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Narrative History of the Royal County of Berkshire
by Brenda Ralph Lewis


Prehistoric Times

The chalk hills and valleys and the woodlands of the area of the later Berkshire were probably first inhabited during the Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age, up to 10,500 years ago, offering good hunting in the stretches of water, grass- and woodland and swamps which supported animals such as red deer, hippopotamus, bison or wild ox. The hunting lifestyle persisted after the end of the Ice Age transformed the countryside with new birch, pine, hazel, elm, lime, alder and oak woods. About 6,000 years ago, however, Berkshire took on the first of several new looks with the arrival of Neolithic farmers who altered the landscape by cutting down trees to clear fields for planting and provide grazing for their animals.

In time, metal tools and weapons, mainly bronze and afterwards iron, together with smelting works, came to Berkshire and, about 3,500 years ago, the future county was supporting appreciable farmstead communities. Berkshire's farming characteristics, which lasted into the 20th century, were therefore established in very early times. These prehistoric inhabitants lived in small settlements in round turf or thatch covered houses, but built large hillforts with formidable ramparts for central defence and the safe storage of farm produce, particularly grain. Well known examples of the latter can be found at Caesar's Camp (Easthampstead) and Walbury Camp (Inkpen), but they were especially suited to the rolling Berkshire Downs in the North of the county: Blewburton, Segsbury, Cherbury and Uffington. The last named hillfort is closely associated with the famous Uffington White Horse chalk hill-figure, which is now known to have been cut into the adjoining hillside way back in the bronze age. It's significance to the local inhabitants of that time is unknown, but it is generally considered to be a religious totem of some kind. Its image was widely used on Iron Age coins of the Atrebates tribe: a Belgic people who settled the area around 100 bc.

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