Who were the first farmers?

Around 4,000 years ago, people in Britain started living in a new way. Instead of spending all their time hunting and gathering, they began to set up farms.

The early farmers chopped down trees so they could grow crops and vegetables. They kept cattle, sheep and pigs. People began to settle down in one place and build permanent homes.

The farms marked the start of a new age in Britain – the Neolithic period (or new Stone Age). As well as setting up farms and permanent homes, they also built massive tombs and giant stone circles. Some of the monuments and homes they built can still be seen today.

What were the first farms like?

By 3500BC people in many parts of Britain had set up farms. They made clearings in the forest and built groups of houses, surrounded by fields.

The early farmers grew wheat and barley, which they ground into flour. Some farmers grew beans and peas. Others grew a plant called flax, which they made into linen for clothes.

Neolithic farmers kept lots of animals. They had herds of wild cows that had been domesticated (tamed). The cattle provided beef, as well as milk and cheese. Sheep and goats provided wool, milk and meat. Wild pigs were domesticated and kept in the woods nearby.

Dogs helped on the farms too. They herded sheep and cattle and worked as watchdogs. Dogs were probably treated as family pets, like they are today.

The early farmers still went hunting and gathered nuts and berries to eat, but they spent most of their time working on their farms.

A prehistoric boy sat with his dog near a camp fire
Clearings were made to create farmland and the wood was used to build fires to keep warm at night

Who lived at Skara Brae?

Most Neolithic people built houses with wooden frames. But there were some places where wood was hard to find...

On the Orkney Islands, off the coast of Scotland, there are no trees. Neolithic people on the islands built their houses from stone.

The Skara Brae settlement on the Orkney Isles dates from between 3200 and 2700BC. It is made up of a group of one-roomed circular homes.

These houses have built-in furniture made completely from stone. There are stone seats and beds and even stone shelves where precious objects were kept!

Today, the homes at Skara Brae are open to the air, but they were probably covered with roofs of turf and bracken. Each home would have been linked by a set of covered passageways, so people could visit whilst keeping warm and dry.

A Viking settlement at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands, Scotland
Today, this Neolithic home is open to the air, but when it was built it would have had a cosy roof of turf or bracken. Inside, you can see a central fireplace and a dresser made from stone.

Click below to take a tour inside a Stone Age house at Skara Brae.

What monuments did Neolithic people build?

Neolithic people built grave mounds and stone circles. They also met for religious ceremonies on large, circular platforms that are known as causewayed enclosures.

People stored the bones of the dead in large graves known as long barrows. These graves were built from stone and covered with a mound of earth.

The graves had a central passage, with several side-chambers containing sets of bones. There were also smaller graves, with a single burial chamber.

During the Neolithic period, people started to build stone circles. This practice continued in the early Bronze Age.

The ancient neolithic dolmen at Pentre Ifan in Wales is a vast Celtic burial mound
A Neolithic grave at Pentre Ifan, Wales. When it was built, the stones would have been covered by a large mound of earth.

Neolithic people made a range of tools and other objects to help them in their daily life. Click on each object to find out more.

What would you make if you lived like them?

Play Bitesize games