Look for resources on Stone Age to Iron Age Britain from your local HERO

There are HEROs out there, you know. Yes, it’s an acronym. It stands for Historic Environment Record Officer and they manage the archaeological database for counties, districts or cities. We have mentioned them before as great sources of information on your local prehistory. Now we have more information about the HEROs that are developing resources specifically for teachers on this new topic.

Emmetts Post set into a Bronze Age round barrow on Dartmoor

Emmetts Post set into a Bronze Age round barrow on Dartmoor

We’ve mentioned the Devon HERO before, and their website is loaded with useful local information and resources to teach all aspects of the new history curriculum at both primary and secondary level.

East Sussex County Council’s HERO, Sophie Unger, has been busy. She has taken part in a Teachers CPD day to help primary school teachers to better understand the period and topics they can cover. They are also in the middle of producing prehistoric finds ‘toolkits’ with both original and replica finds and finds cards for the five prehistoric periods which we will loan out or sell to schools. They are also offering two hour schools sessions at their local record office to bring in children to discover how the HER works and use mapping resources to discover local prehistoric archaeology.

Exmoor National Park has developed three loans boxes for schools that cover the Mesolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age and the local HERO loans these out. They have also developed some learning resources on the Moorland classroom, which includes information about the prehistoric heritage of that area. Find out how to get hold of all these resources on the Exmoor National Park website.

Lincolnshire County Council’s HERO, Richard Watts, is working on a project to develop resources to support the prehistory element of the curriculum, including running teacher CPD sessions. Keep an eye on this website and get in touch with them if you’re interested in joining a focus group to shape what they create for schools.

Keep an eye on West Berkshire HERO if you live in that area. They are working with their colleagues in the council who work with schools to develop some resources too.

We’d love to hear from more HERs who are or have created useful resources for teachers. If you’re a teacher and don’t know how to find your local HERO, drop us a line and we’ll find you a contact.

People in prehistory were not stupid

Hi, this is Kim Biddulph here, Schools Prehistory Director. It has been my life’s goal to prove to children and adults alike who visit museums, historic houses and archaeological sites that I have worked at that people in the past were not stupid. I consider it a triumph if someone I have talked with has the spark of revelation that people in the past were just like us.

Me teaching a shadow puppet session at the Pitt Rivers Museum, drawing done by the head of education there, Andrew McLellan

Me teaching a shadow puppet session when I worked at the Pitt Rivers Museum, drawing done by the head of education there, Andrew McLellan

I am helping the Pitt Rivers Museum develop a Stone Age workshop at the moment and I count it particularly important to ensure that the philosophical approach to people in prehistory is the same as that museum’s approach towards the makers of many of the objects in the collections from around the world. It is both an archaeological and anthropological museum. Instead of grouping its anthropology collection into cultures the museum is famous for arranging its collections by type. The original impetus for this was General Pitt Rivers interest in the evolution of the sophistication of objects from ‘primitive’ societies to more ‘civilised’ societies. The museum now keeps the same arrangement but for a fundamentally different reason. The philosophy of the museum is to reject the idea that societies evolve from primitive to civilised and to emphasise the ingenuity of humankind across the globe to solve problems with the materials and technology they have to hand. We all face the same problems, how to house ourselves, feed ourselves, travel, keep warm with clothes and fires, play, adorn our bodies to look important or beautiful, but we all do it slightly differently.

I am concerned that the idea that prehistoric European societies were primitive and have evolved to our civilised state is being taught to children in our schools now. I have heard a teacher say that people invented farming once they learned how to use their brains. I have been told of an occasion when a museum workshop leader said that people invented metal-working once they became cleverer and found an alternative to mere stone. If we say that prehistoric people were stupider than us, it logically follows that we are also saying that our own contemporary societies with similar technology to our prehistoric ancestors are actually stupider than us.

