‍Ancient Trackways

‍People didn’t always travel as we do. The earliest humans moved only for survival. They migrated out of Africa and later, they moved to follow their food. These were hunter-gatherers and no-one appreciated scenery for its own sake. Tracks probably existed in those times; like animals, their movements will have followed regular routes. 

‍Later, when people began farming, they will have created tracks joining separate communities to each other and to meeting places, long barrows and later, stone circles. 

‍No-one travelled for pleasure though because danger lurked everywhere – and when your fireside is the only safe place you know, you start come to it.

‍However, human beings have also traded with each other since very early times and this led to long distance trackways. They often ran just below the crests of ridges in the landscape, to afford shelter from the wind or to avoid travellers presenting themselves to marauders as a target on the skyline.
Ancient trackways include the Harrow Way and the Pilgrims’ Way in southern England, and the Ridgeway which runs all the way from the Dorset coast to the Wash in Norfolk. and has been used for at least 5,000 years.
Wooden causeways have been found in the Somerset levels near Glastonbury and are believed to be the oldest known purpose built roads in the world. They consist mainly of oak planks laid on pegs driven into the underlying peat and date back to 3800BC.

‍The Lindholme Trackway is later, dating to around 2500 BC. It fits within a trend of narrowing width and increased sophistication during the third millennium BC, which some suggest could represent a shift towards wheeled transport at that time.

‍In the thousand years before the birth of Jesus, the Celtic peoples traded widely across Europe so they clearly had major long-distance routes of some form, although what they were like is not known. The Romans invaded all of Europe and replaced everything with their own roads and buildings . . . and since the winners write history, we know plenty about Roman roads but little about what was there before the Romans arrived.

‍Next: Roman roads

‍Further reading about ancient trackways on Wikipedia:
Ancient trackways across the world (including Britain)

‍Ancient Trackways in England  

‍The Pilgrims Way” near Guildford, England.  Named after Mediaeval travellers, it probably dates back to the Stone Age.

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