|St Martin's Church
You're standing in the oldest area of the settlement
of Birmingham, on a slope. The land dips down towards the church and then
down again out towards Digbeth where, less than a mile from where you're
standing, is the River Rea. It now runs in underground tunnels (culverts)
under the city. The river is one of the main reason why people settled
in Birmingham - people needed a good supply of water.
At the foot of the slope, the buildings of Digbeth are
constructed on clay. This area was once a boggy swamp. The most recent
Ice Age ended 10,000 years ago when the thick ice sheet retreated from
Britain. As the ice moved, it carried with it clay, sand and rock which
got picked up and stuck in the ice. This is why some of Birmingham sits
on boulder clay - as the ice melted, it was left behind.
Geologists have also found gravel and rocks here which
match the rock in Scotland and Cumbria - they must have been dragged and
left here too. Bigger rocks which have been carried far from their place
of origin by the ice are called 'erratics' - there are a few of these
in Birmingham. It's easier just to leave them where they are! (There's
one on the University of Birmingham campus near the Physics department.)
out more about the glaciers which covered Birmingham. Listen to Ed Hough
|Modern exterior of Selfridges
Walk up around the curved walkway and stand on the
As you stand on the balcony at Selfridges,
look down the slope towards the Rea Valley. Have a go at imagining how
the area would have looked over the last 15,000 years... Imagine the church,
shops, markets and all signs of modern existence fade away.
Back in 3000 BC, mixed oak woodland stretches out from
where you're standing in all directions to the horizon. Oak, birch, elm
and ash trees surround you, with an underlayer of hazel, holly, elderberry
and bluebells. Wild wolves, boar and foxes roam in the woods. In clearings,
small groups of Neolithic farmers are cultivating wheat, barley and vegetables,
and smoke rises from cooking fires.
Further back in time, to the Atlantic
Period (5000 3000 BC), it's warmer and wetter than today. The wild
wood covering Birmingham is dense - oak, elm, lime, and alder trees
with no clearings. A small numbers of Palaeolithic people are hunting
the wild animals and birds, and gathering fruit and nuts (like crabapples
and hazelnuts) to eat.
In 9000 10,000 BC, this area looks very different.
The climate is cold as the last Ice Age comes to an end. Soils are forming
on the boulder clay (left by the ice), sand and gravel (deposited by meltwater).
Plants are growing from seeds carried by animals, birds and wind from
the south and Europe. The area you're standing on is a tundra covered
with vegetation - moss, lichen, grasses, dwarf willow and birch trees.
In the Glacial Period before this (13,000 BC and earlier),
the area is even colder and all the land you can see is covered by thick
snow and ice. The small numbers of humans and animals have moved south
beyond the edge of the ice. The landscape is bleak, white, silent, awesome...
Now, surrounded by the modern architecture, the landscape
hides its past under the ground. Hopefully, that trip back in time hasn't
tired you out too much...
Turn around and walk up to the Rotunda. Turn left
and walk along New Street.
map of this stage of the walk.
(If you need thawing out after imagining yourself in
the Ice Age, there are plenty of cafés here!)