Lifestyles of the Ancient Britons

Ancient Britons coverThe Ancient Britons

Submitter: This was found in the library at the small UK primary school (ages 3-11) where I teach. We have a wide variety of history resources and I had no hesitation in weeding this one. The information is inaccurate, and terribly wishy-washy – there’s no dates anywhere in the book! The drawings are awful (why the moustaches? Why??) and despite the huge range of archaeological evidence for Stone and Iron Age Britain, there’s only two small photographs of (rare) gold ornaments. Finally, it’s just plain out-of-date – there’s been too many advances in our knowledge of that time period in the last 27 years for this to be of any use. (And no, kids, do NOT paint yourself with blue poster paint…) The Anglo-Saxons are a big part of the Key Stage 2 (grades 3-6) curriculum and as a former archaeologist I’d be horrified to think our pupils were using this as a resource!

Holly: I can see some parents getting worked up about some of the content. There are obviously loud, drunk men and an emphasis on the fact that they drank “huge amounts of beer” (third picture below), as well as the Druid with the skulls and the dead guy (well, bloody anyway…) on the ground (fourth picture below). As Submitter mentioned, it’s too old to be useful, so it’s got to go.


Who were the Ancient Britons?

Food and drink

Britons ate meat

Villagers were farmers or servants

Things to do




  1. “Don’t use felt tip pens [to make woad-like designs on your face] because the colour doesn’t wash off easily.”

    hahahaha. Now I’m picturing a classroom full of eight-year-olds screaming FREEDOM!!!!

  2. Why are these people wearing PANTS, aka trousers, aka trews?? Yes, they were known to be worn by 100 b.c.e, but these are supposed to be Ancient Britons–so what’s up with the pants. These are not the precursors of pants in these pictures; they are wearing modern pants. Holy Magoly. Save us all from bad science and worse history!

    1. Page 15: Man in a yellow, plaid button up and dockers. Looks like he’s hanging out a corporate retreat for the weekend with his refillable Starbucks cup.

    2. Or the precursors of pajama bottoms, it looks like to me! On the first picture, I was also struck by the plaids and stripes — surely they would not have had the technology for those in the Stone Age? Or, since they are using what appear to be metal sickles, perhaps we didn’t stay in the Stone Age?

      I also take exception to the oversimplified definition of druid. According to Wikipedia, “A druid was a member of the educated, professional class among the Celtic peoples of Gaul, Britain, Galicia, Ireland, and possibly elsewhere during the Iron Age. While the best known among the druids were the religious leaders, the druid class also included law-speakers, poets and doctors, among other learned professions.”

      1. Well, having the ability to make a controlled, specific plaid design as for clan tartans is something that is still amazing to me, but having done some weaving, anytime you use variegated yarn on a loom(and surely primitive dyeing techniques would often come out uneven!), you will get a plaid appearance, and at least according to Wikipedia, weaving appears to have come about in the late Stone Age. So it’s not impossible. But they do look like they didn’t distinguish too well between Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age in this book.

  3. Shouldn’t “a former archaeologist” know the difference between the Ancient Britons and the Anglo-Saxons?

      1. Submitter here – and I do. The *kids* won’t, and some of the other teachers might not. The book certainly doesn’t make any distinction.

  4. Oh I love the pictures! Especially the chap with such neat plaits and the woman in the 1970s plaid dress with a v-neckline. You just cannot beat artistic renderings of the past.

  5. Minor point but the picture of the men harvesting corn is really of them harvesting wheat. Corn, or Maize originally came from Mexico.

    1. “Corn” outside the US is a term often used to describe whatever the local grain is. So elsewhere (in English-speaking countries), that word can refer to wheat or oats, for example. (“Corn”/maize sort of is, historically, the local grain in the US — remember the first people who would have been calling it “corn” were British settlers way back when.)

      1. Yup, this is correct. However, it counts against the book these days, as the traditional usage of “corn” to mean “grain” has just about disappeared outside of academia. The students would assume maize not wheat or barley, too.

  6. I can see the kids pretending to drink lots of beer at a feast after painting themselves. Root beer, hopefully.

  7. I think the tartan folk are meant to be Celts, who were not stone age, or particularly ancient in the grand scheme of things. Bad history anyway.

  8. Are we talking about ancient Britons circa 1970? The hair and much of the dress seem to indicate this.

  9. I love how it’s an 80s book full of 70s fashion. So, by “Ancient Britons” they mean “Britons Ten Years Ago”.

  10. The 70s mustaches are actually historically accurate, at least according to Roman depictions of the Gauls (and I believe Britons as well). When I learned this it TOTALLY ruined my mental image of the ancient Celts as willowy faery men in kilts, but you can’t have everything in life.

    1. But then again, maybe these are supposed to be pre-Iron Age Britons (i.e. not really Celtic)? They seem to be collapsing the timeline quite a bit.

    1. Blue colour actually was difficult to make in the old days, and therefore quite expensive. I can’t imagine anyone using pants like those to work on the fields. A minor point in an ocean of reasons to kill this book.
      Does anyone else think the illustrator had read too much Asterix-comics?

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