The pre-Christian festival of Beltane – what’s the evidence?

Wicker man burning at Butser Ancient Farm

Wicker man burning at Butser Ancient Farm

Today a few places around the country, for instance Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire, will hold Beltane (or Beltain) festivals instead of maypole dances and light a wicker man at dusk in a ceremony that supposedly extends back to the pre-Christian (and potentially pre-Roman Iron Age) Britain. But what’s the evidence for this?

We do have a couple of written sources that describe Britain and Europe in the time just before the Roman occupation. Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars specifically mentions that the druids burned a great effigy of a man made of interwoven branches, with people as sacrifices trapped inside,and the Greek geographer Strabo also mentions the practice, though neither specifically link it with Beltane or even mention the name of the festival. Strabo says “having devised a colossus of straw and wood, [they], throw into the colossus cattle and wild animals of all sorts and human beings”. Both sources probably derived from the earlier Greek traveller, Posidonius, so potentially neither of the later writers had seen it for themselves. The description, which also served to justify the imposition of Roman rule over dangerous barbarians, could easily have been exaggerated from the practices of Beltane that survived in the western and northern parts of Britain in much later periods, described below.

The next reference to Beltane is around 900 CE in the Irish text Sanas Chormaic, a time when Ireland was very firmly Christian. The Sanas is a glossary of terms with explanations, and Beltane is described as the time when druids would bring the cattle to the lucky fires to make sure they didn’t get any diseases in the coming year (presumably caused by evil spirits) before being driven out to summer pasture. The mention of druids clearly harks back to an earlier time, but it’s not clear what evidence the author based this explanation on. The author goes on to explain that Bel may mean lucky, or refer to a pagan god called Bial. Because the author, a monk, would have been very familiar with the near eastern pagan god Baal described in the Old Testament, it’s likely he got mixed up.

18th century engraving of a Wicker Man. By UnknownMidnightblueowl at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

18th century engraving of a Wicker Man. By UnknownMidnightblueowl at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Beltane festivals were still being held in Ireland in the 19th century, especially in Leinster and Munster, when both cattle and people leaped over flames to protect them against fairies and witches. They are also mentioned in the Scottish Lowlands in the 16th century and in the Highlands in the 18th century where a bannock bread would be made in the flames. They are also known in the Isle of Man, Cumbria, Devon and Cornwall in the 18th century but not across the rest of England. Although not recorded across much of Wales, they were known in Glamorgan and Montgomeryshire in the 19th century.

From the geographical distribution they look suspiciously ‘Celtic’ (although we prefer British, Celts not being described in Britain in pre-Roman times) in origin. But the corresponding areas of the continent that were Celtic e.g. France and Spain, had no tradition of May celebrations whereas they are found in Germany, Scandinavia and Austria. They may not have been Celtic in origin, then, but to do with a shared pastoral economy that relied on cattle or other livestock, rather than the mainly agrarian economy of south-eastern Britain and south-western Europe, where they practised other May traditions like bringing greenery into the house.

Edinburgh Beltane Festival 2012. By Stefan Schäfer, Lich (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Edinburgh Beltane Festival 2012. By Stefan Schäfer, Lich (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you light up the barbecue or do a bit of gardening this bank holiday, rest assured you are probably continuing a couple of millennia of pagan traditions 😉 And, of course, some of you will be celebrating with modern pagan ceremonies too.

References

Green, M, 1997. Exploring the world of the druids. Thames & Hudson, London.

Hutton, R, 1996. Stations of the Sun. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Museums with Stone Age to Iron Age collections on display

If you are teaching children, or are the parents of children who are learning about the Stone Age to Iron Age topic in primary schools in England, you might want to find a museum to visit to see some objects from these exciting periods on display. We’ll update this blog post as we find or hear about museums with great prehistoric collections, so if you find one, let us know in the comments below. You may also be interested in places where you can visit replica Stone Age to Iron Age houses, or in museums with school workshops on offer. In this post we’re starting from the south and heading northwards by region.

London

The British Museum has two galleries (numbers 50 and 51 on the upper floor) dedicated to Britain and the Near-East from 10,000 BC to 800 BC (Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age) and Britain from 800 BC to AD 43 (Iron Age). The earlier gallery focuses on the invention and adoption of agriculture. The later gallery contains objects such as the Mold Gold Cape from Wales, Snettisham torc hoard, and the remains of Lindow Man.

