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Ancient History

Old Stone Age Middle Stone Age New Stone Age Part 2 Bronze Age Iron Age


Have you ever wondered who built the first house in Feltwell? When was it? Why did he choose this particular spot?

I cannot tell you who he was although as this short history unfolds I may be able to suggest roughly when it was, give or take a century or two. It has often been said that if the period between the Creation and the present time were illustrated by a clock face, when one second after twelve o'clock represented the Creation of the Earth, then everything we know about the existence of Man could be packed into the very last second before twelve o'clock. Can we now break down, at least as far as Feltwell is concerned, the last panting fractions of that final second?

Perhaps the simplest way of doing this would be to break up this "split second" into the various "ages" of man, that is to say, the various Stone Ages, etc.

THE OLD STONE AGE (Palaeolithic Period)

550,000 B.C. - 8,000 B.C.

From archaeological evidence we know that men of this period lived within the present parish boundaries of Feltwell at least 10,000 years ago. Flint tools of this period have been found in recent years near the eastern edge of the parish, on the heath, by Mr. Frank Curtis and others.

MIDDLE STONE AGE (Mesolithic Period)

8,000 B.C. - 2,300 B.C.

Again, flint tools such as those described elsewhere have been found in Feltwell by Mr. Curtis and others over recent years. Both the village and archaeologists throughout the country have much to thank Mr. Curtis for in his constant search for evidence of the occupation of this immediate area by the people of the Stone Age and the (much later) Romans in particular.

NEW STONE AGE (Neolithic Period)

2,300 B.C. - 1,700 B.C.

The volume of artifacts found in Feltwell and the surrounding countryside from this comparatively short period is amazing. Numerous flint tools and potsherds from Feltwell can be found in all the museums in Norfolk, at Cambridge, Bury St. Edmunds and in the private collections of Mr. Curtis, Mr. Eric Seeker and myself. Bearing in mind that at this time the country as a whole was sparsely populated, Feltwell (or whatever it was called then) was a settlement of some note. Why was this, was it anything to do with the proximity of Grimes Graves, a mere 7 miles away, (just off the Weeting-West Tofts Road)? It undoubtedly was.

In those days the flint mines of Grimes Graves were comparable to the factories of the modern city of Sheffield; that is to say that whereas Sheffield produces the raw material for the manufacture of high quality steel products and cutlery, the flint mined at Grimes Graves was of a very high quality and admirably suited to the manufacture of all types of flint tool.

Since 1950 Mr. Curtis has excavated a large number of Neolithic hut-sites, mainly in the area around Blackdyke and Whitedyke. Most of these sites have yielded not only flint tools but also a vast number of pot-sherds, even awls and needles manufactured from animal bones. Men of this period in particular were far from the likeness of "Fred Flintstone" or the crude loin-clothed savage dragging his wife by the hair as portrayed by modern cartoonists. They were intelligent people whose craftsmanship was superb, they were this country's first farmers, they were the first people to "polish" their weapons, laboriously smoothing their axeheads by constant rubbing. They were also the inventors of the button in that occasionally, what we would now call "toggles", have been found. They were made of bone with a central hole bored with a flint "borer". Some of these tribes were known as the Beaker folk from the type of pottery they produced.

We know that at one time the sea used to sweep inland from the Wash, covering the low lying Fens and, indeed, it must have reached the site of the present village. Since those days much has been done to drain the fens but, despite this, many inhabitants will recall how close the flood-waters came to the village in 1912, 1947/8 and 1952/3. The environs were also well-wooded; evidence of this remains throughout the fen portion of the parish. Great trunks of trees, chiefly oak, elm, beech and pine have been unearthed, particularly during the Second World War when concrete roads were laid across the Fens (for the purpose of getting agricultural produce to the factories and markets quickly). I have a small fruit-bowl made about 1960 of "bog-oak" and an ashtray fashioned from "fenpine". Although both were turned on a lathe they are both elliptical, for, as they dried out, so they became misshapen.

To summarise, we are now able to form in our mind's eye some sort of picture of this area as it was some 2000 years before the Birth of Christ. It was an area of heathland and forest, sweeping down the almost imperceptible slopes to the marshes or fens which were swept occasionally by the sea. There was fresh water from the springs and rivers. They had an abundant supply of deer and game in the forests, fish close at hand and flint of the highest quality within easy reach from which to fashion their tools and weapons. What better locality could these short, brown-skinned hunters wish for?

Another interesting fact is that most of these flint tools, particularly harpoon barbs, spear and arrowheads have been found (and here one should refer to Ordnance Survey Maps of the Parish) just below the 20' contour - in other words, just above the "beach". The new "Cut-off Channel" which was constructed in the early 1960's roughly follows this same line and a great deal of Roman material is found just above this contour.

When told that on one occasion three flint arrowheads had been found in Feltwell within a foot of each other a certain gentleman asked how such a thing could have happened. What seems to me to have been a feasible answer was that a deer, or some other animal had been wounded twice but that the third arrow had caused its death. Even then, death was not instantaneous, otherwise the hunter would have retrieved his valuable arrowheads and taken the animal back to his hut to feed and clothe his family. The animal must have died deep in the forest, where its carcase rotted unobserved. In the course of time, the three arrowheads fell to the ground to be found some 4000 years later by a Feltwell farm worker.

Although men of the New Stone Age were the first to attempt the systematic cultivation of the soil, they were still partly nomadic. With their stone axes they would fell a patch of trees and in this clearing they would plant the grass seeds they had gathered. They then either stayed in that area or perhaps returned in due season to harvest their "corn". Without a knowledge of fertilisers, their crops were of poor quality and even after one crop they might have considered it necessary to break new ground. Some archaeologists have given this gradual clearance of the forests as the reason for the open heaths (or brecks) in the area now known as "Breckland".

