Britain boasts a previous that’s far stranger than could be anticipated. Those that look far sufficient again can uncover cannibals, shamans and solar, moon and water-worshippers, Christian initiations and pagan bathroom sacrifices. There’s additionally proof of prehistoric mummification, 20th-century magic and all method of websites that mix previous and new beliefs into complicated, compelling hybrids. Perhaps it’s as a result of so many alternative peoples have formed this island, making their marks on the panorama, on artefacts and on the following technology. Every technology, every wave of immigrants, every commerce community has introduced one thing new to the occasion.Analysis typically focuses on how such wonders have been wrought – and trendy scientific methods have answered many urgent questions. However my e book Secret Britain, goals to discover the extra elusive query: why? Definitive solutions aren’t all the time simple to come back by, however we are able to stand puzzled, moved or uplifted within the presence of this unusual and secret historical past. It’s precisely what the ancestors have been doing, too.Cheddar Gorge, Somerset: paleolithic, 14700BC {Photograph}: Tom Meaker/Getty ImagesAround 13,000 years in the past, Britain was a part of continental Europe and nonetheless within the throes of the ice age. However the climate was sometimes clement sufficient to permit bands of hunter-gatherers to stroll north and west and benefit from seasonal looking. They ate horse, hare and reindeer. In addition they ate one another. The indeniable proof for cannibalism comes from Cheddar Gorge, a rift of towering limestone cliffs wormholed with pure caves. In Gough’s Cave, bones from six people – a toddler, two youngsters and three adults – have lower marks and human chunk marks. This isn’t proof of a looking journey gone fallacious, survivors pushed to determined measures; skulls have been fastidiously chipped away to type bowls, and arms present delicate zigzag engravings. We don’t know if Cheddar Gorge was specifically chosen for these consuming rituals, or if cannibalism was a standard a part of life (and demise) in ice-age Somerset. The present caves are presently closed, however the wider panorama – timeless and unusual – beckons.Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey: mesolithic and neolithic, from 6000BC {Photograph}: Getty ImagesThis masterpiece of neolithic structure on Anglesey was constructed round 3000BC. The chambered tomb is completely aligned so the midsummer dawn shines alongside the passage and illuminates the inside. Exterior the tomb there’s a “sample stone” carved with zigzagging contours, a uncommon ornament extra generally present in tombs in Eire and France. Was this place constructed by immigrants settling the world? By locals who’d travelled abroad and adopted new kinds? Whoever it was, they selected a spot that had already been necessary for 1000’s of years. Proof for ritual on this website goes again to the mesolithic period – the center stone age – round 6000BC, when hunter-gatherers erected a collection of pinewood posts aligned alongside the identical axis because the later tomb entrance. It’s merely staggering to suppose individuals have been welcoming the solar on this particular place for greater than 8,000 years.Tomnaverie recumbent stone circle, Aberdeenshire: late neolithic, 2500BC {Photograph}: Jan Holm/AlamyJust east of the Cairngorm mountains there’s a large hilltop with an uncommon kind of prehistoric stone circle discovered solely in north-east Scotland. The important characteristic is a large stone laid flat, the “recumbent”, tightly flanked by two standing stones, and a circle of different stones that descend in peak order. Is the recumbent an altar desk? A body for viewing celestial phenomena? Or is it a blocked gateway, both to maintain issues within the circle or preserve them out? Most of the stones have inclusions of sparkly quartz, and it appears doubtless that this monument got here to life at evening, maybe representing the cycle of life and demise, and darkish and lightweight.Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire: neolithic and bronze age, 4000-1500BC {Photograph}: David Lyons/AlamyBritish rock artwork isn’t spectacular just like the showy runs of bison stampeding throughout cave partitions in Lascaux or Altamira. It’s small, nude, summary and sometimes fairly onerous to identify. However Ilkley Moor’s Badger Stone and Barmishaw Stone, present why individuals get obsessed. Essentially the most frequent motif is the cup mark, a small round melancholy carved out of the rock face. You’ll additionally see the cup-and-ring, and a number of cups and rings joined by snaking grooves and gutters. The rock artwork doesn’t have apparent that means – the designs don’t look like star maps or tales. However possibly we’re studying them fallacious. Or possibly they aren’t for “studying” in any respect however for “doing” – used to make choices or for fortune-telling. We’ve recognized about 7,000 rock artwork panels in Britain thus far, and extra are being discovered