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The last Ice Age began its slow retreats from Britain around 15,000 years ago and with it ended the Upper Palaeolithic Period which had spanned the period 40,000 BC to 10,000 BC. It also marked the beginning of the rise of Homo sapiens. During the Upper Palaeolithic period man had lived mainly in caves and this is supported by evidence in the form of bone and flint implements found in caves. It also seems likely that these people took part in communal hunting and fishing, and had begun to develop a rudimentary form of art identifiable from their amazing legacy of cave paintings that are still in evidence in many locations throughout Europe.

As the glaciers began their slow, but steady retreat northwards, the climate of Britain began to change with the weather getting warmer and wetter. At this time, around 10,000 BC, England was still part of the Eurasian landmass, and was linked to mainland Europe by a land bridge. It would not be until around 6500BC that the English Channel would form, and England as we know it, would be formed. This climate change also forced a change in the flora and fauna, with the cold bleak landscape, which probably resembled the present day Artic Tundra of Siberia, giving way first to light woodlands which would eventually grow into dense forests, where oak and hazels were common, and the rising temperature causing the ice to melt and form rivers.

Around the area we now call Witheridge, the water carved channels still recognised today as the valleys of the Little Dart, Dalch and Sturcombe Rivers, along with the Adworthy Brook. These, with their smaller streams, all drain south and westwards off the higher ground that stretches out like a finger from the southern slopes of Exmoor. The Migrating herds of reindeer, which had probably been the only animals seen in the area during the Ice Age, followed the glaciers north, and the warmer temperatures encouraged a wide range of species to move in to the region from the continental landmass. Wild cattle, deer, and boar walked the woods, birds flew above, and beaver and fish were plentiful in the rivers and streams. Also at this time, bears and wolves would not have been rare in the area.

It was during this period than man first made the move from being a cave dweller to living in dwellings that they constructed themselves. Until now they had been forced to live where the shelter was, but the changing climate now gave them the opportunity to choose their own site. There is evidence to suggest that many moved to a more coastal location, presumably to take advantage of the warmer temperature, the availability of fish, and the availability of pebbles and flints to use as tools. Hunting, which would have been relatively easy on the old grasslands, was now a far harder proposition with the dense forests.

Man had probably visited the Witheridge area on rare occasions during the Ice Age, hunting the reindeer, but they left no trace of their visits. However, around 8300BC the warmer climate and better hunting began to draw larger numbers of people to the region. Their presence is revealed only by chance finds of stone tools, which are occasionally spotted in the plough soil. Archaeologists can date the different types of tool and tell us what they were used for. The time that followed the Ice Age is known as the Mesolithic period, and the most commonly used tools are known as microliths. Small scatters of these have been found near Cannington Farm and on the Drayford side of West Yeo Farm. They are made either of chert or flint, both very dense stones which give incredibly sharp edges. Although often less than an inch long, they were ideal for setting in rows on harpoons or arrows.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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