New resource for teaching about the Stone Age written by Canterbury Christ Church University

Front page of the new resource pack on the Stone Age from Canterbury Christ Church University

Emilie Sibbesson of Canterbury Christ Church University has written a guide to the Stone Age with lots of factsheets, twelve lesson plans, supporting resources and loads of beautiful illustrations that is free for teachers to download and use. The information in there is not exclusive to Kent, though the suggested places to visit are all in Kent.

You need to create an account with them to download it, but it is free. Go to their website to get hold of this great resource.

There are great ideas like using toilet roll (though it has to be 1000 sheet!) for a timeline, challenging children to try to move balls across a room on all fours, guidelines for cooking fish wrapped in nettle and dandelion leaves and clay, and some great drama to undertake at the end of the block. The resource has been piloted with several Kent schools and so the activities have all been well tested.

Example illustration from the resource pack

The illustrations by Penny Bernard are also fantastic and give a sense of the richness of culture in this remote time.

Take part in a survey about using digital models in teaching about the Stone Age past

Model of a Homo heidelbergensis man in the Smithsonian Museum. By Tim Evanson – http://www.flickr.com/photos/23165290@N00/7283200264/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20187505

If you have used online digital models of Palaeolithic people or animals to teach the Stone Age topic, please consider taking part in this survey from a Masters student of archaeology at the University of Reading. There is background to the research below.

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/R86HWWJ

What is the potential for using digital models to enhance the engagement and learning of key stage 2 and 3 pupils with Palaeolithic collections?

I am investigating whether using online models of Palaeolithic material can enhance learning and engagement. Through trialling existing online models in the classroom I hope to understand whether this is a practical and useful resource for teachers. I hope that a resource such as this will be able to help pupils make interpretations of the prehistoric past and its artefacts in a way that is fun and engaging. Despite being online, I believe that these models have the same advantages as traditional object based learning. Moreover, it will also hopefully contribute to a better relationship between schools and museums and their collections.

An example of a 3D model you can view at africanfossils.org

Have you used any of these sites full of online 3D models of fossils or stone tools related to human evolution:

http://africanfossils.org/search

Smithsonian

Sketchfab models of Palaeolithic objects

Coping with Climate: the legacy of Homo heidelbergensis

Handaxe from Boxgrove, West Sussex, made by Homo heidelbergensis. By Midnightblueowl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16466144

In a project led by Dr Rob Hosfield of the University of Reading and Dr James Cole of the University of Brighton on understanding how the early human species Homo heidelbergensis coped with climate changes during the Pleistocene era we have contributed some teaching resources linked to both the history topic, Stone Age to Iron Age Britain and the science topic of evolution.

Homo heidelbergensis was a fore-runner of Neanderthals and lived around 500,000 years ago. At one of the most iconic sites for this species in Britain, Boxgrove in West Sussex, H. heidelbergensis seems to have lived in a relatively warm climate and either hunted or scavenged rhinoceros among other animals.

The resources also take in a number of other hominin species and start to ask the question what makes us human? Were other hominin species human? Did earlier species wear clothes, make fire, make art, have language? The resources also explore how archaeologists, palaeogeneticists and other scientists try to work out the answers to these questions.

There are lesson plans and supporting resources available as PDFs, Word documents, and PowerPoint presentations including image banks, guides for running practical activities and experiments, and fact sheets on these ancient human species. They’re all free to download, so take a look, use them and send us feedback!

Neolithic chambered tombs to visit in England

Elsewhere we have suggested some reconstructed prehistoric houses and museums to visit to support your topic work on Stone Age to Iron Age Britain, and we thought it’s about time to add some other sites. In the Neolithic in Britain people were sometimes buried inside tombs made of wood or stone that had one or more chambers. These were usually covered with an earthen mound or a cairn of smaller stones, but sometimes these have disappeared, just leaving what is often called a ‘dolmen’ which looks like a stone room with one open side. Here we have tried to collate a list of these chambered tombs and long barrows that are accessible for visitors (i.e. not on private land) across England. The vast majority are free to visit. Do let us know in the comments if you know of a site that we have left off the list.

London

While there were undoubtedly some long barrows in the London area in the Neolithic, many of these will have been destroyed without record in the distant, and sometimes not so distant, past. There are suggested of long barrows (and the later Bronze Age round barrows) in various parks e.g. Richmond, Wimbledon Common, Parliament Hill. None of these are confirmed nor are they very easy to interpret on a visit.

South-East

Whiteleaf Hill kidney-shaped Neolithic mound, Buckinghamshire

The remains of chambered tombs in Kent are generally dolmens, just the stone chamber with no covering mound. Examples of these are English Heritage maintained Kit’s Coty House and Little Kit’s Coty House near Aylesford, and National Trust maintained Coldrum near West Malling.

In Buckinghamshire there is Whiteleaf Hill which has a rare kidney-shaped barrow on the top near a wonderful view of the Vale of Aylesbury near Princes Risborough. This had a wooden chamber inside it and when archaeologists dug it up there was only the bones of a foot left inside as the rest had been taken away as the body rotted.

