Beneath the Wye Valley in southern Herefordshire lies the Old
- the red colour is due to the presence of oxygen during the
creation of these rocks.
The sandstone was laid down as sediment from rivers crossing a
tropical plain. The red sandy soil of the area derives from
millions of years of sedimentation formed newer strata of
rocks above the sandstone, including those of the great Chalk
Sea which once covered England, all of these have subsequently
been eroded away here.
the ice ages came. This period of cooling ('glacials' or 'ice
ages') and warming (the
interglacials) began 1.8
ago. It was during
one of the interglacials,
700,000 years ago,
during the early or 'lower'
(human type creatures) first arrived in
what is now Britain and were
using flint tools near
Pakefield on the coast of Suffolk.
(Although at the time Britain was not an island and the great
plain stretched from the Malvern Hills to the Urals.) At the
time Britain had a Mediterranean-type climate.
We do not know what sort of hominins were at Pakefield but
about 200,000 years later there were people at
Boxgrove on the
West Sussex Coast about which we know a little more.
These people were Homo heidelbergensis (the first example was
found near Heidelberg in 1907). They are found in both Africa
and Europe and they are much earlier than the better-known
Neanderthals. Specialists are uncertain about the relationship
between Homo heidelbergensis and the later human species: some
think that that they were ancestral to both Neanderthals and
modern humans; some that they were ancestral to one or the
other; and some that they were an evolutional ‘blind alley’.
During this period a river known as the Mathon ran north to
south through what is now Herefordshire in the approximate
position of the lower Lugg and Wye valleys.
palaeolithic began about 250,000 years ago and it is this
period which is commonly associated with Neanderthal man –
Homo neanderthalis – although they are usually considered to
originate a little later.
No provable Neanderthal bones
have been recovered from Britain.
earliest traces of human activity near our area date to the
later or 'upper' Palaeolithic. In
Symonds Yat, further
down the valley, the bones of woolly rhinoceroses, mammoths
and giant deer have been found. These were among the animals
that roamed the icy wastes of the area 25,000 years ago, when
they formed part of the diet of
hunters. So far, no palaeolithic
artifacts have been found within our area.
The part of the
within our area was formed before the last ice age by a river
running south. This river originated in what is now the upper
and flowed south through the valley of the lower Lugg and
lower Wye. During the last
ice age the Teme was diverted east to flow into the Severn.
latest retreat of the ice at the beginning of the present
interglacial was quite rapid. The outwash from the melting of
this glacier formed the gravel beds on which the centre of
Hereford is built. The retreat of the ice left behind a
treeless tundra landscape into which grazing animals and their
predators, including humans, migrated.
These people are ancestral to many of the
people who still live in this area. The area from which they
moved was the Basque region of northern Spain and southern
France. Although ancestors of some the
modern British had arrived before the end of the last ice
age, the ancestors of many more arrived in the post-glacial
period immediately afterwards. Altogether, three quarters of
the ancestors of the people of the Britain and Ireland and
their smaller islands arrived from these refuges before the
Neolithic. Current evidence suggests that Britain received
the overwhelming bulk of its population from the Basque
refuge. 81% of the Welsh and 88% of the Irish DNA pool
arrived at this time. The Welsh and Irish populations were
in place long before there was such a thing as 'Celtic'
culture. Whatever modern people might think, the Welsh and
Irish are not Celts.