Neolithic Man also introduced a new type of arrowhead. These arrows resemble, both in size and shape, the leaves of such trees as the ash and beech. They are very thin, of perfect symmetry and invariably show an extremely high standard of craftsmanship. Some people, (and in my opinion. rightly so) regard these as an early form of art.


In Part One, I dealt briefly with the various Stone Ages and explained how Early Man made and used his flint tools. From archaeological evidence we know that the area now lying within the parish boundary has been inhabited by man for at least 10,000 years.

Now we turn to the introduction of metals.


c. 1700 B.C. - 450 B.C.

About 3500 B.C. copper, which was still scarce, was being used in the Middle East for the manufacture of small, precious items. Eventually deposits of tin and zinc were found and these metals, when smelted with copper produced bronze. This new alloy was easier to cast and tools and weapons of bronze were superior to those made of copper. This method of production slowly spread westward and reached our shores about 1700 B.C. In this country the approximate dates of the three Bronze Ages were Early:- 1700-1500 B.C., Middle:- 1500-1000 B.C. and Late: 1000-450 B.C.

A number of Bronze Age weapons and tools have been unearthed in Feltwell. Over the years two or three Bronze Age swords have been found and (unfortunately) sold. Mr. Frank Curtis, during a lifetime of field walks and "digs" has found several rapier blades and axeheads of this period, numerous potsherds and several beads made of jet.

In 1966 the City of Norwich Museums Committee published an excellent booklet on Bronze Age Metalwork, in which is a catalogue of every such item acquired by Norwich Castle Museum before 1st January of that year. Depicted at the top of the front cover is a tanged knife found on land near Oulsham Drove by Mr. Ernest Vine and included in the catalogue are other items found in Feltwell.

Perhaps the most important item from this period to have been found (on Hill Close, in 1961 by Mr. Eric Seeker) was a large cauldron of riveted sheet bronze bearing two large and heavy ring-handles. Before it was fully re-constructed the approximate measurements were - diameter:- 2 ft., height:- 1 ft. 6 inches. Inside the cauldron was a flesh-hook.

Axe-heads, palstaves, pins, rapier blades and spearheads have been picked up from Feltwell fields and some of these are still in private hands.

The Feltwell (Historical & Archaeological) Society is making a collection of all archaeological items found in the parish in readiness for a local museum. If you have any such items, especially those made of bronze, do not keep them at home, for two reasons. First, they would make a very welcome gift to the Society, secondly, and far more important, they may well be suffering from bronze disease. This disease is infectious, not to you, but to other pieces of bronze.

Many years ago I was given a beautiful specimen of a socketed, winged spearhead of bronze which had been found in Feltwell. Years later, when I became more seriously interested in archaeology, I started my own collection and remembered this spearhead lying in a box in my garage. When I retrieved it from the box to place it in my collection, I was horrified to find that it had lost the first inch or so from the "business end". It has since been treated; nonetheless, had I been aware of this disease, as you now are, a perfect Bronze Age spearhead would have been preserved instead of a damaged one. Even after treatment, the disease could break out again therefore all such items should be examined periodically.

The "piece-de-resistance" of my entire collection is a Bronze Age tanged and barbed arrowhead -an example of superb craftsmanship............. in flint! These days fairly accurate dates could be placed on the commencement of the Nuclear Age or the Space Age but not so with the Stone Ages, Bronze Ages, etc - the changes from one Age to another took place over a long period, sometimes overlapping several centuries. Even today, new evidence is constantly being found and previously recognised "approximate" dates are often changed.

A study of an Ordnance Survey Map will indicate the positions of tumuli. These are prehistoric burial mounds or barrows and in this area are usually round but in some areas, for example, Wiltshire, there are also long barrows. A visit to the long barrow near Avebury, Wiltshire is well worth while - a part of it has been cleared and inside it can be seen the stone shelves upon which the deceased’s remains were placed. The round barrows are usually attributed to the Bronze Age, although some are earlier.

A large number of tumuli are still extant but many hundreds have been ploughed over and often all that can be seen is a very slight rise in the surface of the field. One such ploughed-out barrow was excavated a few years ago in Lower Hill Close by Mr. Frank Curtis and some 17-19 skeletons were unearthed. Documents reveal that one of the old Feltwell field names was "Three Hows Hill" and as the word "How" meant a hill, this particular field must once have contained three burial mounds. There are quite a number of shallow mounds in local fields which could well have been barrows but these are not conspicuous enough to have been recorded on Ordnance Survey Maps.


450 B.C - A.D. 43

This is the last stage of the three (Stone, Bronze and Iron) reached by most now-civilised peoples in their pre-historic development. All three stages are named from the material employed in making tools and weapons. Following the discovery of iron ore and the art of smelting and casting, this stage, as with the other two, was reached at different times in different areas of the world and did not reach this area until about 450 B.C.

Pot-sherds of this period are often found in the parish. Every time the soil has been disturbed on the paddock adjoining Lawn House I have gone to a certain spot and invariably picked up Iron Age sherds. The area to the south of Haythill Lane has often produced evidence of Iron Age occupation including a bone weaving comb, and there must be many gardens in the village within, say, 100 yards of the stream which rose in The Beck which could yield pieces of pottery from this period.

If any of you keen gardeners should find pieces of pottery, give them a gentle scrub with a nail brush (do not leave them in water too long) and when thoroughly dry, put the pieces in a small tin. Place a card with your name and address in the container and advise any member of the Feltwell (Historical & Archaeological) Society. The "evidence" can then be examined and recorded. This will provide a guide to anyone making a study of the settlement pattern of early Feltwell.

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