This week: Britain and Brittany

Postcard (1910-1920) showing Le Yaudet, Brittany, where evidence of medieval settlements was found within Iron Age and Roman earthworks.

Boris Johnson is not, of course, the first political leader to take a dim view of the free movement of people and goods between Britain and the Continent.

More than 2,000 years earlier, Julius Caesar ordered the destruction of ships engaged in cross-Channel trade from ports along the Brittany coast – perhaps in a deliberate act of economic sabotage designed to punish the once-rebellious tribes of north-western Gaul.

As we learn this week on The Past, however, even the aggressive attentions of one of history’s most formidable generals could do little to sever the long-established ties between the people of Brittany and their northern neighbours in Britain, or to disrupt busy trading routes which by then had already been active for millennia.

In the new issue of Current Archaeology magazine, Chris Catling reports on the latest book from distinguished archaeologist Barry Cunliffe, in which he tells how the two cultures on opposite sides of the Channel came to be so closely linked, and how trade enabled people, ideas, technology and language, as well as raw materials and finished goods, all to travel freely back and forth.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we’ve also been delving into the archives to learn more about the early links between Britain and its neighbours: we discovered how Neolithic farming methods reached these shores almost 1,000 years after they became established on the Continent; and we travelled to the Channel Island of Sark to understand how its relative isolation affected life there over the centuries. Separately, in a special three-part series on the archaeology of Europe, Barry Cunliffe looked first at how the ‘Neolithic Revolution’ impacted on the foraging habits of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers; then at the period c.2800-140 BC, when control of land and trade routes became central to evolution; and finally at the changes from Caesar to Charlemagne, as the continent emerged finally from its long Imperial interlude.

And remember: if all that simply whets your appetite for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest themed Quiz, which this week also takes the English Channel as its focus. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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