Britain B.C. Part One (Channel 4 20 Feb 2003)

AIRDATE: Thursday 20 February 2003

Episode 1 of 2

Received wisdom tells us that the Romans brought civilisation and culture to a Britain populated by woad-faced barbarians. But received wisdom, according to best-selling writer and archaeologist Francis Pryor, could not be more wrong. In this visually stunning, provocative new series, Pryor offers an inspiring new view of Britain before the Roman invasion, suggesting that pre-Roman Britain was infinitely more sophisticated than previously imagined. Travelling from Anglesey to the Orkneys, the cliffs of Dover to the Western Isles of Scotland, Stonehenge to Maiden Castle, Pryor lifts the lid on what really made the ancient Britons tick and how what we were informs what we are today.

“It’s always been said the Romans did an enormous amount for Britain, but did they? They gave us roads. Did they? We had perfectly good roads before the Romans came. They gave us language? No they didn’t. We had a perfectly good language before Latin arrived. They have us laws? No. Our laws weren’t written down but we had them. So they gave us civilisation? No. We were civilised before the Romans came here.”

In fact, Pryor asserts that the Romans merely succeeded in wiping out a unique, 10,000-year-old island culture that has since been veiled in mystery and confusion. Ancient Britons, it seems, were far from being the bog-dwelling hunter-gatherers of renown. Pryor travels to Star Carr in North Yorkshire, and to Cheddar Gorge, to reveal startling new archaeological and scientific evidence that the Britons had developed their own unique way of farming some 2,000 years before the Pyramids were built. This in turn allowed the creation of permanent settlements, and the birth of a fixed society. And the suggestion that the Britons were marginalised by the Romans, and eventually ceased to exist as a distinct group, is refuted by new work in DNA, which shows that we are descended from the ancient Britons, not from interlopers.

Pryor goes on to reveal sophisticated indigenous developments, not only in agriculture but also in mining, trade and industry going back to 2000 years before Christ. The copper mines at Great Orme in North Wales are 4,000 years old, and are thought to contain 30 miles of mined tunnels. So much mining indicates not just a level of industrial sophistication, but also of trade with European tribes. Why else would a nation of perhaps 100,000 people need to mine enough copper to make 10 million axes? The discovery of the Dover boat, dating back 4,000 years, further indicates that such trade would have been possible. As Pryor says: “This was not a misty island of disparate tribes living in isolation, but a thriving maritime society with a network of trade routes which could also aid the spread of ideas.”

Dir: Tim Copestake
Exec Prod: Roy Ackerman
Prod co: Diverse
Comm ed: Simon Andreae

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