The Atrebates were a Belgic tribe of Gaul and Britain before the Roman conquests. However it is possible that the Atrebates were a family of rulers, as there is no evidence for a major migration from Belgium to Britain. Cognate with Old Irish aittrebaid meaning'inhabitant', Atrebates comes from proto-Celtic *ad-treb-a-t-es,'inhabitants'; the Celtic root is treb-'building','home', linked to the root of English thorpe,'village'. Edith Wightman suggested that their name may be intended to mean the people of the earth to contrast with that of the neighbouring coastal Morini, "people of the sea"; the Gaulish Atrebates lived around modern Artois in northern France. Their capital, Nemetocenna, is now the city of Pas-de-Calais; the place-name Arras is the result of a phonetic evolution from Atrebates and replaced the original name in the Late Empire, according to a well-known tradition in Gaul. The name Artois is the result of a different phonetic evolution from Atrebates. In 57 BC, they were part of a Belgic military alliance in response to Julius Caesar's conquests elsewhere in Gaul, contributing 15,000 men.
Caesar took this build-up as a threat and marched against it, but the Belgae had the advantage of position and the result was a stand-off. When no battle was forthcoming, the Belgic alliance broke up, determining to gather to defend whichever tribe Caesar attacked. Caesar subsequently achieved their submission; the Atrebates joined with the Nervii and Viromandui and attacked Caesar at the battle of the Sabis, but were there defeated. After thus conquering the Atrebates, Caesar appointed one of their countrymen, Commius, as their king. Commius was involved in Caesar's two expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BC and negotiated the surrender of Cassivellaunus. In return for his loyalty, he was given authority over the Morini. However, he turned against the Romans and joined in the revolt led by Vercingetorix in 52 BC. After Vercingetorix's defeat at the Siege of Alesia, Commius had further confrontations with the Romans, negotiated a truce with Mark Antony, ended up fleeing to Britain with a group of followers.
However, he appears to have retained some influence in Gaul: coins of post-conquest date have been found stamped with his name, paired with either Garmanos or Carsicios, who may have been his sons or regents. Ptolemy's 2nd century Geography refers to the "Atribati" living on the coast of Belgic Gaul, near the river Sequana, names Metacum as one of their towns. Commius soon established himself as king of a kingdom he may have founded, their territory comprised modern Hampshire, West Sussex and Berkshire, centred on the capital Calleva Atrebatum. They were bordered to the north by the Catuvellauni; the settlement of the Atrebates in Britain was not a mass population movement. Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe argues that they "seem to have comprised a series of indigenous tribes with some intrusive Belgic element, given initial coherence by Commius", it is possible that the name "Atrebates", as with many "tribal" names in this period, referred only to the ruling house or dynasty and not to an ethnic group.
However, during Caesar's first expedition to Britain in 55 BC, after the Roman cavalry had been unable to cross the Channel, Commius was able to provide a small group of horsemen from his people, suggesting that he may have had kin in Britain at that time. After this time, the Atrebates were recognized as a client kingdom of Rome. Coins stamped with Commius's name were issued from Calleva from ca. 30 BC to 20 BC. Some coins are stamped "COM COMMIOS": interpreting this as "Commius son of Commius", considering the length of his apparent floruit, some have concluded that there were two kings and son, of the same name. Three kings of the British Atrebates name themselves on their coins as sons of Commius: Tincomarus and Verica. Tincomarus seems to have ruled jointly with his father from about 25 BC until Commius's death in about 20 BC. After that, Tincomarus ruled the northern part of the kingdom from Calleva, while Eppillus ruled the southern half from Noviomagus. Numismatic and other archeological evidence suggests that Tincomarus took a more pro-Roman stance than his father, John Creighton argues from the imagery on his coins that he was brought up as an obses in Rome under Augustus.
