Published on January 20th, 2017 | by Michelle Roper-Shaw
Ancient Britain Special Stamps
The daily life of the nation in prehistoric times is revealed in eight new Special Stamps.
Fascinating finds and intriguing landmarks tell the colourful prehistory of our country in the newly released Ancient Britain stamps. These eight Special Stamps feature a bronze shield, ritual headdress along with other relics and famous monuments that reflect the lives of our ancestors.
Metals Through the Ages
The first metals were used in Britain back in the Stone Age. It was the arrival of cultures that could ‘make metal’ that had a dramatic effect on society.
In the British Isles, the first seams of copper were exploited in Ireland around 2500BC. The discovery of tin in South West England helped to make Britain an important centre. When copper is smelted with an amount of tin, it makes the superior metal, bronze. This harder, more durable and versatile metal saw the country enter the Bronze Age which also delivered several other technological advancements.
Ancient Britain Presentation Pack
The Ancient Britain Presentation Pack provides an overview of the prehistory of Britain. It contains expert insights into each of the ancient sites and artefacts depicted on each stamp. This Presentation Pack is written by leading prehistorian Professor Timothy Darvill of Bournemouth University. He focuses on the significance of monuments, the development of farming, and the importance of forts as communities fought for land.
Background to These Special Stamps
These special stamps give a timeline across thousands of years of history. They show a glimpse of a Stone Age ritual of 11,000 years ago, through the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age of some 300 BC.
Battersea Shield, Iron Age (First Class Stamp)
Found at the River Thames, Battersea, London and exhibited at The British Museum, London.
Shields from the Iron Age are rare. They are mostly made of wood which have not survived, therefore the Battersea Shield is exceptional. Crafted from bronze with inlaid glass, it is ceremonial and held together by concealed rivets.
During the Iron Age, weapons including shields would be placed in the Thames as a sacrifice. This complete shield is about 78cm long. Its Celtic inspired design is complimented by panels made from thin beaten sheet bronze, and is decorated with repousse, engraving and red-enamel inlay.
Skara Brae Village, Neolithic (First Class Stamp)
Location: Bay of Skaill, Orkney Islands, Scotland.
Skara Brae Village on Orkney is an example of an extremely early settlement. Unlike in many parts of the UK, by the third millennium BC there were few trees of Orkney, so stone was the main building material. Today, remarkably, eight recognisable houses remain on the site dating back as early as 3200BC.
Beds, shelves and storage containers are all shaped in stone around a central hearth. Each home also includes a ‘dresser’ made from flagstones. The occupants of these homes used beautifully Grooved Ware pottery made from worked stone and bone.
Star Carr Headdress, Mesolithic (£1.05 Stamp)
Found at Star Carr, Near Scarborough, North Yorkshire and exhibited at The British Museum, London.
Excavations over the last 70 years have revealed three brushwood and timber platforms along the edge of what was once Lake Flixton. There is also evidence of houses on some drier ground away from the shore.
Amongst the collection of worked stone, flint, bone, antler and wood were more than 30 frontlets of red deer. It is thought these items were used as masks or headdresses as disguises in hunting or rituals. The remaining deerskin maybe have been worn by shamans as they contacted the animal spirits.
Maiden Castle Hill Fort, Iron Age (£1.05 Stamp)
Found near Dorchester, Dorset, England with public access through English Heritage.
As the British population grew during the Bronze Age, society became agrarian and dependent on the land. During the Iron Age enclosed land and hill forts, upland areas, sometimes ringed with defensive earthworks were developed. Maiden Castle, Dorset, has huge defensive ramparts (up to 5.5m high) and was built from around 400BC.
A series of excavations in 1934-37 and 1985-86 revealed the amount of occupation on the hilltop overlooking the River South Winterborne. The large multivallate hill fort whose earthworks dominate the site today was built around 400BC. Enclosing 47 acres, it is the largest hill fort of its type in Britain.
Avebury Stone Circles (£1.33 Stamp)
Location: Avebury, Near Marlborough, Wiltshire, England with public access through the National Trust and English Heritage
With a more settled lifestyle and food surpluses, labour could be organised away from subsistence activities. After 3000BC large monuments such as circles of stones and standing stones were built.
The Avebury Stone Circles site is one of the largest in Europe. It comprises of three stone circles and avenues of standing stones and other earthworks. It is thought these earthworks served to contain powerful spirits while providing a grandstand from which to observe ceremonies inside the henge.
Four entrances give access to the flat central space which once contained a series of stone structures, comprising 98 pillars of local sarsen stone or obelisk. The northern circle of 27 pillars surrounded a ‘cove’ of three massive uprights forming the sides of a box-like structure open to the northeast.
Drumbest Horns, Bronze Age (£1.33 Stamp)
Found at Drumbest, Near Ballmoney, County Antrim, Ireland and exhibited at The Ulster Museum, Belfast
The Drumbest Horns were discovered in 1840 in a bog in Northern Ireland. They are among the best preserved horns in Europe. Very finely made in around 800BC, it is thought that they were played in pairs, producing a like a bagpipe like sound.
They are a wonderful example of the sophistication of the metal working at this time and the culture of people in the later Bronze Ages.
Grime’s Graves Flint Mines, Neolithic (£1.52 Stamp)
Location: Weeting With Broomhill, Near Thetford, Norfolk, England with public access through English Heritage.
The Grimes Graves Flint mine dates back to around 2500BC. It is one of the largest found in the UK. For more than 1,000 years, workers dug hundreds of shafts to reach the seams of flint.
Flint was the dominant material crucial for making edges on tools and weapons in prehistoric times. It was used for thousands, perhaps millions of years, but the early agriculture promoted a population growth. This in turn led to forests being cleared and fields prepared for farming.
Mold Cape, Bronze Age (£1.52 Stamp)
Found at Bryn Yr Ellyllon (Goblins’ Hill), Mold, Flintshire, Wales and exhibited at The British Museum, London
In Mold, Wales, a beautiful ceremonial gold cape was discovered in a burial mound from around 1900-1600BC. It has been suggested this precious item may have been worn by a high-status woman (possibly a ‘priestess’). The Mold Cape is just 465mm wide, so the wearer must have been young or of slight build.
It was made by hammering out a 700g ingot of gold and formed the upper part of an elaborate garment. Although restrictive to wear, it was stunning in its impact. It was found by workmen in 1833, while quarrying stone.