500,000 to 10,000 years ago - The Palaeolithic

  • Maybe the Quantocks looked a bit like this during the Ice Age: a cold, bare view of the hills in winter.

About the Palaeolithic

The Palaeolithic period happened during the time of the last Ice Age.  A quarter of the earth’s surface was covered by a sheet of ice, two miles thick. Sometimes the ice sheet spread South and covered most of Britain, so no-one could live there, and sometimes it was a bit warmer and the ice sheet shrank back to the North. The sea was shallower, so Britain wasn’t an island. There was dry land between Britain and the rest of Europe. 

The land around the ice sheet was tundra.  It was like Greenland is today.  The ground was frozen for most of the year.   Where the glaciers had scraped away the soil, the rocks were bare and only lichens, grasses and some hardy plants could grow.

Herds of big animals roamed across the frozen tundra plains: reindeer, bison, wild cattle, wild horses and mammoths.  Small groups of hunters followed the animals wherever they went.  This is how humans first came to Britain.  These people hunted with weapons made of stone, so archaeologists call this time the Old Stone Age (Palaeo = old; lithic = stone).

What was it like in the Palaeolithic Quantocks?

The Ice Sheet didn’t reach as far South as the Quantocks.  In the Ice Age it was tundra, with mammoths and other animals.  Someone discovered a mammoth tooth and tusk on Kilve beach.

  • Behind the scenes in Somerset County Museum. Fossil bones from the animals who lived in Somerset during the Ice Age. In the middle is a mammoth tooth and tusk.

Groups of human beings sometimes roamed here too, hunting and scavenging. But for long periods of time there were no people here at all. Archaeologists know that people were hunting these big animals on the Quantock hills in the Ice Age, because they have found stone hand axes like this.

  • This sturdy handaxe was made from a piece of chert stone, from Taunton.  It was used, and then lost, by a stone age hunter, to kill and butcher wild animals.

On the beach at St. Audries Bay lots of flint flakes were found. Someone must have been making stone tools there, 100,000 years ago.