The Mesolithic is the period between the Last Glacial Maximum (Upper Palaeolithic) and the Neolithic Revolution (known as the Epipaleolithic outside northern Europe and for the Levant and Caucasus) and it has different time spans in different parts of Eurasia.
This is the final period of hunter-gatherer culture in Europe and Western Asia marked by greater innovation and diversity, notably the transition from chipped stone tools to the Neolithic (New Stone Age) polished stone tools.
The British Mesolithic is generally considered the period from 10,000-4200 BCE.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Britain was repopulated after the Last Glacial maximum as people returned following the Younger Dryas in about 9,600 BCE entering from the south along the Atlantic coast and from the east across Doggerland that became submerged by the North Sea in about 6,500-6,200 BCE.
Modern DNA analysis supports this view and suggests that 70% or more of Britain’s present-day population traces its ancestry to the period between 9,600 BCE and the beginning of the Neolithic in about 4,500 BCE. Iberian genes dominate this immigration probably from south-west France and northern Spain (Cantabria, the Azilian culture), but there is a small component assumed to derive from Balkan and Ukrainian refuges. Some evidence from artefact remains suggestthatan Atlantic trade route had been established by 5,000 to 4,000 BCE.
By about 9000-8000 BP all this had changed . The herds of game had gone, and the open tundrawas transformed into woodland of pine, birch and alder along the length of the island.
The new arrivals (Celts) were hunter-gatherers who brought down big game on the grass steppes that replaced the polar desert in Britain and Ireland. Game hunting was for the pig, elk, red deer, roe deer, wild boar and auroch (ancient cattle), and there were domesticated dogs.
Evidence of human-plant interaction during this period is scant. Archaeological sites have little plant material. We assume that plants would have made up a major part of the diet but there is little hard evidence remaining among the bones, stone tools, and later stone monuments. We can only assume that fruits and seeds would have been transported by these early hunter-gatherers and their natural distributions modified as a result. Though the diet was now much more varied, the population was probably just a few thousand people.
Animals included woolly rhinoceros, mammoth, elk, red deer, aurochs, horse with predators arctic fox, wolf and bear.
In 11,600 BP temperatures rose rapidly to temperate conditions. By 11,000 BP Ireland separated from the mainland and mainland from continent 7,800-7,400 BP (formerly 9,500-8,500 BP).
Vegetation changed from tundra to grassland to woodland of birch, willow, aspen and a few pines which by 10,000 BP was hazel-dominated then by 9,000 BP mixed forest of elm, alder, oak, hazel.
After 6000 BP clearance of land began for the growth of crops and by 5000 BP farming communities had a knowledge of the heavens as demonstratedthrough the construction of their megalithic sites.
Between 6,500 and 5,500 BCE Britain became an island with the final separation of the south-east from continental Europe. Prior to this there appears to have been broad cultural similarity across Europe from the Pennines to Poland. Radiocarbon dating of bone tools dates settlement of western Scotland to about 6,700-6,500 BCE and of Ireland (mostly the north-east in Antrim and Down) to about the same period. These were foragers with a plant diet of hazel-nuts, water-lily seed, wild pear, and crab-apple.
Hunter-gatherers across Britain probably adopted a seasonal mobility within a fixed territory, artefacts of the period including bone and antler tools, skins and hazel-nut remains. There seems to have been some modification of the environment with the intensification of hazel growth and the use of fire to clear vegetation. Although coastal margins were close to present-day positions it is likely that much of the archaeology of coastal communities is now under the sea.
With the Mesolithic came birch, alder, hazel, then oak and red deer. With the Neolithic there was a transition from a few 1000 hunter-gatherers to a few 100,000 farmers, the first indications of farming appearing in in France in 5000 BCE and Kent in about 4,000 BCE, farming spreading across the country in a few generations. It was the beginning of land ownership.