Replica Neolithic pot

Replica Neolithic pot

Let’s approach prehistoric periods with more subtlety and appreciation of their ingenuity. Lets remember that inventions were probably realised following accidents or developed out of small scale changes in behaviour spurred by changing cultural practices. Farming was invented in the Near East and spread (as an idea) across Europe slowly, taking over 6000 years to reach Britain in 4000 BC. The invention of pottery vessels alongside farming was spurred on by the increasingly sedentary lives of farmers in the Near East and someone accidentally dropping clay into a fire, probably. The better control of fire to make better fired pots probably led to the discovery of metal, when a piece of copper ore was dropped into a fire. Imagine a similar scenario for iron, which has an even higher smelting temperature.

The people who took advantage of these new inventions and technologies were not stupid, in fact they were very intelligent, seeing the opportunities that these technologies gave them not only for easier access to food and better tools, but initially probably because the knowledge and practice of this technology gave them an opportunity to get one over on their neighbours.

Early copper and bronze tools were not better than flint. Until bronze-smiths learned how to make better bronze tools, flint was still sharper and stronger than bronze. Early iron was also not better than bronze straight away. Smiths now had to learn to add carbon to the cutting edge to make it stronger and less brittle in order for iron to displace bronze.

An old (white) and replica (black) handaxe handled at one of our training days

An old (white) and replica (black) handaxe handled at one of our training days

You only have to see photos of the amazing paintings at Chauvet Cave in France to know that the earliest anatomically modern humans in Europe were not stupid. But what to say about Neanderthals or other early species of human e.g. Homo heidelbergensis or Homo erectus? How do we talk about the mental capacity of different species of humans? I think, given that they were the ones who first controlled fire, who created beautifully flaked symmetrical handaxes, and may have been experimenting with art hundreds of thousands of years before Chauvet, that we shouldn’t underestimate them either.

 

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*UPDATE*

We visited the National Association for Primary Education‘s conference last Friday on 24th April 2015. We found a kindred spirit in a teacher who wanted to show his kids that people in the Stone Age were not stupid. You can imagine how we cried for joy! He recommended a video that showed how cave paintings were not just static portraits of animals but were painted in such a way that they were like animations, and would have moved in the flickering firelight. We didn’t have time to get details but the hive mind of Twitter, specifically Helen Hall @JellyheadNelly, found it for us. It was the work of archaeologist Marc Azema, and here it is.

Feel prehistory come alive in reconstructed houses

Around the country there are a number of places where you can go and see or sit inside a reconstructed prehistoric house. We haven’t visited them all by a long shot, but here’s the list. Let us know what you think of them if you’ve visited.

South-West England

Ancient Technology Centre, Dorset

Interior of the Earthhouse at the Ancient Technology Centre

Interior of the Earthhouse at the Ancient Technology Centre. Photo courtesy of the Ancient Technology Centre.

This set of reconstructed buildings in Cranborne in Dorset includes a Neolithic (Stone Age) log cabin and two Iron Age roundhouses, one very special one based on unusual roundhouses excavated on the Isle of Man. There are also Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Viking replica structures there, too, so you could teach the whole of the British history part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum there if you want to!

The site is not open every day so schools must contact the site and work out a suitable day to visit, and plan what activities your pupils will take part in. The focus is very much on hands-on skills.

http://www.ancienttechnologycentre.co.uk/dayvisits.html

Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire

Inside the house based on one from Danebury hillfort at Butser Ancient Farm

Inside the house based on one from Danebury hillfort at Butser Ancient Farm

This site in Hampshire is the third version of Butser, which was first established by Peter Reynolds to conduct experiments in Iron Age farming techniques. Most of what we think we know about house construction and food storage comes from the experiments conducted there in the 1970s and 1980s. They also keep ancient breeds and grow ancient crops.

They have an Iron Age settlement, a Roman villa and are developing some Neolithic houses based on those found at Durrington Walls near Stonehenge.

http://www.butserancientfarm.co.uk/key-stage-1/.