South-West

Entrance to West Kennet long barrow

The south-west of England is littered with long barrows and chambered tombs. There are several long barrows in the landscape around Stonehenge in Wiltshire if you want to combine it with a visit to the stones. Quieter long barrows in Wiltshire to visit are West Kennett long barrow (which can be combined with a visit to Avebury stone circle) the National Trust’s White Barrow near Tilshead.

In Dorset there are a couple of publicly accessibly long barrows, though you can’t go inside. These are the barrows on Thickthorn Down near Blandford Forum at the end of the Dorset cursus, another Neolithic monument, and further south, near Abbotsbury, the Grey Mare and her Colts in which the stones of the chamber are now exposed as the mound has been eroded.

There are a number of long barrows in Gloucestershire that are easily accessible as they are maintained by English Heritage. These include Hetty Pegler’s Tump, otherwise known as Uley long barrow, and Nympsfield long barrow near Dursley. There is also Belas Knap chambered tomb near Winchcombe. Gloucestershire County Council looks after Windmill Tump long barrow near Rodmarton which has a false entrance.

Near Wellow in Somerset you can find Stoney Littleton chambered tomb which is accessible by public footpath.

In Herefordshire there is Arthur’s Stone near Dorstone.

In Devon there is another dolmen called Spinster’s Rock in the north-eastern part of Dartmoor.

The Long Stone at Mottistone, Isle of Wight

In Cornwall there are plenty of dolmens, the remains of just the chamber of the long barrows, such as Trethevy Quoit, near St Cleer. Other sites are Chun Quoit, Lanyon Quoit and Zennor Quoit, all accessible via public footpaths. Some of the burial chambers may have continued into the Bronze Age, such as those looked after by English Heritage: Ballowall near St Just and Tregiffian near St Buryan.

Bant’s Carn Burial Chamber on the Isles of Scilly may also be Bronze Age, like Innisidgen and Porth Hellick Down.

There is a large standing stone at Mottistone on the Isle of Wight that is accessible from a public footpath and it was the entrance stone to a long barrow.

West Midlands

Whispering Knights, the remains of a chambered tomb at the Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones in Warwickshire are a complex of standing stones and the remains of a chambered tomb. Each part of the complex has a place in a later folk tale, and the stones that were once covered by a long barrow are known as the Whispering Knights.

Though Oxfordshire can, of course, be counted among the south-west we have included it here. Wayland’s Smithy is a chambered tomb that has lost some of its covering mound, but is still great to visit. It is associated with a Saxon myth of Wayland the Smith.

East Midlands and East Anglia

In Derbyshire, there is a denuded chamber of a long barrow at Five Wells near Taddington; and at Minninglow near Royston Grange is an interesting site with a partially denuded chambered tomb, some of the chambers still having capstones and some not.

There are a number of long barrows known in Lincolnshire but many of these are inaccessible, and there are not so many elsewhere in the East Midlands or East Anglia. There is an overgrown long barrow in Beacon Plantation near Swaby; three long barrows called Giant’s Hills are accessible by public footpath near Skendleby.

There is a long barrow next to a footpath south of Melbourn in Cambridgeshire, although this is quite overgrown.

There is also a long barrow on Therfield Heath in Hertfordshire.

Near Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, on Sutton Common, is the remains of a Neolithic long barrow.

In Norfolk the only accessible long barrow seems to be on Broome Heath.

North-East

There are a number of known Neolithic long or round barrows in the north-east, and here are the ones that are most impressive to see and most accessible: Willie Howe near Burton Fleming, another at Wold Newton, and one at Etton Wold, all in the East Riding; and Duggleby Howe near Kirby Grindalythe in North Yorkshire.

There are not many well-preserved visitable long barrows or chambered tombs in Northumbria, but there is a possible one in High Park within Auckland Park in Bishop Auckland.

North-West

The Bridestones near Congleton in Cheshire are the remains of the stone chamber of a Neolithic chambered tomb and can be found along a public footpath.

At Pikestones on Anglezarke Moor north of Horwich in Lancashire are the stones of a chambered tomb.

Near Penrith in Cumbria is a pair of Neolithic long cairns at Mossthorn.

What is Stone Age cave art all about?

We’ve been round many schools and seen your children’s fine artwork inspired by the Palaeolithic painted caves of southern France and northern Spain, and there are always interesting ideas about what the cave art was all about. Was it telling stories? Was it recording hunting scenes? Was it a way to bring good luck to an upcoming hunt? Let’s explore some of the features of the painted caves to see what they can reveal.

Marks in El Castillo cave in Cantabria, northern Spain. http://cuevas.culturadecantabria.com/el-castillo-2/ 

Some of the oldest cave paintings are at El Castillo cave in Cantabria in northern Spain and Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche region of southern France, dating to about 40,000 years ago. In El Castillo there are paintings of a mammoth, goats, deer, horses, aurochs (wild European cattle not extinct) as well as many hand-prints and some abstract symbols that may refer to the cycle of the moon. At Chauvet there are bears, an owl, woolly rhino and cave lions painted in the cave, as well as a panel of handprints at the entrance. Handprints in these painted caves have recently been analysed. Men and women have a marked difference between their hand shape: men generally have longer index fingers than ring fingers, women’s are usually about the same length. By analysing the handprints it was found that over half of them were made by women, and there are also a few children’s handprints known, and ‘flutings’ made by children’s fingers in wet clay walls. It was the entire population who were involved in making art in these caves.

