chapter  4
40 Pages

The Opening-up of the Land

It was suggested in the previous chapter (above, p. 64) that during the latter phases of the Mesolithic, probably after about 5000 b c , the economic relationship between man and certain large herbivorous animals underwent an important change, which was eventually to lead to full domestication. After 4000 b c that process, in southern Britain at least, was complete and about 3500 b c a new dimension was added to the food-quest when the cycle of deliberate cultivation and harvesting of food-plants was instituted. Precisely how this method of producing food from the land was transmitted from the Continent is beyond our knowledge at present and is in any case outside the scope of this book. What does concern us is the certainty that the South West shared in the early development of agriculture in southern Britain and thus in the growth of stable communities which depended increasingly upon settled agrarian practice for their sustenance. No doubt hunting, gathering and fishing continued to play a part in providing food for the inhabitants of the peninsula. In certain areas, including Scilly and several coastal regions of Devon and Cornwall, such activities may have endured for many centuries as staple providers of food, indeed still did so down to the modern period. But the introduction of agriculture radically altered man’s relations with the natural world and had profound effects on human society, effects which are still with us in this industrial age. The beginnings of the social order which we know, and of which the history is to be traced in the rest of this book, lie in the middle of the fourth millennium b c .