What did people drink in prehistory?

I talked on another blog post about some of the things people ate in prehistory, and I thought that I’d go into more detail about what people drank. Thanks to Merryn Dineley for her comments and additions on this blog post. Evidence for what people drank in prehistory comes from residue analysis of pottery vessels. Because they weren’t glazed, the pottery soaked up whatever it held, which can be identified in lab analysis.

Other evidence comes from experimental archaeology coupled with educated guesses based on what was available at certain times, both locally or by trade and our knowledge of the types of drinks available at later times and in other places in the world. Some pottery could have purposefully been sealed with animal fats, milk or beeswax, as demonstrated by the experiments done by Dana Millson, which complicates the picture somewhat (pers. comm. Merryn Dineley).

Fresh water flower from the Swallowhead Spring near Silbury Hill

Water, of course, is available from streams, rivers and springs. Usually settlements were placed close to fresh sources of water. Before the industrialisation of the world, water would have been pretty clean from these sources, though people could have boiled water too. Before people had pottery, water could be boiled in pits in the ground with hot stones dropped in, or in cooking skins over the fire. If necessary, snow could be melted the same way.

 

 

 

 

Boiling water in a wooden vessel to make stew

It is difficult to know whether hot drinks with any flavouring were drunk in prehistory. In the novels by Jean Auel about Palaeolithic Europe, the main character Ayla makes tea flavoured with different herbs each morning when she wakes up, but this is pure speculation. In a recent bushcraft magazine I received, a woman who had lived as a Palaeolithic person for several months in the wilderness of America made spruce needle tea and, instead of milk, used rendered buffalo fat. It sounds disgusting but it was apparently delicious!

Milk would not have been available, past infancy, until the Neolithic when humans started to keep domesticated animals. Analysis of the absorbed fats in pottery sherds has identified that animals were milked extensively which is confirmed by the age and sex of the animal remains – dairy herds are mainly female (e.g. Copley et al 2005). Alongside the archaeological evidence of dairying, genetic evidence suggests that a mutation allowing ingestion of lactose post-infancy evolved and spread through the early farming population (Leonardi et al, 2012). The problem is, we can’t say for sure that people were drinking the milk directly because milk can be turned into so many other products like butter and cheese. It is also impossible to work out whether the milk was from cows, sheep or goats, although comparison with the animal bones can sometimes give a clue.

Could the floors of the Stonehenge Neolithic buildings, based on ones excavated at Durrington Walls, have been for malting and not living?

Coming into the Neolithic there might also have been another drink available. Something alcoholic. The work of several experimental archaeologists, e.g. Merryn Dineley, have demonstrated that ale could have been made using Neolithic technology. They had barley, pottery and fire, and early Neolithic buildings in the Near East often had well-kept floors which would be perfect for malting the barley. It is even possible that large Neolithic buildings in Britain were partially for malting grain (Dineley 2008, 2015, 2016).

Another alcoholic drink that would have been available would have been mead. This is made by fermenting honey in water, and it has been shown that bees were probably domesticated in the Neolithic (Guber 2017). Pollen grains identified in a pot from North Mains in Scotland and in coprolites (human poo) from the 3rd millennium BC (late Neolithic) contained meadowsweet pollen, a common flavouring and preservative for mead hence its name (Moe & Oeggl 2013). Meadowsweet has also been used in ale, though.

Me and my 5yo next to the Vix krater for scale

Wine was being made in the Mediterranean world from the fifth millennium BC, but didn’t get to Britain until much later, during the later Iron Age when it was imported in amphorae from the Roman Empire. The people who lived near what is now Chatillon-sur-Seine in France were importing wine from around 500 BC if not earlier. The huge Vix ‘krater’ was imported to hold and mix wine and water through the Greek trading port of Massalia, now Marseilles.

 

References

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

Dineley, M 2008. The Durrington Maltsters. British Archaeology January/February 2008, pp30-31.

Dineley, M 2015. The craft of the maltster. Food and drink in archaeology 4. pp63-71.

Dineley, M 2016. Who were the first maltsters? The archaeological evidence for floor malting. Brewer and Distiller International 2016. pp34-36.

Guber, S 2017. Prehistoric Beekeeping in Central Europe – a Themed Guided Tour at Zeiteninsel, Germany. Exarc 2017/2. https://exarc.net/issue-2017-2/aoam/prehistoric-beekeeping-central-europe-themed-guided-tour-zeiteninsel-germany

Leonardi, M, Gerbault, P, Thomas, M.G, & Burger, J, 2012. The evolution of lactase persistence in Europe. A synthesis of archaeological and genetic evidence. International Dairy Journal 22, pp88-97.

