Iron Age Families

The population of Britain grew significantly during the Iron Age and possibly exceeded one million. Family groups consisted mostly of settled farming communities who tended their crops and livestock. Population growth was aided by the introduction of new and improved varieties of crop, such as emmer wheat, in addition to the spelt wheat, barley and flax and better farming techniques with iron-tipped ploughs (called an Ard or Scratch plough) pulled by oxen making cultivation of heavy clay soils possible.

The Ard was made primarily from wood with an iron tip to penetrate the ground, but it did not have mould boards or large blades used on more recent European ploughs to turn the soil over. It made a simple furrow or narrow trench to sow the seed in; to obtain a good tilth, it is likely that fields were ploughed in one direction and then cross-ploughed in the other. Iron Sickles were also used to harvest crops, as well as cutting and shaping branches for hurdles. Managing trees or hedges was necessary for Iron Age farmers as the wood was used in the construction of hurdles, buildings, tools and vehicles and also for firewood and charcoal.

Ploughing with replia Ard at Sagnlandet Lejre (Denmark)

The Roman Pliny stated that grain was also fermented to make beer and the surface foam that formed was scraped off and used in the bread-making process. Harvested crops were stored in either in bell-shaped pits 2-3m deep (over 4,500 of these storage pits were found within the hillfort interior at Danebury in Hampshire) or granaries that were raised from the ground on posts.

The Greek geographer Pytheas of Massalia visited southern Britain in around 322 BC and wrote the earliest account of Britain, that was re-told by other classical writers, such as Strabo:

"he saw plenty of corn in the fields in the south-east but also noted the gradual disappearance of various kinds of grain as one advanced towards the north"

Iron Age Tribes in Britain

Iron Age Homes


People of the Iron Age lived in large round houses (example below at Flag Fen) that were sometimes part of fortified structures or enclosures such as “banjo” enclosures, so called because of their shape. The enclosure is defined by a low bank and ditch, with earthworks at the end of the track are sometimes turned outwards, creating a funnel effect.

Flag Fen roundhouse

Roundhouses varied in size from less than 5m in diameter to over 15m and were built with walls made of wooden posts (joined by wattle-and-daub panels),  turf sod or stone, often with a gabled porch to sheltered the entrance. They had a thatched conical roof pitched between 45° to 50° that had no chimney vent. Most roundhouses had a hearth or fireplace at the Centrex, that was used for cooking, warmth for the house and light. Despite no chimney, roundhouses were not smokey dwellings, as this would settle towards the top of the roof, well above the heads of the occupants.



Another variant of the successful roundhouse was a crannog (below) - a type of lake dwelling found throughout Scotland and Ireland, plus many parts of Europe. They were constructed on artificial or modified natural islands, but the reason for this is unclear. Logs were driven (twisted) into soft mud of the lake bed and the house constructed on top. As each log rotted away over many years, it would be left in place and another log inserted close by. Eventually no room would be left under the crannog for new logs and so it would be abandoned.



Only found in Scotland (around 700 mainly in the northern Highlands and the Islands), Iron Age Broch's were dry-stone towers. Broch's vary from 5m to 15m in internal diameter, with windowless 3m thick walls and typically have a single easily defended entrance leading to a central inner circular space. Two concentric, dry-stone walls, created a hollow-walled, with steps were built into the gap between the walls providing access to upper wooden platformed rooms and storage areas.

The finest remaining example of a Broch is at Mousa (Shetland Islands), which rises to 13.3m high making it the tallest prehistoric building in Britain. Virtually intact, Mousa was not dismantled for stone when the inside was remodeled towards the end of the Iron Age, possibly because Mousa flagstone is some of the best building stone in Shetland and is slightly shorter, with thicker walls than most other Broch's.

Broch of Gurness (Orkney Islands)

Iron Age Hill Forts

With around 3,300 structures that can be classed as hillforts or similar defended enclosures within Britain, they were typcially constructed on an elevated site with one or more ramparts made of earth, stone and/or wood, with an external ditch. Many small early hill forts were abandoned, with the larger ones being redeveloped at a later date, although the reason for why British Iron Age peoples built hillforts is under dispute.

Maiden Castle is probably best known British Iron Age Hillfort, although it originally was part of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure and a long barrow (containing two infant burials), before it was developed into a small hillfort and eventually expanded to its present size.

Iron Age Clothing

Few clothes have been preserved from Iron Age Britain, with the best evidence coming from the classic texts and the various Bog Bodies found.

Male clothing & appearence:

  • Close-fitting trousers (braccae) and sometimes leg-wraps were worn
  • Long knee-length tunic of either linen or wool
  • Leather belt at the waist
  • Cloak (bratt) or hoaded cloak (byrrus) would have been fastened at the shoulder with a brooch
  • Footwear was of a one piece construction tied with a leather tong, sometimes with excess leather removed for a better fit
  • Men had beards or moustaches and had long plaited hair or sometimes tied in a "Sveber" knot on the side of their head
  • important members of the tribe would wear a neck torc (below) of gold, silver or iron decorated with patterns

Female clothing & appearence:

  • Long, sleeveless dress that was a simple tube of cloth pinned or sewn together at the shoulders
  • Blouse or shirt
  • Fur cape made from ox or sheepskin
  • Brooches, pins and other accessories that would have played a functional and decorative role on the clothing
  • Footwear was of a one piece construction tied with a leather tong, sometimes with excess leather removed for a better fit
  • Women had long plaited hair and fine bone combs


Iron Age loom

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote:

'"The way they dress is astonishing: they wear brightly coloured and embroidered shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in summer. These cloaks are striped or chequered in design, with the separate checks close together and in various colours"


Clothes would have been made from woven wool and sometimes from linen made from flax, with a range of colours from natural vegetable dyes - brown, reds, green and blue, with striped or checked patterns. The wool would have been woven by hand on a vertical or upright loom (see below) and then been sewn together using a bone or metal needle and wool thread. Spindle-whorls (round clay/stone weights used to make the spindle rotate evenly), carved bone weaving combs and loomweights also of stone or clay - which held down the warp threads on the loom - are found on many Iron Age domestic sites.


Home | About Ancientcraft | Calendar of Events | Terms & Conditions | Contact Ancientcraft | Copyright © 2009-2015 Ancientcraft