yearly.Tintagel, Cornwall: post-Roman British, AD450-650 {Photograph}: Mike Kipling Images/AlamyTintagel, on the north coast of Cornwall, is often related to King Arthur. Its story really begins round 450AD, when it grew to become a buying and selling centre with the jap Mediterranean, benefiting from the ability vacuum left by the Brexiting Romans. Excavations have revealed amphorae containing olive oil and wine from Turkey, Greece, Tunisia and Syria, and fancy overseas tableware. It appears doubtless this was a court docket for the kings of Devon and Cornwall. A footprint carved into the rocks at one in every of Tintagel’s highest factors means that it could even have been used for royal inauguration – maybe planting seeds for later tales of a legendary king and a spherical desk of loyal warriors.Aberlemno stones, Angus: Pictish, AD600-700The Serpent Stone at Aberlemno. {Photograph}: AlamyThe Romans coined the time period Picti (“painted individuals”) as a racial slur for the ferocious guerrilla fighters they encountered in northern Scotland, and in some unspecified time in the future the Picts determined to say the identify as their very own. We have now few dependable historic data of the Picts, however we do have items of their artwork, weaponry and a set of intriguing and as-yet-undeciphered carved standing stones that date from round AD600. In Aberlemno village, these outstanding treasures are round each nook: enigmatic pairs of symbols – the double-disc and Z-rod; the mirror and comb – and identifiable animals, resembling fish and snakes. Are these billboards spelling out royal names or lineages? Are they prayers? Memorials? In Aberlemno churchyard, an infinite carved stone slab combines the newly imported Christian cross image with what could be a report of the nice Battle of Dun Nechtain, in 685, and symbols that may report a reputation. We simply don’t know who.Gosforth Cross, Cumbria: Anglo-Viking, AD900 {Photograph}: Ashley Cooper/AlamyThis slim column of sandstone, 4.5 metres excessive, was formed right into a cross within the early 900s. All its surfaces are carved, with interlocking knots, fantastical animals and Viking gods together with Odin, Thor and Heimdallr. However that is positively a Christian cross, in all probability commissioned by Norse settlers who had arrived in north-west England from Eire, the Western Isles or Scandinavia. Have been they attempting to evangelise for the brand new faith? Have been the pictures of the previous gods merely ornamental? Or is that this a artistic try to put Christ right into a Viking ideology? One picture, acquainted in Christian artwork as Christ on the cross with two attendants, is especially intriguing. As a result of the attendants aren’t Mary and St John – right here, they look like Valkyries, the otherworldly girls who took fallen warriors to Valhalla.Dartmoor, Devon: 1300sHound Tor. {Photograph}: Getty ImagesWe consider Dartmoor as a wild and windswept place, extra Mom Nature than human nature. However it’s filled with 20,000 archaeological websites. By 1700BC, throughout the bronze age, the land had been deforested, and by 1000BC, the climate had bought cooler and wetter and other people gave up attempting to farm the uplands. Some locations ultimately drew the hardy and determined again. Hound Tor had been settled after which abandoned within the bronze age, however individuals returned within the 13th century as hotter climate and inhabitants stress pushed peasant farmers on to marginal land. The cataclysm of the Black Demise (which is estimated to have killed greater than 1.5 million individuals in Britain) in addition to the onset of colder, wetter climate, pushed them again once more. The stays of the longhouses are quiet memorial to a village that confronted – and finally didn’t survive – contagion and local weather change.Glastonbury Tor, Somerset: 1530s {Photograph}: Getty ImagesThe majestic hill is pure; its unusual terraces should not. They have been in all probability formed throughout the neolithic period, remodeling a putting pure characteristic right into a supernatural monument. The tower on the summit is the surviving a part of the church of St Michael. Established within the 12th century, the church benefited from pilgrims flocking to Glastonbury within the perception it was the holy Isle of Avalon – final resting place of each the holy grail and King Arthur. This was the peak of the church’s energy, and pilgrims’ willingness to imagine. Throughout Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries within the 1530s, fortunes on the tor modified. The king disbanded the highly effective spiritual homes and seized their property, and in 1539 the aged abbot was hanged, drawn and quartered on the partitions of St Michael’s as a punishment for concealing spiritual treasures from the stock. The church was destroyed and the stone carted away. • Secret Britain by Mary-Ann Ochota is revealed by Frances Lincoln on 29 September, £20. Mary-Ann will probably be in dialog with Prof Francis Pryor about Secret Britain on Tuesday 6 October, 7pm, dwell on-line. Tickets £6, with a signed e book, £20