Moe, D & Oeggl, K 2014. Palynological evidence of mead: a prehistoric drink dating back to the 3rd millennium b.c. Vegetation history and archaeobotany, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 515–526. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00334-013-0419-x

 

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

Derbyshire, being mostly upland, has got some great surviving prehistoric archaeology. It is well furnished with megalithic monuments from the Neolithic and early Bronze Age and some later Bronze Age and Iron Age hillforts, as well as later industrial history.

Here are some of the main sites in chronological order:

  • Engraved horse head on rib bone from Creswell Crags. By Dave from Nottingham, England – The Ochre Horse – 12500 Years Old!, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12366019

    At the border with Nottinghamshire is Creswell Crags, which have Britain’s best-preserved Palaeolithic cave art. This art is engraved rather than painted, and there are remains of both Neanderthal and Homo sapiens occupation. It is thought that hunters came to the area close to the edge of the ice sheet, possibly to hunt horses, around 14,000 years ago. Someone dropped an animal rib bone engraved with the head of a wild horse. There is a great visitor centre there, tours of the caves and a museum. There is more on the cave art on Teaching History with 100 Objects website.

  • Arbor Low. By Michael Allen, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3869992

    There are several stone circles and isolated standing stones in Derbyshire, and many are accessible. Arbor Low, near Youlgreave, is one of the most famous. It is known as a recumbent stone circle as the stones are lying down, having possibly been toppled at some point in its history. The stones were an early Bronze Age addition to a henge monument alongside a round barrow (a burial mound), which is a space encircled by a bank and ditch and dating to the later Neolithic. Nearby is an earlier Neolithic oval barrow with a superimposed early Bronze Age round barrow at Gib Hill, and a possible avenue of earth between the two. The local landowner charges £1 to cross the land to the henge and stone circle.

  • The Bull Ring is another later Neolithic henge, in Dove Holes. It doesn’t have any standing stones associated with it, though there are rumours that there used to be in the 18th century. Like Arbor Low it is also associated with an oval barrow nearby.
  • There are also the Nine Ladies on Stanton Moor. This is an early Bronze Age circle of nine stones said to have been petrified ladies, cursed for dancing on a Sunday. There are other standing stones and cairns (burial mounds made of heaped stones) on the moor, including the King Stone, visible from the Nine Ladies. The stones are very small, under a metre in height.
  • Hob Hurst’s House is a possible early Bronze Age square burial mound near Beeley. Like many of the burials of a similar date in Derybshire, it was excavated in the 19th century and is said to have contained a stone cist (a little chamber) for some burned bones. Hob Hurst is the name of a local mythical goblin. These last two are free to visit.
  • Rock art on Gardom’s Edge. By Roger Temple, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13089144

    Gardom’s Edge is a rocky outcrop near Baslow that contains standing stones, rock art of cups and rings, and hut circles from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.

  • Robin Hood’s Stride near Elton is a natural tor, but there are remains of house platforms, probably dating to the early Bronze Age, there as well.
  • Carl Wark on Hathersage Moor is a hillfort, and these are often Iron Age in date, but there hasn’t been any excavation there so it is possible it may, like other hillforts in the region, be later Bronze Age in date. It has a rampart faced with stone, which is unusual.
  • Mam Tor is another hillfort, near Castleton, and has seen some excavation. It dates to the later Bronze Age, starting as a palisaded settlement with later earthen ramparts. There are also two earlier Bronze Age round barrows on the summit, from an earlier use of the hill as a burial place. There is a possible trackway that leads south from the hill past two other hillforts. Be careful up there as the sides of the hill have landslides as they are made of shale, and when I first visited I had to shelter in the rampart ditch from a white-out!

This is just a selection of the huge amount of prehistoric archaeology to be found in Derbyshire. There are many more instances of rock art, standing stones, burial mounds and hillforts to be found.

Museums and other places to visit include:

  • Derby Museum and Art Gallery has lots of stone tools, including some from Creswell Crags and other prehistoric monuments mentioned above, plus a Bronze Age logboat dated to about 1400 BC from the Hanson gravel pit at Shardlow. It was preserved by waterlogging and contained a cargo of sandstone.
  • Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has archaeological collections including Mesolithic microliths from Kinder Scout and Edale, Neolithic finds from Arbor Low and Stanton Moor and some Pleistocene (Ice Age) animal remains from Dove Holes such as sabre-toothed cat, mastodon and hyena.
  • Creswell Crags museum has already been mentioned above. This focuses on Ice Age material as well.
  • A lot of archaeological material from Derbyshire is in Weston Park Museum in Sheffield.

Resources collected from around the web for teaching human evolution

Whether you’re tackling human evolution from a science perspective or as part of a Stone Age Britain topic, here are some resources collected from around the web that might be of use.

Making your own footprint casts

The Fossils and Dinosaurs topic from the Hamilton Trust is free to download and there is a block of work of five sessions specifically on human evolution that I wrote, from creating a family tree of the hominids, tracing human dispersal around the world and particularly exploring what it would be like for modern humans and Neanderthals to meet. There is also one lesson plan (session 5) and resources in a block on fossilised footprints that looks at human footprints at Laetoli in Tanzania, Happisburgh in Norfolk and Pehuen-Co in Argentina.