By Unknown – Screenshot from the film “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41964466

The type of animals depicted on the walls changes over time. Some of the paintings in Chauvet Cave date to about 39,000 years ago, while Lascaux cave in the Dordogne region of southern France dates to around 17,000 years ago. More time passed between Chauvet and Lascaux, than from Lascaux to now! And the climate had also changed. Some animals were not so common and others more common. Woolly rhinos and cave lions don’t appear at Lascaux, but aurochs, megaloceros (giant deer), bison, and horses do. What is interesting is that the main source of hunted food for the people who painted Lascaux (and, incidentally, lived elsewhere – the caves that were painted were generally not lived in) was reindeer, and they are not depicted in the cave at all. Similarly, many predators were painted at Chauvet, like cave lions, hyenas and bears, species that wouldn’t have been hunted for food. So the cave paintings were probably not painted to bring luck to the hunt, or record past hunts.

The Venus of Willendorf from Austria. By MatthiasKabel – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1526553

In fact, if they were hunting scenes, you would expect to find hunters depicted but humans are very rarely painted at all. If you have found images of hunters supposedly from Lascaux or other European painted caves, you’re probably looking at images of hunters from southern African rock paintings which are later in date in the main. When humans are depicted in European Palaeolithic cave art, they are shown in one of two ways, both of which are paralleled in the portable art from these times – little figurines carved out of mammoth ivory, antler, bone or stone. One way is the so-called ‘Venus’ figure. A stalagtite in Chauvet Cave has a vulva and legs painted on it, and from many other European sites, especially in Austria and the Czech Republic, there are little carved figurines showing naked women in various stages of pregnancy or post-pregnancy. Old theories assumed men had made them as erotic images but it seems more likely that women were making them for themselves to mark this important life event.

 

 

Man/bird hybrid being killed by a dying bison in Lascaux Cave. By Peter80, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2416632

Another way humans get depicted is generally a human/animal hybrid. This is usually a man, such as the Man-Bison from Chauvet Cave (interestingly, painted next to the Venus), the Lion-Man from Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in the Baden-Württemberg region of southern Germany, and the man-bird from the deepest past of Lascaux cave. Sometimes shape-shifting can be attributed to female figures, such as the Femme au Renne from the Laugerie-Basse cave in the Dordogne region of France, which shows a pregnant woman/deer under the legs of a reindeer. There seems to have been a taboo on depicting people in cave art, unless they were shape-shifting into some other animal or a woman. What does this tell us? It’s difficult to say but it would prod us towards thinking that the paintings potentially have a spiritual dimension.

Auroch roundel found in the Mas d’Azil cave, southern France
Musée d’Archéologie nationale et Domaine national de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris

There’s one last feature of Palaeolithic art that is quite special. There are discs showing images on both sides, perforated in the middle of the disc. The images are similar but usually different in a small way, such as a deer with legs down on one side and bent up on the other, or an auroch calf on one side and an auroch cow on the other. These are very early thaumatropes, better known as a popular Victorian optical illusion. You thread a string through the middle and spin them to see a moving image. Amazingly, moving images were made on cave walls too. There are paintings in Chauvet and other caves with multiple animals seemingly superimposed on each other, but in fact these are different positions of the same animal, with tails wagging, or heads raising, and as the flickering light from the fat lamps that people used fell on them, they would appear to move. Here is a video showing some of these incredible paintings in action.

What does all this add up to, then? The fact that children were involved in painting the caves and clearly present in many caves suggests that the paintings may have been used as teaching aids, but that everyone also observed the world outside the cave very closely too. One theory is that the caves may have been seen as the birthplace of life, and so these are paintings of animals coming out of the cave. The way they move supports this theory.

The fact that many of the human figures seem to shape-shift into animals also suggests that shamanic rituals may have taken place either in the caves or elsewhere with people dressed in animal skins and pretending to be animals, moving like them, making noises like them in ceremonies, or for telling stories. But animals were not the only thing depicted in Palaeolithic art, bearing children was clearly important, while making other abstract marks and putting your handprint on a cave was also done. Can you think of reasons why?

Round-up of prehistoric sites, museums and resources for Somerset

Somerset is a county of different landscapes, including the boggy areas of the Levels and the hills of the Mendips or Quantocks, Exmoor National Park as well as having a stretch of coastline. There are also many caves, which preserve remains from many periods. It has some very interesting archaeology from all periods, into the Roman period at the city of Bath and medieval occupation at Glastonbury Tor.