The Museum of London has a gallery called London before London, with a focus on objects from the Thames itself. Highlights include the reconstructed face of a Neolithic woman from Shepperton, a resin copy of the Dagenham Idol (the original is in the Valence House museum in Dagenham itself) and a partial reconstruction of the interior of an Iron Age roundhouse.

The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in London might appear not to be a place to go to find out about human prehistory, but they do have a few animal skeletons on display that early humans would have come across when they first arrived in Europe, like giant deer skulls, as well as the skeletons of early humans (hominins) like Homo erectus.

Similarly London’s Natural History Museum also has displays on human evolution as well as those animals that lived in Britain and Europe both in the warm and cold periods of the Ice Ages at the time of hominin and modern human inhabitation.

South-east

Reconstruction of the interior of a Bronze Age roundhouse

Reconstruction of the interior of a Bronze Age roundhouse

Dover Museum houses the Dover Bronze Age boat, which is an incredible and near unique survival from this time. It does also have a partial reconstruction of the interior of a Bronze Age roundhouse complete with mannequins in replica costumes based on finds from Denmark.

Tunbridge Wells Museum in Kent has Stone Age to Iron Age artefacts from the High Weald on display in Room 2 of the museum.

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has a gallery of prehistoric artefacts, including an intriguing pair of spoons, one with a hole and one engraved with a cross. They have been interpreted as a fortune-teller’s kit. Other highlights include carved stone balls from Scotland, Bronze Age gold earrings, an Iron Age coin hoard, and Bronze Age and Iron Age swords and shields.

Some casts of famous Palaeolithic portable art in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Some casts of famous Palaeolithic portable art in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Also in Oxford are the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum (they are attached to each other). The Museum of Natural History has a display on the evolution of humans, as well as a cast of the Red Lady of Paviland (actually the skeleton of a man dated to around 30,000 years ago found in Wales) and a display on how stone tools developed over time, as well as some casts of beautiful Ice Age portable art. Be aware you will have to deal with questions about the Venus of Willendorf’s body!

Flint arrowheads on the top floor of the Pitt Rivers Museum - not necessarily all from Britain

Flint arrowheads on the top floor of the Pitt Rivers Museum – not necessarily all from Britain

The Pitt Rivers Museum has stone, bronze and iron tools and weapons on the top floor and will eventually also have more archaeology displayed there exploring the quest for food from the Stone Age to the Iron Age.

Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury has a gallery on the prehistoric and Roman history of the county, including drawers full of Ice Age fossils, like mammoth teeth, and then much later objects such as the Late Iron Age mirror from Dorton and an Iron Age coin hoard.

The Higgins Bedford’s collections on display in the Settlement gallery include stone tools discovered by the Victorian collector James Wyatt (1818-1878) in local gravel pits. Two flint hand axes found next to a piece of fossilised mammoth leg bone showed that early humans lived alongside long-extinct animals, showing that humankind was far more ancient than most people at the time believed. A reconstruction of the recently-excavated 3,800 year old burial of a Bronze Age archer from Great Denham shows a high-status young man in his twenties, as revealed by the beaker pottery, bronze dagger and finely crafted stone wrist-guard with which he was buried.

Luton’s Stockwood Discovery Centre has a great gallery showing finds from around Luton, some of which come from Waulud’s Bank in North Luton, an unusual ‘D’ shaped Neolithic enclosure at the source of the River Lea.

Haslemere Museum in Surrey has a collection of flint tools on display from Blackdown, West Sussex.

Guildford Museum has a permanent exhibition of some of the prehistoric artefacts found locally, including bronze spear-heads.

On the south coast is Bexhill Museum in East Sussex which has some local prehistoric artefacts in the Sargent Gallery.

Although The Novium in Chichester was built to house the Roman bath-house and displays mainly Roman collections, it also currently has Bronze Age Racton Man, killed in two fatal blows and buried with his bronze dagger, in a temporary exhibition.

The Redoubt Fortress and Military Museum in Eastbourne has a year-long exhibition on called Treasure which includes some Stone Age artefacts.

South-west

The Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro has an impressive collection of prehistoric artefacts, especially Bronze Age objects including three gold lunulae which are the subject of a beautiful poem by Penelope Shuttle. They also have Iron Age objects including a slate knife from Harlyn Bay and a decorated mirror.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter has an important collection of prehistoric archaeology from Devon, including 350,000 stone tools from gravel pits near Axminster and finds from Neolithic and Bronze Age burials. It is also the current home of the Kingsteignton Idol.