Neolithic houses at Stonehenge

Neolithic House number 1 completed at Stonehenge, courtesy English Heritage

Neolithic House number 1 completed at Stonehenge, photo courtesy of English Heritage

The new visitor centre at Stonehenge is complemented by reconstructed Neolithic houses, the kind of dwellings people may have lived in at the time of one of the major phases of construction at the monument, about 2500 BC. The houses were built with guidance from the Ancient Technology Centre, above. English Heritage will be running Discovery Visits at the houses and visitor centre, which will involve hands-on learning with replica objects and craft activities.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/discover/neolithic-houses/

South-East England

Chiltern Open Air Museum, Buckinghamshire

Replica Iron Age roundhouse at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. Photograph by Kim Biddulph.

Replica Iron Age roundhouse at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. Photograph by Kim Biddulph.

The museum in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, mainly preserves buildings at risk from around the Chilterns. Most of them are nineteenth century in date. There is a reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse based on one excavated near Dunstable and a great Iron Age and Roman theme day that schools can book to find out about life 2000 years ago and how things changed.

http://www.coam.org.uk/schools/how-to-book/

Celtic Harmony, Hertfordshire

Children get a chance to try out Iron Age jobs, like grinding grain and baking bread in the reconstructed roundhouse, or older children will learn hunting techniques in the woods and how to lead a tribe.

http://www.celticharmony.org/

Ufton Court, near Reading, Berkshire

A reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse can be visited at Ufton Court Educational Trust near Reading. A visit includes meeting an Iron Age person and then comparing their way of life to the Roman and re-enacting Boudica’s revolt.

http://uftoncourt.co.uk/schools/history/

Eastern England

Flag Fen Bronze Age Centre, Cambridgeshire

Earliest wheel found in Britain at Flag Fen in Cambridgeshire. © Francis Pryor

Earliest wheel found in Britain at Flag Fen in Cambridgeshire. © Francis Pryor

You can go see the preserved timber posts of a huge walkway across the fen leading to a wooden platform where hundreds of bronze weapons and other artefacts were committed to a watery grave, along with reconstructed Bronze Age and Iron Age roundhouses. In the on-site museum, there’s also the earliest wheel found in Britain.

http://www.fensmuseums.org.uk/page_id__86_path__0p2p.aspx

Hadleigh Country Park, Essex

Hadleigh’s roundhouse is based on a floor plan from an archaeological excavation at Little Waltham, near Chelmsford. The field containing the roundhouse is open on most days to allow visitors to view its exterior. Schools can book to see the inside of the roundhouse and do some activities, like an archaeological dig.

http://www.hadleighcountrypark.co.uk/

Northern England

Howick reconstructed Mesolithic hut, Northumberland

This Mesolithic house in Northumberland dating to about 8000 BC was quite a sensation when it was excavated by archaeologists from the University of Newcastle. A reconstruction was built for BBC’s Meet the Ancestors which still stands and can be seen on the Maelmin Heritage trail.

http://research.ncl.ac.uk/howick/images/Maelmin.pdf

Herd Farm, West Yorkshire

A settlement of three Iron Age roundhouses has been built and is open for school visits at Herd Farm north of Leeds. Children get to become Iron Age villagers and learn everyday activities people would do in the Iron Age.

http://www.herdfarm.co.uk/2015/06/29/the-iron-age-experience/ 

Ryedale Folk Museum, North Yorkshire

This museum seems to have an Iron Age roundhouse and leads educational sessions with schools.

http://www.ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk/

Wales

Castell Henllys, Pembrokeshire

The reconstructed village at Castell Henllys

The reconstructed village at Castell Henllys

The roundhouses at Castell Henllys are built inside the original Iron Age hillfort, for an extra authentic feel. There is an education centre nearby with plenty of objects excavated from the site to look at, as well as replica objects to handle.

http://www.pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk/default.asp?PID=261

Llynnon roundhouses, Anglesey

The two roundhouses are thought to be how Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age houses looked in the area. Local schools use one of the roundhouses.

