Stonehenge There is evidence from flint artefacts in a quarry at Westbury-sub-Mendip that an ancestor of modern man, possibly Homo heidelbergensis , was present in the future Somerset from around , years ago. The British mainland was connected to the continent during the ice age and humans may have repeatedly migrated into and out of the region as the climate fluctuated. There is evidence of human habitation in the caves at Cheddar Gorge 11,—10, years BC, during a partial thaw in the ice age.
The human bone fragments it contained, from about 21 different individuals, are thought to be roughly between 10, and 10, years old. At the end of the last Ice Age the Bristol Channel was dry land, but subsequently the sea level rose, resulting in major coastal changes. The Somerset Levels were flooded, but the dry points such as Glastonbury and Brent Knoll are known to have been occupied by Mesolithic hunters. Britain's oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man , lived at Cheddar Gorge around BC in the Upper Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age , shortly after the end of the ice age;  however, it is unclear whether the region was continuously inhabited during the previous years, or if humans returned to the gorge after a final cold spell.
A Palaeolithic flint tool found in West Sedgemoor is the earliest indication of human presence on the Somerset Levels. These included the Post Track and the Sweet Track. The Sweet Track, dating from the 39th century BC, is thought to be the world's oldest timber trackway and was once thought to be the world's oldest engineered roadway. Many monuments, barrows and trackways exist. Coin evidence shows that the region was split between the Durotriges , Dobunni and Dumnonii.
The Iron Age tribe in Dorset were the Durotriges, "water dwellers", whose main settlement is represented by Maiden Castle. Ptolemy stated that Bath was in the territory of the Belgae ,  but this may be a mistake.
At the time of the Roman invasion , the inhabitants of the entire area spoke a Brythonic Celtic language. Its descendant languages are still spoken to a greater or lesser extent in Cornwall , Wales, and Brittany.
There are villas, farms and temples dating from the period, including the remains at Bath. Ham Hill probably had a temporary Roman occupation.
The lead and silver mines at Charterhouse in the Mendip Hills were run by the military. The Romans established a defensive boundary along the new military road known the Fosse Way from the Latin fossa meaning "ditch". Salt was produced on the Somerset Levels near Highbridge and quarrying took place near Bath, named after the Roman baths. The finds included a moderately large villa at Chew Park,  where wooden writing tablets the first in the UK with ink writing were found.
The coins included two denarii from the early 2nd century and 8 miliarensia and siliquae all dating from AD to Wessex and Constitutional status of Cornwall After the Romans left at the start of the 5th century AD, the region split into several British kingdoms, including Dumnonia , centred around the old tribal territory of the Dumnonii.
The Western Wandsdyke earthwork was probably built during the 5th or 6th century. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , the Saxon Cenwalh achieved a breakthrough against the British Celtic tribes, with victories at Bradford-on-Avon in the Avon Gap in the Wansdyke in ,  and further south at the Battle of Peonnum at Penselwood in ,  followed by an advance west through the Polden Hills to the River Parrett.
However, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle this was destroyed 12 years later. But sporadic Viking incursions continued until the Norman Conquest , including the disastrous defeat of the Devonians at the Battle of Pinhoe. In King Alfred the Great trapped a Danish fleet at Arne and then drove it out; ships were wrecked at Studland.
It is generally considered that Cornwall came fully under the dominion of the English Crown in the time of Athelstan 's rule, i. However, in , within a mere five years of Athelstan's death, King Edmund issued a charter styling himself "King of the English and ruler of this province of the Britons".
Thus we can see that then the "province" was a territorial possession, which has long claimed a special relationship to the English Crown. Somerset played an important part in stopping the spread of the Danes in the 9th century. Viking raids took place for instance in and at Watchet  and the Battle of Cynwit. King Alfred was driven to seek refuge from the Danes at Athelney before defeating them in at the Battle of Ethandun , usually considered to be near Edington, Wiltshire , but possibly the village of Edington in Somerset.
Alfred established a series of forts and lookout posts linked by a military road, or Herepath , to allow his army to cover Viking movements at sea. The Herepath has a characteristic form which is familiar on the Quantocks: Burhs fortified places had been set up by , such as Lyng. The Alfred Jewel , an object about 2. There was a royal palace at Cheddar , which was used at times in the 10th century to host the Witenagemot. Eventually England came to be ruled by Norse monarchs, and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms fell one by one, Wessex being conquered in by King Sweyn Forkbeard.
Sweyn ruled Wessex, along with his other realms, from onwards, followed by his son Canute the Great. But Cornwall was not part of his realm of Wessex. Neither Sweyn Forkbeard nor Canute conquered or controlled Scotland, Wales or Cornwall; but these areas were "client nations": Ultimately, the Danes lost control of Wessex in on the death of both of Canute's sons.
Edward the Confessor retook Wessex for the Saxons. In , during the civil war of King Stephen 's reign, the castles of Plympton and Exeter were held against the king by Baldwin de Redvers and this gave rise to the defensive castles at Corfe Castle , Powerstock , Wareham and Shaftesbury. The period saw the growth of towns such as Truro , Totnes , Okehampton and Plympton in the west of the region, but these were small compared with the established wealth of ancient cathedral cities in the east of the region such as Exeter , Bath and Wells.
Wealth grew from sheep farming in the east of the region: The resulting labour shortage led to changes in feudal practices. Crafts and industries also flourished; the Somerset woollen industry was then one of the largest in England. Many parish churches were rebuilt in this period. His successor, Henry of Blois , transformed the manor house here into a mighty castle in During the Middle Ages sheep farming for the wool trade came to dominate the economy of Exmoor.
The wool was spun into thread on isolated farms and collected by merchants to be woven, fulled, dyed and finished in thriving towns such as Dunster. The land started to be enclosed and from the 17th century onwards larger estates developed, leading to establishment of areas of large regular shaped fields. During this period a Royal Forest and hunting ground was established, administered by the Warden. The Royal Forest was sold off in The larger ports such as Fowey contributed vessels to the naval enterprises of the King and were subject to attack from the French in return.
During this period Bristol also became a centre of shipbuilding and manufacturing. Bristol was the starting point for many important voyages, notably John Cabot 's voyage of exploration to North America.