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery has a gallery called Uncovered which spans from the Bronze Age to the medieval period and has examples of Bronze Age tools and weapons among other things. With any luck some of the objects from the amazing Whitehorse Hill cist burial that were temporarily on display there in 2014 will come back to the museum permanently. If you look carefully, you’ll also be able to see some remains of Ice Age animals in the Explore Nature gallery.

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery has a temporary exhibition on until June 2017 on Stone Age to Iron Age Bristol including Bronze Age swords and Iron Age jewellery.

Gloucester City Museum has prehistoric objects on display.

Salisbury Museum is an essential accompaniment to a visit to Stonehenge itself (which also has a fantastic museum). The Stonehenge Archer and the Amesbury Archer are both here, the former was a man buried in the ditch of Stonehenge with arrowheads that would have been embedded in his flesh and bones. The Amesbury Archer had come from the Alps and brought with him the earliest dated metal objects in the country.

Wiltshire Museum in Devizes has a great deal of the artefacts from barrows around Stonehenge in its Gold at the Time of Stonehenge gallery, including collections from the Bush Barrow, the Golden Barrow and a possible shaman’s burial. These are important evidence of the role of Stonehenge as a religious monument and focus of high status burials in the early Bronze Age.

The Alexander Keiller Museum is within the henge of Avebury itself and houses the collection of Alexander Keiller who dug at Avebury and nearby Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure (Neolithic meeting places). The remains of burials from the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age are on display here.

Dorset County Museum in Dorchester houses many of the objects found in excavations at the nearby Iron Age hillfort Maiden Castle and currently has an appeal to raise enough money to buy a lovely late Iron Age mirror found in a burial in the Chesil area.

Remains of hunter-gathering and farming communities have been found on land and under water in the Solent and some are housed at Southampton Seacity Museum.

Poole Museum houses the very handsome remains of the Poole Logboat, which is 2300 years old. At 10m long, it is the longest logboat ever found in southern Britain and was found in Poole harbour during dredging.

City Museum in Winchester has displays about the history of the area from the Iron Age.

Andover Museum of the Iron Age is a small community museum, but the Iron Age section has a wonderful collection of artefacts and reconstructions/dioramas, with lots of information on Danebury Hillfort. There is also information on the occupation of the Test Valley from Neolithic to modern times.

East Anglia

Including Cambridgeshire in East Anglia, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of Cambridge University (MAA) has some great collections of prehistoric artefacts, including tools made by early humans from Olduvai Gorge in east Africa, collections from the Mesolithic site at Star Carr in Yorkshire and an Iron Age mirror from Great Chesterford in Essex.

Flag Fen near Peterborough not only has reconstructed Bronze Age houses but also a museum containing some of the huge number of bronze weapons thrown into the fen from the wooden platform that was revealed in a groundbreaking excavation in the 1980s. Recent excavations nearby at Must Farm uncovered the remains of eight logboats, which are also being conserved at Flag Fen and are regularly on display there.

Peterborough Museum has an archaeology gallery including a prehistoric murder victim and one of the finest Iron Age swords ever found.

Chatteris Museum is nearby to Peterborough and currently has an exhibition of the Ancient Human Occupation of Chatteris including 500,000 year old flint axes and many replica objects that can be handled, including a Bronze Age sword and shield.

Wisbech and Fenland Museum has an archaeology collection including an Iron Age decorated scabbard dating to about 300 BC among many other locally found objects.

Ancient House Museum in Thetford, well-known as a Tudor manor house, also has some objects from nearby Grimes Graves (a Neolithic flint mine that can also be visited) including a polished stone axe and bat bones.

Lynn Museum in King’s Lynn has the wonderful Seahenge on display. You can appreciate the size of this timber circle that was found on the coast of north Norfolk with an upturned oak tree in the centre. Other exhibits include a hoard of Iron Age coins hidden in a cow bone at Sedgeford in Norfolk, a find our director Kim Biddulph saw first hand as it came out of the ground!

Photo courtesy of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Photo courtesy of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Gressenhall Museum near Dereham in Norfolk has a display on the first farmers in the Neolithic. Norwich Castle, in contrast, has a gallery on the Iron Age. Both of these are part of Norfolk Museums.

