HERE IN THIS MAGIC WOOD
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When we reconstruct in our mind’s eye the virgin forest that stretched from one end of Britain to the other at the beginning of the neolithic, we have a measure of the magnitude of the neolithic enterprise. Little else, after all, could be done until substantial areas of the forest had been cleared. When the great forest developed, Britain was a moister and a warmer land, warmer than today by two degrees Celsius. The temperature had risen gradually since the end of the Ice Age some two thousand years before and cold-tolerant trees like the pine were in retreat, making way for warmth-loving deciduous species. The pine had virtually disappeared in England and only remained as a major element in the forests of the eastern Scottish Highlands, where as many as 40 per cent of the trees were pines. The birch too was in retreat and only made an important constituent of the forests in the northern half of Britain (Figure 1).