For the purposes of this volume, nine time periods have been established in order to facilitate characterisation of the research so far undertaken and the identification of potential areas of future research. Each chapter includes a ‘timeline’ figure to highlight key climatic and cultural events, important sites and finds, and the broader European and eventually global maritime context. Of the periods used (and listed below) some are well established in archaeological discourse; others are somewhat less standard and have been chosen to reflect key shifts in maritime culture and archaeology, as well as more conventional chronologies. These periods are, as with all such divisions of archaeological and historical time, necessarily somewhat arbitrary.

  • Palaeolithic: 900,000/800,000–10,000 BC
  • Mesolithic: 10,000–4000 BC
  • Neolithic and Early Bronze Age: 4000–1500 BC
  • Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Pre- Roman Iron Age: 1500 BC–AD 43
  • Roman: AD 43–400
  • Early Medieval: AD 400–1000
  • High to Post-Medieval: 1000– c 1650
  • Early Modern and Industrial: 1650–1850
  • Modern: 1850–c 2000

Defining these periods and the chronology of Britain they create is an imprecise art. These dates are indicative, with, particularly in the Prehistoric periods, regional chronologies revealing differences in the timing of the transition between and the duration of different periods. Thus, the chronology has spatial as well as temporal expression. Period dates are better treated as indicative temporal horizons rather than ‘beginnings’ since the divisions are at times necessarily fluid; this is also reflected in the many ‘overlaps’ between chapters. For example, in the British Isles the Mesolithic begins by convention at the onset of the Holocene and ends with the appearance of the Neolithic, a date range from 9700 cal BC (Walker et al 2009) to c 3800 cal BC, often rounded to c 4000 cal BC. Yet, considerable continuities link the Mesolithic and its preceding and following periods. This is especially notable in the context of the post-Last Glacial Maximum settlement of northern Europe, where the ebb and flow  of human occupation of the northern European lowlands, including England, was closely related to climate change, made extensive use of now flooded landscapes, and showed considerable continuity between the ‘final’ Palaeolithic and the earliest Mesolithic, with, for example, technical and typological links between Ahrensburgian, Federmesser, and early Mesolithic lithic industries (De Bie and Vermeesch 1998, 39). Similarly, the ‘Romanisation’ of Britain did not begin with the invasion in AD 43, but was part of a regional, and specifically maritime, pattern of cultural interaction and social change. Certain coastal communities and regional groups clearly had an established relationship with the Roman world by AD 43, whilst others engaged with these changes much later in the 1st century AD.

Whilst, we acknowledge that any temporal division of generic cultural periods will be imperfect, there are a number of key reasons for the divisions made in this volume. Although the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic are defined by conventional chronological boundaries, we have chosen to integrate the Neolithic with the Early Bronze Age, and the Middle Bronze Age with the Pre-Roman Iron Age. This is due to greater similarities which appear to exist between late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age maritime activity, and the marked change that occurs in the Middle Bronze Age and continues into the Iron Age, as is highlighted in both chapters. From this point onwards, our chronology has been led primarily by broad shifts in maritime outlook, and it is hoped that it is possible for the reader to trace the shifting development of a distinctly maritime, as well as eventually English and then British, identity, through these periods. In addition, questions of geography and key changes in maritime spatial context, as well as cultural and archaeological shifts, have contributed to this framing of the chronology.

In the Early Medieval there was a focus on connections across the southern North Sea and eastern Channel towards the Nordic world and northern Europe. From the High to Post-Medieval period there is a broad shift to focus on relations between England, Scotland, France, and Wales, as well as an increased and cosmopolitan maritime urbanisation and the gradual development of a nation state, which brings a more European maritime outlook both economically and politically. For England, this is also the period during which there is a qualitative change to an ‘English’ kingship and identity, so that by the Tudor period ‘maritime England’ has a symbolic as well as mercantile and military importance. From the onset of our Early Modern and Industrial period in the mid-17th century, England’s maritime outlook becomes fully global, and a sense of British identity arises alongside colonial and then imperial expansion across the world. There is a massive expansion in transoceanic voyaging, in the number of British merchant ships and sailors, as well as in the scale of the British navy and its geo- political role. Finally, in our Modern period, there  is a key change from the seasonality and technology of sailing ships to steam-powered vessels, and eventually to containerisation and increased mechanisation. This latter change is associated with the loss of large communities of port and shipbuilding workers as well as mariners, and also by the increasing social distance of much of the population in the latter part of the 20th century from seafaring and maritime culture.

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