Human beings have lived in the immediate York area since the Neolithic period (c.4000 – 2000 BC).
Much of the surrounding Vale of York was probably unsuitable for settlement at this time because of its poorly drained and heavy clay soil which made farming difficult.
However, parts of the city, including the main campus of York University, sit on a moraine, a ridge of high ground left behind by retreating glaciers after the last Ice Age. This provides well-drained and sandy soils which were probably cultivated throughout prehistory. The moraine also offered a usable route joining the Yorkshire Wolds to the east and the Yorkshire Dales to the west.
Finds from York of the Neolithic and succeeding Bronze Age (c.2000 – 750 BC) largely come from this area and consist of flint tools such as axes and scrapers. A remarkable hoard of over 70 tools was found in 1868. Also of the Bronze Age are a small number of bronze implements and Beakers, distinctive pottery vessels often used for cremation burials.
Little is known of York in the Iron Age (c. 750 BC – AD 71), although when the Romans arrived it is known that they found a cultivated landscape not unlike parts of the valley of the river Ouse in nearby rural areas today. The Roman name for York, Eburacum, probably derives from a native name meaning the place of the yew trees.