Some of the main sites in chronological order are:

  • Cheddar Gorge, By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29721907

    Cheddar Gorge – there is evidence of cannibalism from Gough’s Cave in the late Upper Palaeolithic, about 14,700 BP. Three skulls, one of a three-year-old child, were turned into cups and some bones were clearly butchered. It is unknown whether this was done out of desperation or for ritual purposes (Bello et al 2011). There’s also a possible engraving of a mammoth in Gough’s Cave (Mullan et al 2006). Cheddar Man, also buried in Gough’s Cave, is later in date (7150 BC – in the Mesolithic) and was not cannibalised. Remarkably, his DNA was sequenced and a descendant was found teaching in a local secondary school!

  • Aveline’s Hole – near Burrington Combe on the north side of the Mendips is a series of caves, and Aveline’s Hole may have the remains of Mesolithic engravings on its walls (Mullan & Wilson 2004). It certainly did have the remains of maybe 50 Mesolithic people buried there (Schulting & Wysocki 2002), which is an exceptionally rare thing in Britain.
  • The Sweet Track in the Somerset Levels was constructed in the winter of 3807 or the spring of 3806 BC. This precise date comes from the tree-ring dating sequence of the timbers used to construct the track that were preserved in the boggy earth (Hillam et al 1990). It seems to have been underlain by and be a replacement of another track, known as the Post Track, at 3838 BC.
  • Stanton Drew stone circle By Steinsky – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31802

    A number of stone circles at Stanton Drew probably date to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. There are three stone circles, the Great Circle second only in diameter to Avebury, an Avenue to the river Chew and a number of outlying standing stones, including a Cove, similar to Avebury and overlying an earlier burial chamber. Geophysical survey has shown there were many timber circles there, similar to Woodhenge and the Sanctuary in Wiltshire (Oswin & Richards 2011).

  • Standing stones are also known from Exmoor, as well as the remains of stone walls of circular houses from the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
  • Earlier Bronze Age round barrows covering burials are found in many places in Somerset, for instance on the Brean Down peninsula south of Weston-super-Mare. A hillfort was also constructed on this peninsula in the Iron Age (Bell 1990).
  • Glastonbury Lake Village was an artificial island, often called a crannog, in the Somerset Levels and was occupied around 250 BC with up to 18 houses and possibly about 200 people.
  • The largest hillfort in Britain is in Somerset at Ham Hill. Recent excavations revealed the bodies of hundreds of people who had possibly been slaughtered and defleshed around the time of the Roman invasion.

Some museums and other places to visit in Somerset include:

  • Cheddar Gorge where you can explore the gorge and caves where Palaeolithic cannibals lived.
  • Weston Museum in Weston-super-Mare is currently closed for refurbishment but should be open soon and will have plenty of evidence from prehistoric west Somerset.
  • The Museum of Somerset in Taunton also has some good prehistory collections.
  • The Glastonbury Tribunal, a fifteenth century building, houses the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum.
  • Stanton Drew is on private land but there is public access.
  • You are free to roam Exmoor National Park and the national park also has an education team to help facilitate a visit.
  • Brean Down is National Trust land and so can be easily explored.
  • The Mendips are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with many prehistoric sites to visit.

References

ApSimon, A.M, Donovan, D.T, Taylor, H, 1961. The Stratigraph and Archaeology of the Late Glacial and Post-Glacial Deposits at Brean Down, Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 9 (2), pp67-136.

Bell, M 1990. Brean Down excavations 1983-1987. London, English Heritage.

Bello, S.M, Parfitt, S.A, Stringer, C.B 2011. Earliest Directly-Dated Human Skull-Cups. PLOS Onehttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0017026.

Hillam, J, Groves, C.M, Brown, D.M, Baillie, M.G.L, Coles, J.M & Coles, B.J 1990. Dendrochronology of the English Neolithic. Antiquity 64 (243, pp 210-220.

Meiklejohn, C, Schulting, R, Musgrave, J, Babb, J, Higham, T, Richards, D & Mullan, G 2012. The Aveline’s Hole 9 cranium: a partial solution to a long-standing enigma. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 25 (3), pp 275-294.

Mullan, G.J & Wilson, L.J 2004. A possible Mesolithic engraving in Aveline’s Hole, Burrington Coombe, North Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 23 (2), p75.

Mullan, G.J, Wilson, L.J, Farrant, A.R, Devlin, K 2006. A possible engraving of a mammoth in Gough’s Cave, Cheddar, Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 24 (1), pp 37-47.

Oswin J & Richards, J 2011. Stanton Drew 2010. Geophysical survey and other archaeological investigations. Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society.

Schulting, R & Wysocki, M, 2002. The Mesolithic human skeletal collection from Aveline’s Hole: a preliminary note. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 22 (3), pp 255-268.

 

 

Book review: Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

This newly published comic strip style picture-book tells a story of a young man’s journey from the Alps to Stonehenge. It is based on a discovery of a man buried near Stonehenge just outside Amesbury in 2002. Examination of his body showed he had grown up in the Alps and had journeyed to Britain when a young man. This book is an imaginative look at what that journey might have been for, and what is might have been like. Jane Brayne, the author and illustrator, was the first person to ever draw a reconstruction of the Amesbury Archer and now has drawn his entire story.

The book is packed full of research, from the patterns on the clothes that the people of the Alps wear based on standing stones of the region, to how copper was smelted and cast, to the inclusion of Bluestonehenge, a new henge on the River Avon at the start of the Stonehenge Avenue that was only discovered in 2008.