Colchester Castle in Essex has a great collection of objects relating to the Iron Age oppidum (a type of early town) of Camulodunon, a fore-runner of Roman Camulodunum. Finds from the Lexden burial include a medallion depicting the Emperor Augustus and were given as a gift to a client king in Essex, possibly Cunobelin, whose coins can also be found in the museum. There are earlier objects too, including a beautiful bronze cauldron from Sheepen that attests to a late Bronze Age feasting culture.

Ipswich Museum houses some Iron Age collections as well as a gallery of the wildlife of Britain from 10,000 BC to today – which animals would our prehistoric ancestors have known? Which animals that we are familiar with today are invasive?

Mildenhall Museum near Thetford hosts some impressive Roman and Anglo-Saxon finds, but it also has a gallery of prehistoric artefacts.

East Midlands

Creswell Crags is on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border and is a gorge in which many caves were inhabited, first by Neanderthals about 50,000 years ago and then by modern humans about 10,000 years ago. The only figurative piece of Ice Age portable art in Britain has been found here, and engraved drawings can also be seen inside the caves.

Buxton Museum in Derbyshire is currently closed fgor refurbishment, but has teeth and bones of Ice Age animals from various caves in the county, as well as some human-made artefacts from prehistory.

Jewry Wall in Leicester has extensive archaeology collections including stone tools.

Prehistoric pottery vessels in Charnwood Museum. Photograph courtesy of Leicestershire County Council.

Prehistoric pottery vessels in Charnwood Museum. Photograph courtesy of Leicestershire County Council.

Charnwood Museum in Loughborough includes local objects dating from the Neolithic to the Iron Age such as tools, jewellery, pottery vessels and a chariot fitting.  A rare Bronze Age axe mould is a recent addition to the displays.  Objects buried with the 4000 year old Cossington Boy are included alongside a reconstruction of his burial.

Bronze Age objects on display in Melton Carnegie Museum. Photograph courtesy of Leicestershire County Council.

Bronze Age objects on display in Melton Carnegie Museum. Photograph courtesy of Leicestershire County Council.

Melton Carnegie Museum in Melton Mowbray includes prehistoric objects from the local area including flint and stone tools and beautiful Bronze Age pygmy cup which may have been used in rituals.  Also features the nationally important Bronze Age Welby Hoard of bronze axes, sword, spear, harness fittings a bowl.  The hoard gave its name to a type of axe. Iron Age finds include a gold coin of the local Corieltavi tribe and pottery from the nearby hillfort at Burrough Hill.

Part of the Iron Age Hallaton Treasure to be seen at Harborough Museum. Photograph courtesy of Leicestershire County Council.

Part of the Iron Age Hallaton Treasure to be seen at Harborough Museum. Photograph courtesy of Leicestershire County Council.

Harborough Museum and Market Harborough Library, Market Harborough includes the fantastic Hallaton Treasure (www.leics.gov.uk/treasure) a collection of Late Iron Age and Roman objects buried at a shrine of the local tribe, the Corieltavi, between 50 BC and just after the Roman invasion of AD 43.  See 2500 Iron Age and Roman gold and silver coins, jewellery, a unique silver bowl, ingots, pig bones and a beautiful and rare silver gilt Roman cavalry helmet which make up this amazing discovery.  Also, see some of the earliest pieces of metalwork from Britain – the Gilmorton Basket Ornaments – a pair of gold earrings or hair ornaments from the Copper Age c.2500 BC.  Other prehistoric objects include a rare cannal coal button dating to the Bronze Age and prehistoric pottery.

The Collection in Lincoln has archaeology galleries that cover Stone Age tools, Bronze Age burials and early metals, and Iron Age swords and shield given to the spirits of the River Witham. The Iron Age Fiskerton log boat is also on display there.

The Norris Museum in Huntingdon is a small museum with some lovely prehistoric collections, including Iron Age cart fittings from Arras culture burials.

West Midlands

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery have stone and metal tools, jewellery and weapons in their collections.

The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry has prehistoric objects on display, including some Iron Age metal-working crucibles from the Post Office sorting depot site.

The Market Hall Museum in Warwick is currently closed but will open in 2017 with refurbished displays including some prehistory, especially the giant deer.

The Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent has prehistoric artefacts on display in the archaeology gallery, including prehistoric pottery and early examples of tools and metal-working.

