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Hunter-gatherers turned to agriculture from about 4500 BC and villages developed in fertile regions. The plough was adopted in southern England in about 3500 Be. The sophistication of Neolithic society is indicated by the numerous tombs or megaliths that survive and by the religious monuments such as Avebury and Stonehenge in southern England that would have each required at least hundreds of thousands of man-hours to construct. Stone alignments and circles were created in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales: there are remains of about 1,000.

Surviving Welsh poetry is claimed to begin in the sixth century with Taliesin and Aneirin. Taliesin composed a series of poems in praise of Urien of Rheged and his son Owain. Rheged was in the Carlisle area. Aneirin wrote one long poem, The Gododdin, about how his lord, Mynyddog Mwynfawr of Gododdin, the region between the Forth and the Tyne, sent a warband to recover the strategically important town of Cattraeth (Catterick) in what is now Yorkshire. That is to say, these men composed in Welsh for Welsh warriors and their courts, but they were living in what is now the English Lake District or southern Scotland.

The Norwegians made a major impact on Ireland. They were first recorded in 795 when they sacked Lambay Island. The wealthy Irish monasteries attracted attack, and the numerous rivers and lakes facilitated Viking movement. From the 840s their military presence became stronger with larger forces that overwintered in Ireland and developed permanent coastal bases. The first, Dublin, established in 841, was followed by Limerick, Wexford, Waterford and Cork. From such bases the Norwegians dominated the Irish Sea and its trade and intervened in Wales and on the west coast of England.

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