Many aspects of the book are more speculative, like the function of the standing stones at Carnac in Brittany, the method of sailing on rivers and the sea, and the ‘Observers’ at Stonehenge, and this provides some great material for discussion about what these monuments were for.

Information about the Archer in the back of the book.

Objects that were found in the Amesbury Archer’s grave appear in the story itself, such as the gold tress rings for his hair, the metalworking tools, the stone bracer he wore on his wrist to protect it from a bowstring, the antler pin that was a gift from his father, the boars tusks that he hunted when he became a man and, most importantly, the copper dagger, which is currently still the earliest known metal in Britain. Making a biography for each of those objects really makes them so much more significant when studying his grave, which is mentioned in the back of the book. For many years the idea of a group of people bringing a new style of pottery called Beaker Folk was ridiculed in the archaeological world, but when the Archer was found with a beaker and having come from the Alps, the idea has become mainstream again.

Another great topic is how Stonehenge is portrayed, as perhaps somewhere usually off limits and strictly controlled, but also how one of the main times for engaging with the stone circle was at the midwinter sunset, as well as at midsummer sunrise, as the alignments are exactly opposite each other at this latitude.

The great hunting grounds of the afterlife in Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

In the end it is also sad to think the Amesbury Archer didn’t get back to his homeland, which he longs to do in the book, but died and was buried near Stonehenge. In the book Brayne suggests that the people of the time believed that spirits of the dead went on to the great hunting ground, but you can see the Amesbury Archer’s skeleton in Salisbury Museum.

What did people eat in Stone Age to Iron Age Britain?

There’s a great divide between what people ate in earlier prehistory and in later prehistory, and it all comes down to when did farming start. One of the places farming was independently invented was in the Near East in around 10,000 BC. It slowly spread outwards and got to Britain by 4000 BC. This early farming culture is called the Neolithic (New Stone Age).

Early humans

Earlier species of human inhabited Britain at both cold and warm periods in the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) from about 850,000 years ago to around 40,000 years ago. Species may have included Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neanderthalensis. From the earliest times they may have had control of fire, as the earliest hearth was found in Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa dating to about 1 million years ago, although the earliest hearth in Britain was found at Beeches Pit in Suffolk and dates to about 400,000 years ago.

Tusk of the extinct straight-tusked elephant from Swanscombe around 400,000 years ago.

Homo heidelbergensis hunted or scavenged horse and rhinoceros around 500,000 years ago at Boxgrove in West Sussex during a warm period between glaciations. Homo neanderthalensis may have hunted elephants a mere 100,000 years later at Swanscombe in Kent. The now extinct straight-tusked elephant had lived in a very warm interglacial when Britain was probably cut off from the continent temporarily. Elephant bones were surrounded by flint tools that had been made on site, used to butcher it and then abandoned afterwards (Wenban-Smith 2013).

Hunter-gatherers

Some of the cave paintings at Lascaux from the Hall of Bulls (aurochs) but also showing deer and horses

Before this all over the world people had got their food by hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering wild food. The hunter-gatherer diet was quite rich. In the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age, which finished around 10,000 BC) certain animals were hunted that had adapted to the cold temperatures of the Ice Age and died out when the climate warmed. In the painted caves of Lascaux, which date to about 15,000 BC, you see horses, bison, aurochs (another species of wild cow – now extinct), giant and red deer but never reindeer, which were actually one of the main animals the people who lived nearby relied on. There are no mammoths represented here either, although they do appear at the nearby Rouffignac cave, but are not usually in the diet of the painters of this date in this area of France.

The cave art of Creswell Crags, on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border near Worksop, representing a deer and an ibex (a type of goat) then may not be representative of what was hunted for food in Britain at this time around 12,000 BC. A fragment of rib bone from an unidentified animal with a scratched image of a horse’s head on it has led to the suggestion that a few intrepid hunters were up there hunting wild horses on the tundra.

Human bones from Kendrick’s Cave near Llandudno from the Upper Palaeolithic that were tested with stable isotope analysis

The bones of humans found in Kendrick’s Cave near Llandudno in Wales were tested using stable isotope analysis. This measures the ratios of isotopes of certain elements in bone collagen from ancient bone and can give indications about what kind of food is being eaten (marine or terrestrial, animal or plant) and can also indicate where a person had grown up and traveled to. The ratios of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen from the human bone at Kendrick’s Cave suggested that they got about a third of their food intake from marine mammals, and the team who undertook the work suggested this was probably seal meat (Richards et al 2005, 393), even though the animal bones left in the cave were all from terrestrial mammals.

People living on the coast do seem to have continued to heavily use marine resources. Many shell middens survive on the coast of Scotland but the coastline of England has changed so much since the end of the Ice Age that many of these are probably now beneath the sea. In Scotland such middens have yielded shells of many crustaceans and molluscs, as well as fish and marine mammal bones, e.g. Sand at Applecross, Wester Ross which dates to about 6500 BC (Hardy & Wickham-Jones 2009).

