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Those of us who learned our history at school were taught about kings and queens and invasions and battles. Archaeology tells a different story. The current archaeological picture of the Cotswolds stresses continuity, not sudden change. The Romans did not replace the Iron Age Celts in Britain, and neither did the Saxons. Culture did not end when the Romans left Britain, and the Dark Ages were anything but dark for those alive at the time. The Roman villas in the Cotswold area were built from the distinctive local stone and were not so very different in size or purpose from the great manor houses which still stand. Change was slow and continuous. The person sitting in the big house might speak Norman French instead of Saxon, and the Saxon abbot in the local abbey might be replaced by a Norman abbot when he died, but the people on the land stayed the same and continued to do what they had continued to do for centuries.
You can see four thousand years of history and slow change in the Cotswold landscape. It is in no way a natural landscape. It has been intensely lived in. Even in Roman times it was densely settled, and population estimates continue to rise as more and more settlements are discovered. The beauty of the Cotswolds, and it is the beauty of any fine garden, is that it is possible to add something to nature. It is possible for buildings and villages and towns to merge harmoniously into the landscape, adding to it rather than detracting from it. It is a reminder that it is possible to live in a place without destroying it. This is not a backwards looking sentimentality. We have been so exposed to technological change over the last fifty years that many people experience a sense of dislocation. The Cotswold landscape may not have changed, but people have. In the Cotswolds the past mingles effortlessly with the present, and it is possible to rediscover that sense of place and proportion and harmony that has taken countless generations to create, but only two generations to lose.
The Neolithic period spans from about 4000BC to 2000BC. Neolithic remains are very visible in the Cotswolds in the form of 70 or so long barrows, dating from about 2500BC. These long barrows are large tombs in shape of small hills, usually with some kind of inner chamber constructed out of massive stones - for details and pictures of two of the better-known long barrows, see our page on Tumuli, Tumps, Humps and Other Bumps. Another feature dating from approximately the same period are the famous Rollright Stones in the north-east of the Cotswold area.
In about 500BC, Celtic tribes from the continent made their way across the Channel into Britain, displacing the aboriginal people. These people used iron weapons, and were clearly warlike because they built great fortifications along the high points of the Cotswold Edge, superb forts with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Most of these remains can still be seen in the form of ditches and embankments, although the wooden ramparts obviously disappeared not long after the Romans arrived.
The fact that warfare was endemic can be seen from Julius Caesar's description of British tactics in The Gallic Wars: "The following will give some idea of British charioteers in action. They begin by driving all over the field, hurling javelins; and the terror inspired by the horses and the noise of the wheels is usually enough to throw the enemy ranks into disorder. Then they work their way between their own cavalry units, where the warriors jump down and fight on foot. Meanwhile the drivers retire a short distance from the fighting and station the cars in such a way that their masters, if outnumbered, have an easy means of retreat to their own lines. In action therefore, they combine the mobility of cavalry with the staying power of foot soldiers.