Christianity truly began to take hold in Britain around the turn of the 7th Century, with the arrival of Anglo-Saxons. Prior to this, human habitation on the British Isles went back more than 30,000 years. Yet most British history we know through films, books, and popular consciousness concerns Christian Britain. What was Britain like before Christianity? Savage? Refined? Confused? All of these things? Read on for crazy facts about pre-Christian Britain.(Author's Note: Ireland was left almost entirely off this list because it's not part of Britain. Northern Ireland was left off due to the controversial nature of its status within the British Isles.)
It Took Twenty Years of Training to Become a DruidPhoto: Bernard de Montfaucon
Extensive written documentation of British history begins with the arrival of the Romans, whose records provide great information on the druids. As it turns out, the druids weren't weird magical people in hoods who stalked swamps, but rather educated citizens of pre-Roman Britain tasked with a number of important functions; they served as judges, teachers, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders. According to information recorded by Julius Caesar, it took 20 years of training to become a druid, but to many it was worth the effort—druids didn't pay tribute to the nobles and weren't expected to participate in war.
Skara Brae: A Complete Ancient Settlement Older Than the Great PyramidsIn the 19th century, a giant storm tore through Orkney, an island off the northern tip of Scotland. The storm ripped open the earth, revealing Skara Brae, an ancient, neolithic settlement protected by sand and grass for thousands of years. A small cluster of ancient dwellings, Skara Brae contains intact beds, fireplaces, dressers, and even rudimentary cabinets, as well as smaller items like jewelry, tools, and games. The village was inhabited from about 3200 BCE until 2500 BCE, making it older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. It is the most complete neolithic site in Britain.
The British Islands Were Once Connected to EuropeContinuous, settled occupation of the British Isles began between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago. The migration of people from mainland Europe to southern England was aided by the fact that, at the time, Britain was part of the European landmass. Evidence also exists of a land bridge between Wales and Ireland, which might have aided migration from Britain to Ireland. Britain detached from mainland Europe after the last ice age, making migration more difficult, and Ireland most likely disconnected from Britain as many as 13,000 years ago, giving that country a radically different ancient history than Britain's.
For the uninitiated, Welsh is a mind-boggling language rife with words without vowels, some so long, it's hard to believe they're real. For those familiar with Welsh, it's fun to root out the craziest Welsh words to show your friends. The Welsh language is of Celtic origins, which makes it very different from English, and even different from Scottish Gaelic (also a Celtic language, but a different branch). Fun place names in Wales include Bwlchgwyn, Ysbyty Ystwyth, and the now infamous Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.