Red deer bones and antler at the Mesolithic site of Star Carr in North Yorkshire

By this time we are definitely in what archaeologists call the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) after the ice retreated but before farming was introduced. At Star Carr in North Yorkshire, which dates to about 9000 BC, the vast majority of the food being consumed seems to have been red deer, although bones of other animals like aurochs (wild cows) and wild pigs also appears. The people at Star Carr went to the sea, as we can see from the collection of amber picked up on the beach, and if they ate seafood they didn’t carry it inland. There are scant remains of pike, though, which suggests they did fish in the now vanished Lake Flixton (Robson et al 2016).

Plant remains have also turned up, although they don’t survive very well, of course. They only survive when they are charred, which might have happened if overcooked by accident. Charred plant remains found on Mesolithic sites in Scotland (and elsewhere in Britain) have included crab apple and pear pips, haw berry stones, hazelnut shells and the roots of Lesser Celandine, which would be a little like very small potatoes (Bishop et al 2013).

Farmers

When farming was adopted from around 4000 BC, everything changed. Stable isotope analysis comparing human bones from the Mesolithic and the Neolithic show a marked change between eating a diet rich in fish to one with little freshwater or marine component at all (although this has been questioned: Milner et al 2003). Signs of malnutrition are often found on early farmer’s bones, caused by a diet of mostly dairy and bread.

Neolithic charred bread found at Yarnton and dating to about 3600 BC.

The earliest preserved bread, charred in a fire, was found at Yarnton in Oxfordshire and dated to about 3600 BC. Wheat and barley grains have also been found charred, of a similar date and some even earlier in many places in the British Isles.

Dairying may have occurred from quite early on in the farming culture of Britain. The remains of lipids, and particularly fats from milk, have been found adhering to the inside of pots in Neolithic sites like Windmill Hill in Wiltshire and Runnymede Bridge in Surrey (Copley et al 2005).

Painted cave art of a woman gathering honey from Cueva de la Araña in Spain, Neolithic or earlier

People in the Neolithic may have had a slightly more interesting diet, though, and there are also remains of beeswax found in pots from Runnymede Bridge and in many pots from farming communities around Europe and Africa (Roffet-Salque et al 2015). This may suggest that bees were being kept in semi-domestication and that honey would be available for farmers. There is a famous piece of rock art from Spain, the Cueva de la Araña (Spider Cave) which seems to show a woman collected honey from a hive on a cliff while bees fly around her. It is not closely dated, and may be Neolithic or much earlier.

Gundestrup Cauldron dating to around 1BC from Denmark (but possibly originally made in northern France)

Large scale feasting sometimes occurs in the Neolithic and in later farming eras. At Durrington Walls near Stonehenge both cattle and pigs were slaughtered at winter-time, presumably for large midwinter feasts. Feasting also seems to be a part of life in the Bronze Age and Iron Age periods, from the discovery of large cauldrons and flesh hooks, such as one decorated with corvids and water birds from Dunaverney in Ireland and dating to about 1000 BC, and the silver Gundestrup Cauldron (probably for some kind of alcoholic drink) from Denmark.

Talking of alcohol, a pottery vessel from North Mains, Perthshire in Scotland had a black greasy substance in it which was sampled. It was found to contain cereal pollen and meadow-sweet pollen, which was used in flavouring alcoholic drinks in more recent times, and the archaeologists suggested the pot originally contained ale (rather than beer which is flavoured with hops and is usually said to be medieval in date, though there is some evidence of hops being used in Roman ale (in Andrews et al 2011, 224-5)). The ale at North Mains dated to about 1500 BC (Barclay 1983). It’s likely that ale goes back a long way.

A pot containing nettle stew carbonised in a house fire in the late Bronze Age Must Farm

A more varied diet comes back in the Bronze and Iron Ages after the introduction of a wider range of crops such as oats, rye, beans, vetch, cabbage and other foods. A pottery bowl with carbonised food and wooden spoon still in it was recently found in excavations at Must Farm near Peterborough, dating to about 1000 BC. The food was analysed and found to be some kind of nettle stew.

 

A – celery seed, B – coriander seed, C – dill seed, D – olive stone. Found at the late Iron Age settlement at Silchester in Berkshire.

With Roman contact in the late first century BC, some of the elite of southern England took to importing wine and other exotic foodstuffs. At Silchester, a late Iron Age settlement in Berkshire, imported food included coriander seeds and olives. Some ended up in their graves to take them to the next world, or at least show off to mourners. What a waste!

 

References

Andrews, P, Biddulph, E, Hardy, A & Brown, H 2011. Settling the Ebbsfleet Valley. Oxford & Salisbury, Oxford Wessex Archaeology.

Barclay, G, 1983. Sites of the third millennium be to the first millennium ad at North Mains, Strathallan, Perthshire. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 123, pp 122-281.

Bishop, R. R, Church, M, J, & Rowley-Conwy, P 2013.  Seeds, fruits and nuts in the Scottish Mesolithic. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 143, pp 9-71.

