Teaching resources for Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age

There has been a lot of talk on Twitter recently about the lack of resources available to teach this new topic at Key Stage 2. Here at Schools Prehistory we have been scouring the internet for teaching-ready resources to support the themes mentioned in the non-statutory guidance so here they are.

Late Neolithic (sic) hunter-gatherers and early farmers, for example, at Skara Brae

Neolithic in the sentence above is a mistake and should read Mesolithic, which was the period of hunting and gathering, broadly, whereas the Neolithic was the time of farming.

Instead of going late Mesolithic we recommend contrasting Star Carr, an early Mesolithic settlement in North Yorkshire, with Skara Brae.

Star Carr, Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire

This site was inhabited very soon after the end of the last Ice Age around 9000 BC. It has the remains of the earliest house found in Europe and red deer antler frontlets that were used in ceremonies, hunting or both. It was on the banks of the now vanished Lake Flixton and so the waterlogged soils have preserved some amazing organic artefacts, such as birch bark roll firelighters and a wooden paddle for some kind of watercraft. From animal bones found at the site it is clear that the people who lived here in a relatively settled fashion hunted red and roe deer, wild cattle and pigs and numerous water birds.

For the Mesolithic in general you could do worse than following @microburin, and especially looking at this blog post: http://microburin.com/2013/06/01/sneak-peek-star-carr-exhibition-yorkshire-museum-mesolithic/.

The history of excavation can be followed (almost like doing the digs again yourself in class) at the Star Carr Research project website http://www.starcarr.com/. Some of their videos about Star Carr are useful, including The Other Side of the Antler, http://vimeo.com/2205880, though it is half an hour long. This 1 minute 30 second video was created for Yorkshire Museum and is a fly-through of what Star Carr and Lake Flixton might have looked and sounded like in 9000 BC http://vimeo.com/66913559.

A great storybook to use to discover more about the Mesolithic is Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver.

Skara Brae, Orkney

Skara Brae is an unusual site –  the remains in the Orkney Islands are not typical of the Neolithic in the rest of Britain. It was first inhabited around 3000 BC and finally went out of use just as bronze was making its appearance, around 2500 BC. It is made up of eight circular stone-built dwellings cut into a midden or rubbish heap. One of the dwellings seems to have been used as a workshop but the other seven were inhabited, probably by a family. They have two stone bed frames on either side of the house, a central hearth and a stone dresser directly opposite the door, which could be locked from the inside to ensure family privacy. The people on Orkney grew barley, kept sheep and pigs but also supplemented their domesticated food with gathered seafood.

Education Scotland is probably the best place to start to explore Skara Brae, as it has links to lots of other resources from other organisation http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/earlypeople/skarabrae/index.asp. If you decide to explore Skara Brae on this website you will find a Flash game that children can click on and learn more about the settlement.

Another Flash game worth taking a look at is on the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/learning/primary/skarabrae/flash/index.shtml. It’s a little more cartoon-y but it also has loads of videos that explain about Skara Brae very simply and activities to learn more detail or apply knowledge.

Orkney Jar is a website all about the Orkney Islands and their heritage, and it has a great section on Skara Brae: http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/skarabrae/index.html. From there you can also explore the other settlements and religious sites on the islands.

The Boy with the Bronze Axe by Kathleen Fidler is set in Skara Brae.

Bronze Age religion, technology and travel, for example Stonehenge

Never mind that Stonehenge was started well within the Neolithic, around 3000 BC, the final phases of this great monument were undertaken right at the end of the Neolithic around 2500 BC and it continued in use and importance well into the Early Bronze Age. The thing to remember with Stonehenge is that it is only one monument in a complex landscape of inter-related monuments that connect with and reference each other that stretches from the start of the Neolithic to the end of the Early Bronze Age.

There are two main competing contemporary theories about the meaning of Stonehenge. One is espoused by Mike Parker Pearson, that Stonehenge, built in stone, was the focus of burials and was the realm of the dead, as opposed to nearby Durrington Walls. The latter had huge buildings built of wood and evidence of feasting, was the realm of the living and for celebration of life. They were linked by the River Avon, which was the focus of funeral processions.

