Issue Date: 17/01/2017
Issue Name: Ancient Britain
Producer: Buckingham Covers
Our first cover of 2017 features the full set of 8 Ancient Britain stamps, highlighting magnificent ancient sites and artefacts of Britain. This fantastic cover features Scotland's Callanish Stones, an arrangement of standing stones erected in the late Neolithic era, a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age, and has a Callanish, Isle of Lewis postmark. The circle is near the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis and the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.
The story of Ancient Britain is a mystery that historians have pieced together through archaeological finds and examination of ancient sites such as the stone circles that still stand in our landscape today. Such monuments can be found in many parts of the world but the best known tradition of stone circle construction occurred across Britain and in Brittany in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Avebury stone circle (c.2500 BC) in Wiltshire is one of the largest in Europe.
These sites often form part of a larger ceremonial landscape. The Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis are an arrangement of standing stones erected in the late Neolithic era, a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age. Other ritual sites lie within a few kilometres, many visible from the main circle.
The Neolithic and Bronze Age (c.4500-800 BC) saw a transformation in British culture, which included the adoption of agriculture (although it took about 2,000 years to spread across all parts of the British Isles). This move from hunter-gatherer to farmer defines the start of the Neolithic era. Neolithic houses are more commonly found in Scotland and Ireland. Skara Brae village (3200- 2500 BC) in the Orkney Islands, is an example of an early settlement, with 8 recognisable stone built houses remaining today.
During the Middle Bronze Age (1500-1250 BC) there was a shift away from barrow burial towards cremation. From this period we see an increasing number of metalwork hoards placed in the ground, often in a wet or boggy place, a practice that continued through the Iron Age. The Battersea Shield (c.350-50 BC) is a ceremonial bronze, likely placed in the River Thames as an offering.
The Iron Age lasted in Britain for about 800 years (c.750 BC to AD 43). Between 500 and 100 BC many parts of Britain were dominated by hill forts, some very large with complex earthworks, supporting sizeable populations. Maiden Castle hill fort (c.600-400 BC) in Dorset is the largest of its type in Britain.
By the end of the Iron Age, coinage had been introduced and people had started to live in larger, more settled communities. Iron Age society was predominantly agricultural; it is thought that their religious festivals followed a seasonal pattern, based around the agricultural year.
Britain had enjoyed trading links with the Romans in the century since Julius Caesar’s expeditions in 55 and 54 BC, and Roman economic and cultural influence played a significant role in British society, especially in the south. In 43 AD the Emperor Claudius ordered the invasion of Britain under the command of Aulus Plautius. The Romans quickly established control over the tribes of south east England.
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Adam John Hart-Davis is an English scientist, author, photographer, historian and broadcaster, well known in the UK for presenting the BBC television series Local Heroes and What the Romans Did for Us.