I also wrote the file for this handaxe found at Happisburgh for the Teaching History in 100 Objects website by the British Museum. Handaxes are some of the earliest tools created by ancient humans, and this one dates to around 850,000 years ago, the same time that early humans (probably Homo antecessor) left footprints in the mud. The file also includes links and images of other handaxes and gives you some teaching ideas on how to use these images to explore the capabilities of ancient humans.

Make your own modroc hominid skull

I wrote more in depth resources for the Coping with Climate project run by the Universities of Reading and Brighton. These include image banks, timelines, fact-sheets and instructions for doing practical activities to explore what kind of tasks ancient humans were able to do, focusing on Homo heidelbergensis in southern England and on Neanderthals and the first modern humans into Europe. They are free to download.

One area I haven’t worked in is creating 3D scans of images, but many other people have! This site at the Smithsonian Museum’s website has a fantastic collection of scans of tools, art objects and fossil hominids which can be searched by species name. There are lots of skulls so you can see how this changes over time.

The Smithsonian have also just created some new video resources called Snapshots in Time that introduce pupils to Swartkrans in South Africa, Olorgasailie in Kenya and Shanidar cave in Iraq. Each site and what was found there is introduced bit by bit in a series of videos that allow pauses for discussion of the significance and meaning of the finds, before the narrative is woven together in the final video.

Sketchfab 3D fossils

New scans of material related to human evolution are uploaded to Sketchfab all the time. There are 3D scans of tools, art objects, pendants, sub-fossil bones, caves, excavations and more. Just go to Sketchfab and search for human evolution or Palaeolithic.

Finally, for another great list of resources for teaching human evolution, but aimed at older students, go to Caitlin Schrein’s list on her website.

If you have any other suggestions for human evolution resources you like to use, let me know!

Must Farm ‘Cluedo’

Must Farm near Peterborough was the site of a new quarry – and before quarrying archaeologists uncovered some amazing late Bronze Age archaeology preserved in waterlogged silted up channels of the River Nene.

A stilted settlement was built around 850 BC when the river was still running, but shallow. The people who lived there traded with far off places like Italy to get beautiful glass beads, travelling up and down the river in logboats. They had wheeled carts for travelling on dry land and kept sheep and cows there; they didn’t eat much fish or shellfish from the river. They made cloth out of lime bast, similar to linen. They also had swords to defend themselves.

Immediately before the end of the settlement, a wooden palisade was built around the outside of the small group of stilted roundhouses. Bronze axes were used to chop down the trees and dress the timbers. The end came as a conflagration – started by enemies from without or as an accident from within we don’t know. The fire vitrified food in bowls that were left behind, still with the wooden spoon inside. The floors and roofs collapsed into the river where the fire went out and the houses settled, to be preserved in the anaerobic environment underwater. There are no human remains in the river deposits, so hopefully everyone got out safely. Here’s a video from the archaeologists who dug it, Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

Based on this site, I developed a game similar to Cluedo for Aylesbury Young Archaeologist’s Club where players would try to work out who had started the fire, how and in which building. I colour-coded a reconstruction drawing by Vicki Herring and created some characters that might conceivably have been residents and some different ways that the fire might have started. Then you play very much the same way as Cluedo. Download the game-board and the instructions and cards here to print and play. You’ll need your own dice and gaming pieces. Tell me what you think and how it can be improved!

Game board – the walkways are divided into squares and the ways in to the buildings are marked by black diamonds.

Instructions and game cards – print and cut these out.

There are also some useful teaching resources on Must Farm created by Pippa Smith of Handling the Past for Historic England here.

Late Bronze Age lunette spearhead from the River Thames – print and make

The spearhead this cut and stick printable is based on was found in the River Thames at Broadness in Kent in 1909 with a lot of other spearheads. The lunette design (cast with two crescent shaped gaps on either side of a raised rib) is purely aesthetic and suggests that the warrior culture of the late Bronze Age was a lot about looks and not necessarily about fighting (see this interesting blog post on another lunette spearhead from Micropasts at the British Museum).

Print this on the back of gold metallic card and curl the base round to make a tube. Stick this on the end of a garden cane to make a very stylish weapon! (click here to download the file as a pdf for printing)

Late Iron Age mirror from Holcombe, Devon – print and make

Download and print this PDF on the back of some gold metallic card, trace the dashed lines and shade in the dotted areas to make your own copy of the Holcombe Mirror.

This mirror found in Devon was made sometime between 50BC and AD 70 in the Late Iron Age or just into the Roman occupation of Britain. It was made of bronze, highly polished on one side and engraved with a complex design on the other. This design is seemingly abstract but hides many grinning faces. How many can you see?

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.