The other is proposed by Tim Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, who point out that the bluestones (the smaller stones used at Stonehenge) were brought all the way from Wales and this might have been because they were thought to have healing properties. The Amesbury Archer, a man who had travelled from the Alps was buried close to Stonehenge around 2300 BC with the earliest copper knife and earliest gold objects found in Britain. Some years before his death he had lost his left knee in an injury and the bones had become infected – had he travelled to Stonehenge in the hope of being miraculously healed?

English Heritage has recently opened its new visitor centre, along with reconstructed Neolithic houses based on various ground plans found around Britain. They also have loads of resources online to explore, from a timeline of the building of Stonehengetaking a virtual tour of the monument, to an interactive map of the surrounding landscape, with this page covering the technological side of how the monument was built.

Wessex Archaeology was the company that excavated the Amesbury Archer’s burial and do take a look at their website to see: the excavation, more about the burial, explanation of the importance of the finds and, finally, a blog post discussing whether he was a pilgrim or a magician.

Wiltshire and Devizes Museum houses the contents of several very rich burials from the Early Bronze Age excavated in the Victorian period, including the Bush Barrow chieftain, the Golden Barrow female leader and the Upton Lovell Shaman.

Studying the Bronze Age would not be complete without considering bronze itself, and one way of doing this is to explore the copper mine at Great Orme near Llandudno in Wales. They have a section of their website dedicated to articles about the mine: http://www.greatormemines.info/Articles.htm.

The last chapter of Stig of the Dump might be a good one to read alongside studying Stonehenge, as the modern children are transported back to Stig’s world at the solstice during the building of a stone circle.

The Secrets of Stonehenge by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom was recommended by @zooarchaeologis.

We are selling a set of lesson plans on the various theories about Stonehenge over the centuries.

Iron Age hillforts: tribal kingdoms, farming, art and culture

The problem with hillforts is that they are actually a number of distinct monuments that have been lumped under one heading. They also date from the Late Bronze Age through to the Late Iron Age, and many were constructed on the site of earlier monuments and were then built on again in the Roman period. Confusing!

Hillforts may have been used as temporary refuges in times of inter-tribal warfare, some of them were continuously occupied and some were probably used as seasonal or annual meeting places for widespread communities that may have identified as the same tribe. They would also have been imposing and visible symbols of political control over a landscape.

Regular settlements in the Iron Age (and, indeed, the preceding later Bronze Age) would have been made up of one or more roundhouses (made of wood, wattle and daub and thatched, or made of stone and roofed with turf), possibly reconstructed several times over the course of centuries, and sometimes enclosed by a bank, ditch and fence and sometimes not. It is in the later Bronze Age that large swathes of the landscape get divided into fields, though these are mainly thought to be for controlling cattle.

At the risk of being political, one of the main things to understand about the Iron Age in Britain is that there were no Celts, as such. Celts were really real, and had migrated from central Europe to western Europe, but they didn’t get to Britain. It is likely that Britons shared a language and a culture with those who called themselves Celts, who lived in what is now France and other countries. The art of western Europe in the Iron Age is usually called Celtic art, as well, and it was enriched by amazing works of art created in Britain as much as the continent.

A brilliant resource created by Captain Hillfort himself, @henryrothwell, is The Digital Hillfort Map Project, which will eventually have every hillfort for England, Scotland and Wales.

The most completely excavated hillfort is Danebury in Hampshire. Hampshire County Council’s website has some information and images of the excavation, artefacts and reconstructions of how it might have looks.

Having said that Celts never got to Britain, a great site for exploring what life was like in the Iron Age is the BBC Wales Celts site, which has various tasks such as building a hillfort, designing a torc (a gold or silver neck-ring), weaving or building a chariot. Another great BBC resource is the Iron Age village in which you can learn to make fire, grind grain, bake bread and spin yarn, all without any Celts.

The warrior culture of Iron Age Britons can be explored through this BBC Flash game about the Wetwang chariot burial. Up in this wonderfully named east Yorkshire village was found a spectacular chariot burial dating to about 200 BC, one of only seven found in the area. What was really amazing was that it was a woman’s burial – an early Boudica?

The only book we have found so far, and we haven’t read it, is Adventure on the Knolls by Michael Dundrow. We’d love to know if anyone has read it and what they think.

6 thoughts on “Teaching resources for Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age

  1. Pingback: Round-up of prehistoric sites, museums and resources for Yorkshire | Schools Prehistory

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