Copley et al, 2005. Dairying in antiquity. III. Evidence from absorbed lipid residues dating to the British Neolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 523-546. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2004.08.006

Hardy, K & Wickham-Jones, C 2009. Mesolithic and later sites around the Inner Sound, Scotland’s: the work of the Scotlands First Settlers project 1998-2004. Scottish Archaeological Internet Report 31. http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/sair/contents.cfm?vol=31

Milner, N et al, 2003. Something fishy in the Neolithic? A re-evaluation of stable isotope analysis of Mesolithic and Neolithic coastal populations. Antiquity 78, Issue 299, pp 9-22. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00092887

Richards et al, 2005. Isotope evidence for the intensive use of marine foods by Late Upper Palaeolithic humans. Journal of Human Evolution 49, pp 390-4.

Robson, H. K., Little, A., Jones, A. K. G., Blockley, S., Candy, I., Matthews, I., Palmer, A., Schreve, D., Tong, E., Pomstra, D., Fletcher, L., Hausmann, N., Taylor, B., Conneller, C. and Milner, N, 2016. Scales of analysis: evidence of fish and fish processing at Star Carr. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.02.009.

Wenban-Smith, F 2013. The Ebbsfleet Elephant. Oxford Archaeology Monograph Vol 20.

Round-up of prehistoric sites, museums and resources for Wiltshire

Stonehenge from the Heel Stone

Stonehenge from the Heel Stone

Wiltshire has quite a number of very well-known prehistoric sites (*cough* Stonehenge *cough* Avebury *cough* etc…) but we hope you find something new and useful in this round-up of online resources and places to visit for the county.

The main place to find out about the prehistoric sites in Wiltshire is the Historic Environment Record maintained by the county council. It can be searched online here: Wiltshire Historic Environment Record Advanced Search. Choose a time period and perhaps a place near you and find out what’s on your doorstep.

Some important sites to know about in Wiltshire in chronological order are:

  • Mesolithic occupation at Blick Mead near Amesbury. It’s been in the news a lot lately and a publication is due out soon. It is not the only evidence for Mesolithic occupation in Wiltshire, a settlement was excavated in the 1950s in Downton in south Wiltshire. Neither of these sites, though, are accessible to visit.
  • Three Mesolithic post-holes in the old car park next to Stonehenge, possibly the bases of something like totem poles, though it’s hard to say for sure.
  • Neolithic causewayed enclosures, the earliest type of Neolithic monument possibly used as meeting, market and burial places, are known at Windmill Hill near Avebury and Robin Hood’s Ball near Stonehenge, among others such as Knap Hill near Alton and Figsbury Ring near Firsdown.
  • Entrance to West Kennet long barrow

    Entrance to West Kennet long barrow

    Neolithic long barrows are quite numerous in Wiltshire. All we see is the final monument, which is the relatively uniform long earthen mound, but they all have very different histories, some with wooden and/or stone chambers containing human remains like West Kennet and then the mound, some are mere cenotaphs with no burials beneath, like South Street near Beckhampton.

  • There are two Neolithic cursuses in the county, the Lesser and Greater Cursus north of Stonehenge. Both predate the famous monument by 600 years. They may have been processional routes and the Greater Cursus has a long barrow at one end.
  • The earliest part of the Stonehenge monument is a simple circular ditch with a slight internal bank that was dug around 3000 BC. It was used as a cremation cemetery before the stones arrived 500 years later. A lot of information about Stonehenge can be found on English Heritage’s website.
  • Other henges in the county include Durrington Walls, which is just a couple of miles east of Stonehenge, and was the settlement site of the builders and worshippers at Stonehenge. Information about the most recent excavations can be found on the National Trust website. Next to it is Woodhenge, which is like Stonehenge but was once made of wood (though the little posts in the ground are now concrete). Avebury is the other well-known henge in Wiltshire and it has half a village inside it, so is very accessible.
  • Silbury Hill

    Silbury Hill

    Silbury Hill near Avebury is very imposing alongside the A4 from Bath to London. It is the largest artificial mound in Europe and dates to the late Neolithic. It is not possible to climb it. Legend once had it that it covered the burial of King Arthur, and that a similar, but smaller, mound in the grounds of Marlborough College was that of Merlin, but recent work has confirmed it is of a similar date to Silbury.

  • The Early Bronze Age is visible all over the county in the form of round barrows, many of them near Stonehenge at Winterbourne Stoke roundabout or Normanton Down. There are also the Seorfon round barrows on the A4 between Avebury and Marlborough near the Sanctuary, a Neolithic stone and wood setting. There are pages about the Bush Barrow chieftain who was buried near Stonehenge on the British Museum’s Teaching History in 100 Objects website.
  • Later Bronze Age archaeology is less visible in Wiltshire, and there is very little to see on the ground, but the county gets divided up into field systems around small settlements.
  • The Iron Age sees the rise of hillforts, for instance at Old Sarum near Salisbury (English Heritage has a Teacher’s kit about this site) and many others like Vespasian’s Camp (mistakenly once thought to have been a Roman fort) in Amesbury Park or Sidbury Camp near Tidworth.
  • Rybury Camp Iron Age hillfort near All Cannings overlies a Neolithic causewayed enclosure, so a visit there will cover the Stone Age to Iron Age topic nicely.
  • An enclosed Iron Age settlement known as Little Woodbury was excavated near Salisbury in 1938-9. It can’t be visited now but it’s a well-known site, its importance is explained in this feature from British Archaeology (scroll halfway down the page).

