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Prehistory and The Romans


Prehistory and the Romans in the Guildford area
This information sheet gives a brief description of the archaeological remains in the Guildford area, from the Stone Age to the end of the Roman period.  All the sites and finds mentioned lie within a two-mile radius of the centre of the town, and many of the finds mentioned are in Guildford Museum.  Obviously, the town of Guildford did not exist during this period, as it was begun by Saxon settlers around AD 500.

The Stone Age 500,000 - 5,000 BC

Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age: 500,000 - 10,000 BC
This is the period when humans developed, using flint, wood and bone tools.  They were hunters and food-gatherers.  They were probably nomadic and lived in cave dwellings or camps.  At times most of Britain was covered with ice and would have been too cold for humans.  There is no evidence for Palaeolithic people in the Guildford area, though many flint axes have been found on the river terraces at Farnham.  A mammoth tooth was found in the railway cutting near London Road station in the 1880s.

Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age: 10,000 - 5,000 BC
The Mesolithic people used very different flint tools, particularly tiny flints called microliths.  Concentrations of flint flakes have been found on the sand hills of St Catherine's and St Martha's, and two Mesolithic flint axes have been found in the area.

Neolithic or New Stone Age 5,000 - 2,100 BC
Farming began in the Neolithic, and with a more settled way of life pottery was made, and large earthen monuments were built.  It used to be thought that farming was introduced by immigrants, but it is now thought that the idea only was introduced, to people who may already have been managing the wild animals which they hunted, and perhaps wild plants also.  Certainly the plants such as wheat and barley had to be introduced, as they come from the Middle East.

Very few Neolithic settlements have been found anywhere in England.  Large earthworks for burial mounds and other religious sites are well-known, though not in Surrey.  Our only long barrow was at Badshot Lea.  There were ritual earthwork sites near the Thames opposite Surrey, but none so far in the historic county.  The purpose of causewayed enclosures, henges and cursus is not known, but must have involved large communities in what we would regard as ritual or religious activities.

There is little evidence for Neolithic activity on the chalk in Surrey, so we should not expect to find much in the Guildford area.

In the Neolithic axes were made of flint and other stones and were finished with the new technique of grinding and polishing them.  Stone axes came from specific quarry sites in, for example, the Lake District and Cornwall.  They are found in Surrey, but so far only a flint axe is known from Guildford.  There are flint tools and waste flakes from the sand at the Chantries, St.Martha’s and St.Catherine’s, and at Shalford and Merrow Downs.

The Bronze Age  c.2100- 750 BC
The use of bronze developed in England towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC, though flint and stone tools continued to be used.  Two bronze axes have been found in Guildford and one at Shalford; another was found on St.Catherine’s Hill with a bronze disc and a cast bronze ornament.  Two Late Bronze Age spears have been found in Guildford.

Very few Early Bronze Age domestic sites are known, but there is more evidence for Late Bronze Age sites.  Burial sites are more obvious, and there is a round barrow at Tyting.  It has not been excavated, but a bronze axe was found nearby.  Early Bronze Age people were also buried in flat graves, whilst in the later Bronze Age the dead were cremated and the ashes buried in urns.  There is a record of a Bronze Age urn containing burnt bones being found at Henley Grove near 1781.  Bronze Age activity was found on Manor Farm in 2004, and a field system has been identified on Whitmoor Common.

The Iron Age  700BC - AD 43 
Invasion theories to explain changes in archaeology are no longer popular, and it is thought that the Iron Age developed out of the Bronze Age, though there were certainly links with tribes in Gaul at the end of the Iron Age, and the Celtic coinage was certainly influenced by Gaulish coins, if not being actual imports from France.  One gold coin is known from the Guildford area.  Surrey was part of the area controlled by the Atrebates tribe.

Very little Iron Age metalwork is known from Surrey, but there is a bronze brooch from Guildford, and an iron spearhead from Merrow Downs, found with a hand quern for grinding flour.  Most of the finds are of pottery.  By the 1st century BC the potter's wheel was in use producing rather better vessels than the earlier hand-made ones. A rare Iron Age pottery kiln was excavated on St.Martha's Hill, with a flue made of triangular clay loom weights and pottery.  Very few kiln sites are known.  Iron Age pottery has been found on St.Catherine's Hill and at West Clandon.

Iron Age settlements of round houses, and hill-forts, are known in Surrey, but not near Guildford.  Burial sites are very rare.

Roman  AD 43-410
The Romans invaded in AD 43.  The Atrebates seem to have been friendly to Rome, and may already have been used to Roman imports.  There are, therefore, no known military sites in Surrey.  There was no tribal centre in Surrey (which, of course, did not exist then) so no Roman town developed as at Silchester or Winchester.

There was no Roman settlement at Guildford, because it was not on the road system between important towns.  The nearest settlement was probably at Burpham, but there were villas or other settlements around the town, such as Broad Street Common and Compton, and to the north of Guildford.  There is a scatter of Roman coins from the Guildford area. Cremation burials have been found on Merrow Downs and at Tyting. 

Guildford Museum, Castle Arch, Guildford, Surrey

(01483) 444750

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Page last modified on 03/08/2005
Address: Guildford Borough Council, Millmead House, Millmead, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 4BB Telephone: 01483 505050