http://www.anglesey-hidden-gem.com/llynnon-iron-age-settlement.html

St Fagans Open Air Museum, Cardiff

A new Iron Age replica farmstead was recently opened at St Fagan’s Open Air Museum. The building, which is based on an archaeological site from the time of the Roman conquest, is a recreation of a small Iron Age farmstead near Llansadwrn in the eastern corner of Anglesey.

https://museum.wales/stfagans/bryn-eryr-open/

Caer Alyn

Caer Alyn, courtesy of the Caer Alyn Heritage Project

Caer Alyn, Wrexham

Caer Alyn heritage project runs digs on an Iron Age hillfort and two roundhouses have been reconstructed there.

http://www.caeralyn.org/community-archaeology.php?=&content=story&storyID=156&fixedmetadataID=14

Northern Ireland

Navan Fort, County Armagh

Inside the roundhouse at Navan Fort. Courtesy of Navan Centre & Fort.

Inside the roundhouse at Navan Fort. Courtesy of Navan Centre & Fort.

Navan, or Emain Macha, is an iconic place in Ulster history. It was an Iron Age ritual fort in which a series of huge roundhouses were built. Then, in AD 94, the biggest roundhouse of all was built (or possible several concentric circles of posts with no roof) and subsequently set on fire and sealed under a rubble and earth mound. One of the earlier, smaller, roundhouses has been reconstructed near the site and there are a number of school workshops available.

http://www.armagh.co.uk/navan-centre-fort/

Scotland

Scottish Crannog Centre, Perthshire

View of the Scottish Crannog Centre. Courtesy of the Scottish Crannog Centre www.crannog.co.uk

View of a reconstructed Iron Age crannog. Courtesy of the Scottish Crannog Centre www.crannog.co.uk

Crannogs, dwellings built on piles in lakes, were built in Ireland and Scotland for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The Scottish Crannog Centre is a reconstruction of an Early Iron Age example. Pupils learn about life on the crannog in Lock Tay and try their hand at wood-turning, stone-drilling and fire-making. Children realise how ingenious Iron Age people were to survive and prosper in this situation.

http://www.crannog.co.uk/

 

Towards a framework for teaching Stone Age to Iron Age Britain

At a recent meeting of archaeology and heritage education professionals at The Hive in Worcester, it was suggested that a national framework was put together as further guidance for teachers in this new curriculum area. The current non-statutory guidance was thought to be lacking in detail and accuracy. Some thoughts as to what would be in that framework were suggested and the overall discussion brought out others, so here is a first stab of what this framework might include. It is very much up for discussion at the moment, so do add your thoughts below, whether you are a prehistorian or a teacher.

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Teach to the local

Find out about your local prehistoric sites (see guidance here) and use these in your teaching. Many worries among teachers and heritage professionals was that this era is the most remote to be taught to children of a very young age. By focusing on your local sites, some of which may be visitable, this can help children access this period.

year group

Overview vs. depth study

It is recommended that the whole period is put into some perspective with an initial look at the whole time period of prehistory and some of the major events, and then to focus in one one period or aspect of this period of history.

Theoretical stance

Be aware that the theoretical standpoint in archaeology towards this time period has radically changed in the last 40 years or so. While you don’t have to go into much detail of this with your pupils, be careful about what sources you use. Books written in the 1960s will generally present an out-of-date interpretation of the evidence (see this note about our references). The best bet is to find very recent popular publications or use news items on the BBC.

New sources of evidence

The ability to read objects as sources of evidence will be key in this period before writing. There is some pictorial evidence but this is as ambiguous as the objects made and used in prehistory. Written sources of evidence for the later periods of prehistory need to be used with even more care as they are generally written by classical authors about societies they know little of directly but have heard about second-hand. This does not make literacy impossible to cover while studying this time period, though, as there are plenty of books and poems about prehistory.