There are several fantastic museums in Wiltshire that are well worth a visit to see some of the finds from these famous monuments.

  • The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes has a permanent display of gold at the time of Stonehenge which includes the burial groups of several people buried around Stonehenge like the Bush Barrow Chieftain and slightly further afield, like the woman of the Golden Barrow from Upton Lovell.
  • The Alexander Keiller Museum is within Avebury henge and stone circle and was first opened by an owner of the site, Alexander Keiller. It has displays of the Stone Age archaeology of the site and nearby places.
  • The Amesbury Archer in Salisbury Museum

    The Amesbury Archer in Salisbury Museum

    Salisbury Museum houses some of the famous burials found in and around Stonehenge, such as the Stonehenge Archer who was killed by arrows in the Early Bronze Age and dumped in the Stonehenge ditch, and the Amesbury Archer, who was buried with ceremony a couple of miles from Stonehenge with the earliest bronze tools known in Britain.

  • Stonehenge has its own museum which contains the remains of the Queen of Stonehenge, among others, a burial group from one of the barrows in the Early Bronze Age Normanton Down barrow cemetery south of Stonehenge. There are also several reconstructed domestic houses based on those excavated at Durrington Walls.

If you think there’s something we missed, please feel free to let us know in the comments.

Archaeology, Algebra and the Iron Age

Thanks to Trudie Cole of Poole Museum for this guest blog on using archaeology as a vehicle for teaching maths.

The introduction of prehistory in the history curriculum was great news for us here at Poole Museum, as we have a lot of archaeologists on the team. However, the elephant in the room was the increased focus on standards in maths and English. With such a crowded curriculum focused towards raising standards in these two subjects how could we realistically expect pushed teachers to develop new and interesting prehistory work?

The answer was fairly simple: look for ways where archaeology can help deliver across these core subjects. And actually, a quick review of the maths curriculum revealed lots of opportunities. There is a lot more content (so much that any realistic aim to cover it has to stretch out into other subjects), but there is also an emphasis on mathematical skills and developing reasoning and problem solving. The curriculum even explicitly mentions practicing maths in real life situations. It also talks about how maths should be taught through discussion and language and socially. To me, this sounds very much like social constructivism, which is a natural home for archaeological education.

The plan of the roundhouse excavated on Bearwood School grounds

The plan of the roundhouse excavated near Bearwood School

In all honesty, I didn’t make these connections on my own. I have been working closely with the staff at Bearwood Primary and Nursery School and their visionary Head Teacher, Laura Bennett. Laura saw the potential for developing maths teaching and learning through an archaeology project, which gave us at Poole Museum, a green light and the support to go ahead.

Another fortunate piece in the puzzle is that Bearwood School is located in an area of high archaeological activity, although this is not well known. In the fields adjacent to the school, excavations in the 1980s revealed intensive settlement from the Neolithic until the Roman period, including an Iron Age roundhouse.

The roof timbers of the Bearwood School roundhouse

The roof timbers of the Bearwood School roundhouse

In discussion with school staff we decided to build a roundhouse on the school field. Many other people have built roundhouses, including within schools and with children and communities. So we knew we were doing something achievable. What would be unique about this project was the explicit link to children’s maths work.

We started planning early on and involved children from the school on the steering group. Early work included identifying sources of funding and applying for grants. Alongside this, museum staff worked with teachers to explore cross curricular links and how to bring various maths topics to be covered into the project. The aim was to really inspire the children and give them real life opportunities for problem solving.

Building the skeleton of the house from coppiced materials

Building the skeleton of the house from coppiced materials

Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund we had the money we needed to go ahead. We coppiced some materials ourselves (museum staff, parents and children) and bought other supplies we needed. We built the skeleton of the roundhouse using manpower from the school staff, children, parents and the community. We employed a thatcher to thatch the roof. Children from the school daubed the walls.

The build was a lot of fun and engaged everyone involved with active problem solving. You can find out more about the build, what we did and how we did it on the Poole Museum learning blog.

Stories being told inside the roundhouse at the school's summer fair

Stories being told inside the roundhouse at the school’s summer fair

We held a community day to tell people about the project and gather memories of the local area. The school summer fayre was dedicated to the project and provided a showcase for the children to display their work.

A teacher’s pack will be released shortly with lots of the lesson plans that the teachers at the school used throughout the project. There will be more information on the Bearwood School website.

The finished roundhouse

The finished roundhouse

What is particularly exciting about the project is that it has initiated a sea change in how staff at the school plan and teach. Our research indicates that many schools take a cross-curricular approach to subject delivery, but still teach maths separately. However, what our project has shown is that maths can be delivered in this way and not only is it possible, but it helps with coverage and creates an inspiring context for problem solving.

Laura Bennett and myself are really keen to develop the approach and share what we have learned. Please get in contact if you would like to find out more (t.cole@poole.gov.uk).