearances were undertaken to provide room for cereal cultivation and animal herds. Native cattle and pigs were reared whilst sheep and goats were later introduced from the continent as were the wheats and barleys grown in Britain. However, only a few actual settlement sites are known in Britain, unlike the continent. Cave occupation was common at this time.

The construction of the earliest earthwork sites in Britain began during the early Neolithic (c. 4400 BC – 3300 BC) in the form of long barrows used for communal burial and the first causewayed enclosures. Evidence of growing mastery over the environment is embodied in the Sweet Track, a wooden trackway built to cross the marshes of the Somerset Levels and dated to 3807 BC. Leaf-shaped arrowheads, round-based pottery types and the beginnings of polished axe production are common indicators of the period. Evidence of the use of cow's milk comes from analysis of pottery contents found beside the Sweet Track.

The Middle Neolithic (c. 3300 BC – c. 2900 BC) saw the development of cursus monuments close to earlier barrows and the growth and abandonment of causewayed enclosures as well as the building of impressive chamber tombs such as the Maeshowe types. The earliest stone circles and individual burials also appear.

Different pottery types such as Grooved ware appear during the later Neolithic (c. 2900 BC – c.2200 BC) whilst new enclosures, called henges were built, along with stone rows and the famous sites of Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill reached their peak. Industrial flint mining such as that at Cissbury and Grimes Graves began, with evidence of long distance trade. Wooden tools and bowls were common, and bows were constructed.

Neolithic man found the chalk downs excellently suited to his needs, and within 15 miles of Hungerford are some of the greatest relics of the Stone Age - the largest stone circle in Britain is at Avebury; the largest man-made hill in Europe at Silbury; the longest Neolithic long barrow at West Kennet; the oldest long barrow in Britain is at Lambourn; and the oldest carved hill figure is at Uffington. On the high ridge of the Downs a few miles south of Hungerford is the Combe long barrow - at a position commanding fine and extensive views across the Kennet Valley to the Lambourn Downs 20 miles to the north. All these reflect the importance of the area during the Stone Age period.

As tools improved and farming skills developed, so successive cultures gradually began to descend from the downs and cultivate the densely wooded valley. The earliest Bronze Age cultures (c. 2000 BC) were the Beaker people, so-named because of their distinctive drinking vessels. A very large and well-preserved beaker, 29 cms high, was found at Inkpen some years ago, and is on display at Newbury Museum.

Roy Froom's collection includes a Neolithic axe (c4,000-1,500 BC) just east of St Saviour's Church and a Neolithic or Bronze Age (c4000-1,500 BC) spear tip found in Hungerford Park

The Bronze Age (around 2,200 to 750 BC):

This period can be sub-divided into an earlier phase (2,300 to 1,200) and a later one (1,200 – 700).

Beaker pottery appears in England around 2,475–2,315 BC along with flat axes and burial practices of inhumation. With the revised Stonehenge chronology, this is after the Sarsen Circle and trilithons were erected at Stonehenge. Believed to be of Iberian origin, (modern day Spain and Portugal), Beaker techniques brought to Britain the skill of refining metal. At first the users made items from copper, but from around 2,150 BC smiths had discovered how to make bronze (which was much harder than copper) by mixing copper with a small amount of tin. With this discovery, the Bronze Age arrived in Britain. Over the next thousand years, bronze gradually replaced stone as the main material for tool and weapon making.

Britain had large, easily accessible reserves of tin in the modern areas of Cornwall and Devon, and tin mining began. By around 1,600 BC the southwest of Britain was experiencing a trade boom as British tin was exported across Europe. Copper was mined at the Great Orme in North Wales.

The Beaker people were also skilled at making ornaments from gold, and examples of these have been found in graves of the wealthy Wessex culture of central southern Britain.

A third site at the Archaeological Dig at Undy's Farm in 1988-89 revealed what was possibly Berkshire's only example of a Bronze Age ceremonial site. The seven metre diameter site had seven pits around a large central hearth. The pits held posts which had burned down and been replaced on several occasions. In association with this find was a probable fragment of an "Aldbourne cup". These small vessels are normally associated with Early Bronze Age (Wessex II) inhumation burials. Its discovery here was considered "most unusual", but confirms the area was occupied in the Bronze Age.

Further evidence of prehistoric (or possibly Roman) field systems were identified at the south west part of Hungerford Common by the Aerial Survey and Investigation Special Project carried out by English Heritage National Monuments Record in 2005 (AER/5/2005).

Early Bronze Age Britons buried their dead beneath earth mounds known as barrows, often with a beaker alongside the body. Later in the period, cremation was adopted as a burial practice with cemeteries of urns containing cremated individuals appearing in the archaeological record, with deposition of metal objects such as daggers. People of this period were also largely responsible for building many famous prehistoric sites such as the later phases of Stonehenge.