North-east

Yorkshire Museum in York has prehistoric objects on display from flint tools to some of the chariot burials from the Arras culture in the East Riding of Yorkshire. There is also a special exhibition on until 2016 of the Mesolithic objects from Star Carr in After the Ice. In the next two years they will run exhibitions on Bronze Age and Iron Age Yorkshire.

Leeds Museum has displays of Mesolithic and Neolithic flint and stone tools, a Bronze Age jet bead necklace (made from Whitby jet) and both bronze moulds and casts. They also have a partially reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse and artefacts from the Iron Age settlement at Dalton Parlours. These are all in the Leeds Story gallery.

Neolithic carved stone found on Fylingdales Moor. Photo by Graham Lee, North York Moors National Park Authority.

Neolithic carved stone found on Fylingdales Moor. Photo by Graham Lee, North York Moors National Park Authority.

Whitby Museum itself has a collection from the nearby Mesolithic site of Star Carr, Neolithic flint tools, Bronze Age bronze weapons and tools and a copy of one of the Neolithic carved stones from Fylingdales Moor.

Weston Park Museum in Sheffield currently has an exhibition until 20th September 2015 on Life on the Edge, all about life at Creswell Crags in various Ice Ages. Prehistoric objects excavated from South Yorkshire and the Peak District are on display here including  flint implements from Mesolithic sites such as Deepcar and grinding stones used for flour production in Iron Age Wharncliffe.

Tolson Museum in Huddersfield has prehistoric objects on display.

Copies of the Iron Age Roos Carr figures at Dover Museum. The originals are in Hull and East Riding Museum.

Copies of the Iron Age Roos Carr figures at Dover Museum. The originals are in Hull and East Riding Museum.

At Hull & East Riding Museum you can walk through a reconstructed Iron Age village complete with chariot and see the enigmatic Roos Carr figures. There is also the Iron Age Hasholme logboat to see on display.

Scarborough Rotunda displays some archaeological artefacts, as well as Gristhorpe Man, a skeleton buried in a hollowed out tree trunk in the Bronze Age – something qoite common in Denmark but not so much in Britain.

Objects in Ryedale Folk Museum. Photo courtesy of Spencer Carter.

Objects in Ryedale Folk Museum. Photo courtesy of Spencer Carter.

Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole, North Yorkshire, has displays of flint tools and objects from a waterlogged Iron Age sites along with its reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse.

Swaledale Museum in North Yorkshire also has local prehistoric objects.

The Dales Countryside Museum in North Yorkshire has some local prehistoric objects including flint tools from Wensleydale that date back to the end of the last Ice Age around 13,000 years ago.

The Great North Museum: Hancock houses the prehistoric collections from Wearside, including a logboat, cup and ring marked stones, 174 Neolithic stone axes, Bronze Age burials, hoards, tools and weapons.

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens also has prehistoric objects on display.

The Gainford Stone, a slab of rock carved with prehistoric cup and rings patterns, is only one of a number of local prehistoric artefacts to be found in the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle.

Durham University’s Museum of Archaeology houses locally found prehistoric including cup and ring marked stones, microliths made by hunter-gatherers around 7000 BC as well as artefacts from the farming era including jet jewellery, cremation urns from Crawley Edge, Stanhope and a bronze sword from Houghall.

Palace Green Library in Durham will have a new exhibition devoted to the last 10,000 years of Durham from 26th July called Living on the Hills in the Wolfson Gallery.

North-west

Manchester Museum, part of the university, has objects from Alderley Edge in Cheshire, where there was, among other things, a copper mine in the Bronze Age. Some Palaeolithic objects from Creswell Crags in Nottinghamshire are also on show here. There are also bronze hoards from the River Ribble and gold bracelets from Malpas.

The Museum of Liverpool has a gallery called History Detectives which includes some prehistoric objects, including a burial urn from Wavertree that would have contained the burnt bones of someone from the Bronze Age.

Clitheroe Castle Museum has displays about the area’s prehistory as well as history, including burial urns from Pinder Hill.

The Harris Museum in Preston has ancient human and animal bones from the Preston Dock excavations that date back 6000 years, Bronze Age burial urns from the Bleasdale timber Circle and a giant elk from the end of the last Ice Age.

Saddleworth Museum in Oldham has local prehistoric objects on display.

Tullie House in Carlisle has important objects from the Langdale axe factory from which many ground stone axes were distributed across the UK and abroad in the Neolithic period. A Bronze Age display is housed in a replica wooden roundhouse in the Border Galleries.

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/