Littlenose the Hunter

Littlenose the Hunter

Not just the object, but also its context

What is sometimes missed when studying prehistory is the context in which many of the well known objects were found. Even some sites are often explained out of context with wider developments in the landscape, such as at Stonehenge. It will be necessary both for archaeologists to make their site plans, including phasing, available for teachers to use, and for teachers to become familiar with this form of secondary evidence. A diagram of this sort will be much more accessible than a written site report.

Scientific strides

Wonderful developments in scientific archaeology are allowing greater precision in dating sites and the possibility of dating a wider range of objects. Other types of scientific analysis allow archaeologists to build up an idea of site formation processes, the past environment, biological relationships between people on the basis of shared DNA and the mobility of humans and animals based on chemical signatures in their bones. Keeping track of these developments will be key for all concerned with teaching prehistory. One of our information booklets has got a general overview of scientific techniques used in archaeology.

This is a start on principles, but the content of what could be taught could also be agreed. Please add or critique to your heart’s content.

Advice for Historic Environment Records and the new curriculum

After the meeting at The Hive a couple of weeks ago we started thinking about what Historic Environment Records (HERs) could easily do, with little resourcing, to engage with the new curriculum.

Our director, Kim Biddulph, worked for four years in Buckinghamshire HER during a project to get it online with images digitised and attached and associated articles and resources for teachers and the community to more easily use it. You can see the results at http://ubp.buckscc.gov.uk. The teacher information is out of date, now, as teachers will be after Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age information.

ubpFor HERs that aren’t online, or don’t have associated resources for public accessibility, here are a few ideas that could be done pretty quickly and cheaply.

1. Does your region have a research framework? If so, you should have county/district resources assessments that you could share as PDFs on your website. Ideally do a precis of the resource assessment and label them with “Stone Age”, “Bronze Age” and “Iron Age” terms. These are the terms used in the curriculum, these are the terms teachers will be searching for.

2. Teachers and pupils love images. You have amazing collections, particularly of excavations and aerial photographs. Nick an explanation of aerial photography from somewhere, e.g. this one from Cornwall, and add in your own images. Create a quick image gallery on your website of relevant excavations or sites. Label them with captions that give the bare essentials that a teacher would need to use them in the classroom.

3. If you use HBSMR, and it’s online, buy the Themes module and add some of the above detail directly into the database. This allows you to link these articles directly back to the raw data on a site. Obviously, there are some costs to this option!

Any more great ideas, do post in the comments below.

Busy minds come together in The Hive

The Hive in Worcester hosted a meeting of archaeologists and heritage educators today to talk about how we can all help teachers with the new curriculum. Attendees included Worcester museum educators (Kate Philippson), community archaeologists (Rob Hedge), and Archive and Historic Environment Record (HER) staff (Paul Hudson, Sheena Payne-Lunn) as well as Saray May of Heritage for Transformation, James Dilley of Ancient Craft, Catherine Parker Heath of Enrichment Through Archaeology, Deborah Jarman of The Inspiration Exchange and Giles Carey of Warwickshire HER. We were from Portsmouth, Buxton, Aylesbury, Warwick, Leominster and Worcester.

The first half of the meeting was about sharing ideas for engaging activities for teachers and students, including setting up simulated excavations of different types, object handling and image banks. We also talked about how engaged teachers were with this change, and it seemed as if most of the feedback we were all getting was that not many have though about it yet, what with all the other changes happening in the curriculum and assessment, to name just two areas in flux. We shared the results of our survey.

Matthew Pope of UCL couldn’t make it but sent some questions that galvanised the conversation, which was further energised by the arrival of Sarah May. The main idea is to create a possible framework of content and ways of teaching prehistory that can be shared with teachers. I’m sure this was said after we had to leave, but this should be developed in partnership with teachers learning how to do this in the classroom, many for the first time.

Thanks to Sarah May for being the driving force behind this meeting, The Hive for hosting and Rob Hedge for leading the meeting. Here’s to working together!