Augustus's Res Gestae mentions two British kings presenting themselves to him as supplicants ca. 7 AD. The passage is damaged, but one is Tincomarus, it appears Tincomarus was ousted by his brother, from this point Epillus's coins are marked "Rex", indicating that he was recognised as king by Rome. In about 15, Eppillus was succeeded by Verica, but Verica's kingdom was being pressed by the expansion of the Catuvellauni under Cunobelinus. Calleva fell to Cunobelinus's brother Epaticcus by about 25. Verica regained some territory following Epaticcus's death in about 35, but Cunobelinus's son Caratacus took over the campaign and by the early 40s the Atrebates
Several species of humans have intermittently occupied Britain for a million years. The Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD is conventionally regarded as the end of Prehistoric Britain and the start of recorded history in the island, although some historical information is available from before then; the earliest evidence of human occupation around 900,000 years ago is at Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast, with stone tools and footprints made by Homo antecessor. The oldest human fossils, around 500,000 years old, are of Homo heidelbergensis at Boxgrove in Sussex; until this time Britain was permanently connected to the Continent by a chalk ridge between south-east England and northern France called the Weald-Artois Anticline, but during the Anglian Glaciation around 425,000 years ago a megaflood broke through the ridge, creating the English Channel, after that Britain became an island when sea levels rose during interglacials. Fossils of early Neanderthals dating to around 400,000 years ago have been found at Swanscombe in Kent, of classic Neanderthals about 225,000 years old at Pontnewydd in Wales.
Britain was unoccupied by 60,000 years ago, when Neanderthals returned. By 40,000 years ago they had become extinct and modern humans had reached Britain, but their occupations were brief and intermittent due to a climate which swung between low temperatures with a tundra habitat and severe ice ages which made Britain uninhabitable for long periods. The last of these, the Younger Dryas, ended around 11,700 years ago, since Britain has been continuously occupied. Britain and Ireland were joined to the Continent, but rising sea levels cut the land bridge between Britain and Ireland by around 11,000 years ago. A large plain between Britain and Continental Europe, known as Doggerland, persisted much longer until around 5600 BC. By around 4000 BC, the island was populated by people with a Neolithic culture. However, no written language of the pre-Roman inhabitants of Britain has survived. Although the main evidence for the period is archaeological, available genetic evidence is increasing, views of British prehistory are evolving accordingly.
Toponyms and the like constitute a small amount of linguistic evidence, from river and hill names, covered in the article about pre-Celtic Britain and the Celtic invasion. The first significant written record of Britain and its inhabitants was made by the Greek navigator Pytheas, who explored the coastal region of Britain around 325 BC. However, there may be some additional information on Britain in the "Ora Maritima", a text, now lost but, incorporated in the writing of the author Avienus. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that ancient Britons were involved in extensive maritime trade and cultural links with the rest of Europe from the Neolithic onwards by exporting tin, in abundant supply. Julius Caesar wrote of Britain in about 50 BC after his two military expeditions to the island in 55 and 54 BC; the 54 invasion was an attempt to conquer at least the southeast of Britain but failed. Located at the fringes of Europe, Britain received European technological and cultural achievements much than Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region did during prehistory.
The story of ancient Britain is traditionally seen as one of successive waves of invasion from the continent, with each bringing different cultures and technologies. More recent archaeological theories have questioned this migrationist interpretation and argue for a more complex relationship between Britain and the Continent. Many of the changes in British society demonstrated in the archaeological record are now suggested to be the effects of the native inhabitants adopting foreign customs rather than being subsumed by an invading population. Palaeolithic Britain is the period of the earliest known occupation of Britain by humans; this huge period saw many changes in the environment, encompassing several glacial and interglacial episodes affecting human settlement in the region. Providing dating for this distant period is difficult and contentious; the inhabitants of the region at this time were bands of hunter-gatherers who roamed Northern Europe following herds of animals, or who supported themselves by fishing.
There is evidence from bones and flint tools found in coastal deposits near Happisburgh in Norfolk and Pakefield in Suffolk that a species of Homo was present in what is now Britain at least 814,000 years ago. At this time and Eastern Britain were linked to continental Europe by a wide land bridge allowing humans to move freely; the species itself lived before the ancestors of Neanderthals split from the ancestors of Homo sapiens 600,000 years ago. The current position of the English Channel was a large river flowing westwards and fed by tributaries that became the Thames and Seine. Reconstructing this ancient environment has provided clues to the route first visitors took to arrive at what was a peninsula of the Eurasian continent. Archaeologists have found a string of early sites located close to the route of a now lost watercourse named the Bytham River which indicate that it was exploited as the earliest route west into Britain. Sites such as Boxgrove in Sussex illustrate the arrival in the archaeological record of an archaic Homo species called Homo heidelbergensis around 500,000 years ago.
These early peoples hunted the large native mammals of the period. One hypothesis is that they drove elephants and hippopotamuses over the tops of cliffs or into bogs to more kill them; the extreme cold