The Bronze Age people lived in round houses and divided up the landscape. Stone rows are to be seen on, for example, Dartmoor. They ate cattle, sheep, pigs and deer as well as shellfish and birds. They carried out salt manufacture. The wetlands were a source of wildfowl and reeds. There was ritual deposition of offerings in the wetlands and in holes in the ground.

Other relics of the Bronze Age have been found at Leverton, and at Denford, which appears to have been the site of a ford over the Kennet from at least 1400 BC.

There is evidence of a relatively large scale disruption of cultural patterns which some scholars think may indicate an invasion (or at least a migration) into southern Great Britain c. the 12th century BC. This disruption was felt far beyond Britain, even beyond Europe, as most of the great Near Eastern empires collapsed (or experienced severe difficulties) and the Sea Peoples harried the entire Mediterranean basin around this time. Some scholars consider that the Celtic languages arrived in Britain at this time.

The Iron Age (around 750 BC – 43 AD):

In around 750 BC iron working techniques reached Britain from southern Europe. Iron was stronger and more plentiful than bronze, and its introduction marks the beginning of the Iron Age. Iron working revolutionised many aspects of life, most importantly agriculture. Iron tipped ploughs could churn up land far more quickly and deeply than older wooden or bronze ones, and iron axes could clear forest land far more efficiently for agriculture. There was a landscape of arable, pasture and managed woodland. There were many enclosed settlements and land ownership was important.

Skilled craftsmen had begun producing intricately patterned gold jewellery, in addition to tools and weapons of both bronze and iron.

Iron Age Britons lived in organised tribal groups, ruled by a chieftain. As people became more numerous, wars broke out between opposing tribes. This was traditionally interpreted as the reason for the building of hill forts, although the siting of some earthworks on the sides of hills undermined their defensive value, hence "hill forts" may represent increasing communal areas or even 'Elite Areas'. However some hillside constructions may simply have been cow enclosures. Although the first had been built about 1500 BC, hill fort building peaked during the later Iron Age. There are over 2000 Iron Age hill forts known in Britain. By about 350 BC many hill forts went out of use and the remaining ones were reinforced.

At the very summit of Inkpen Hill, just east of the Combe long barrow (and Combe Gibbet), is the extensive Iron Age hill camp of Walbury. Walbury hill is the highest point in south-east England, being 297 metres (974 feet) high. Enclosing an area of 82 acres, Walbury is one of the largest hill forts in the country. Within a 12 mile radius of Hungerford, however, there are a further 14 examples, indicating a comparatively large local population around 500 BC.

Roy Froom's collection includes two Iron Age (c50BC - 50AD) pots found just east of St Saviour's Church

The Late pre-Roman Iron Age (LPRIA):

The last centuries before the Roman invasion saw an influx of mixed Germanic-Celtic speaking refugees from Gaul (modern day France and Belgium) known as the Belgae, who were displaced as the Roman Empire expanded around 50 BC. They settled along most of the coastline of Southern Britain between about 200 BC and AD 43.

From around 175 BC, the areas of Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex developed especially advanced pottery-making skills. The tribes of south-east England became partially Romanised and were responsible for creating the first settlements (oppida) large enough to be called towns.

The last centuries before the Roman invasion saw increasing sophistication in British life. About 100 BC, iron bars began to be used as currency, while internal trade and trade with continental Europe flourished, largely due to Britain's extensive mineral reserves. Coinage was developed, based on continental types but bearing the names of local chieftains. This was used in south-east England, but not in areas such as Dumnonia in the west.

As the Roman Empire expanded northwards, Rome began to take interest in Britain. This may have been caused by an influx of refugees from Roman occupied Europe, or Britain's large mineral reserves.

Who is Roy Froom?

Roy was born in Hungerford, and went to school in Newbury, where he was taught by Douglas Connor - History teacher at St Bart's. Dougie's enthusiasm soon rubbed off on Roy, who rapidly developed a lifelong interest in archaeology, especially the prehistory of the Kennet Valley including Hungerford.

Both field walking and formal digs in the area have revealed much of interest. some of his remaining finds (most have been sent to the British Museum) are shown in the Photo Gallery.

His wife Dorothy is a niece of Mary Bellis (who used to live at Charnham Close, Charnham Street). Roy has many family members in the area.

Roy went on to teach Chemistry at St Bart's. as well as taking over the archaeology work when Dougie Connor retired in 1966.

Roy and Dorothy live in Newbury. (Jun 2016).

See also:

- Archaeological Digs

- Combe Gibbet

- Roman Hungerford