Stone Age to Iron Age Cantabria, northern Spain, and it’s links to Britain

Spain has its fair share of beautiful heritage, and our director Kim Biddulph and her family found quite a few links between Britain’s and northern Spain’s Stone Age to Iron Age period on a recent visit to the area.

"12 Vista general del techo de polícromos" by Museo de Altamira y D. Rodríguez. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“12 Vista general del techo de polícromos” by Museo de Altamira y D. Rodríguez. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A highlight of the trip was a visit to Altamira cave, or, at least, it’s replica. The ceiling painted with bison and horses is recreated in a purpose built museum next to the actual cave. Many of the bison were painted on natural lumps in the ceiling that made them look 3D. We didn’t have time to visit the other painted caves of the region, but will go back to visit again. The cave art of this area and southern France is spectacular, but Britain has some cave art of its own. Around eighty carvings have been found in caves at Creswell Crags in Nottinghamshire and more at Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, and it’s likely more examples will be found.

One single piece of animal bone incised with an image of a horse was also found at Creswell Crags, one of only a couple of pieces of portable art found in Britain. In Santander Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria (MUPAC), we were blown away by the number and sheer beauty of the images carved on bone, antler and tusk.

We think there must have been communication between Britain and Cantabria in the Stone Age. The reason we’re suggesting a link is that in a museum in Bilbao we saw microliths (small flint flakes) that had come from a Neolithic dolmen, Hirumugarrieta 2, dated to around 2800-3000 BC (thanks to Joseba Rios-Garaizar of Arkeobasque for the link). Microliths (tiny precision made flakes that were used to make composite projectiles or other tools) were a type of flint technology used in the British Mesolithic from around 9000 BC up to 4000 BC (thanks to Spencer Carter for the date check), after which they went out of use, but they were certainly still being made and used in the Cantabrian/Basque Neolithic. Travel between the two could have been by foot in the earlier period but the seas were inexorably rising and then a tsunami in c.6100 BC caused by a landslide in the North Sea finally cut Britain off from the continent (see video below), so the two areas developed their own separate ways. Microlithic technology was invented independently in many different areas, though, (for example in south Asia around 35,000 years ago) so the link between Britain and Cantabria may be illusory.

 

Late Iron Age Cantabrian circular tomb stone

Late Iron Age Cantabrian circular tomb stone

Hillforts also become a thing in the Iron Age, just as in Britain, but one of the distinctive features of Cantabria, and neighbouring Basque country, in the late Iron Age are circular tombstones with distinctive motifs. Burials in general are quite rare in Britain in the Iron Age though there are some local traditions, such as the chariot burials in East Yorkshire.

Looking at the prehistory of another country is really useful to bring out the contrasts and similarities between the two and work out how typical Britain’s prehistoric traditions were. But it also reminds us that there wasn’t really a Britain at all until the seas rose and submerged the land bridge that once tied us to the continent.

Archaeology and prehistory blogroll

Since it’s nearly the end of term, we thought you needed some Christmas reading so we’ve combed the internet for the best and brightest archaeology and prehistory blogs and regift them to you, neatly packaged with pretty ribbons, below. Give us a shout if your favourite blog is not featured, we’ll give it a gander and add it on if we think it’s as awesome as you do.

The reconstructed village at Castell Henllys

The reconstructed village at Castell Henllys

Past Horizons collects news stories about archaeology from around the world and doesn’t just focus on prehistory, but has loads of great articles. Go there first for archaeology news.

Digital Digging, created by Henry Rothwell, is a great place to look at various aspects of archaeology and prehistory. There are three main areas of the website we would recommend.

  • Hillfort map – this will be a complete gazetteer of English, Scottish and Welsh hillforts but as yet only has a few counties online.
  • Digital models. These are not supposed to be complete visualisations of prehistoric monuments but do give a sense of what archaeological features, only found in plan form, could look like 3D
  • Grave goods – this is a great series of interviews with interesting archaeologists and others about what they would like to be buried with. It could start a very interesting discussion in your class!

Guerilla Archaeology is a collective of archaeologists, artists and scientists who are keen to bring the past to life in new ways and spend a lot of time having fun at festivals, as far as we can see *jealous face*. Their pages on shamanism in prehistory are really interesting. That’s the religion box ticked!

The Urban Prehistorian, Kenneth Brophy, is dedicated to finding prehistoric monuments in the least likely of places – the middle of towns and cities. It’s amazing how much there is to find! Maybe you could find something in your local town to visit in the new year.

Not always on prehistory but always with a wealth of sumptuous images and thought-provoking posts, Gavin MacGregor’s heritagelandscapecreativity blog is pretty awesome to read.

If you like a dash of feminism in your archaeology cocktail (and let’s face it, who doesn’t? Seriously, who?), then you’ll love Trowelblazers, collecting stories of awesome women in archaeology, palaeontology and geology.

Stonehenge bauble from English Heritage

Stonehenge bauble from English Heritage

Fun and strangely addictive is Clonehenge, a blog that collects images of replicas of Stonehenge from around the world, and ones made of chips, chocolate and even fish-fingers! Set your students a challenge to try to get their own Stonehenge replica on there!

Mike Pitts is the editor of British Archaeology and particularly interested in Stonehenge and archaeology in the media, plus has some lovely photos on his site, making it very attractive.

To go a little further back in time, you could look at John Hawks’ blog, which is about early human species. Recent posts have been about potentially the earliest art found dating back about 500,000 years and the loss of skin pigmentation as human populations moved north.

The Day of Archaeology happens every year in July. There are loads of blog posts that showcase a day in the life of lots of different types of archaeologists from around the world. Have a browse.

Me in a replica headdress of a possible Mesolithic female shaman from Bad Dürrenberg, Germany, made by James Dilley of Ancient Craft

Me in a replica headdress of a possible Mesolithic female shaman from Bad Dürrenberg, Germany, made by James Dilley of Ancient Craft

Caroline Wickham-Jones is an archaeologist with particular expertise in Mesolithic Scotland and runs a blog simply called Mesolithic, though she does stray into other periods. And why not.

Staying on a Mesolithic theme, the inimitable Spencer Carter runs a blog called Microburin on his work in archaeology and, whenever he can, especially in the Mesolithic of Teesside.

Excavation blogs

Here are a selection of blogs about excavations happening on prehistoric sites around the country, although most are quiet over Christmas but you can read about what they were doing in the glorious summer.

Multimedia

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Prehi/stories podcast with Schools Prehistory’s Kim Biddulph on the Archaeology Podcast Network

And if you don’t feel like reading anything but want a few videos to while away the time, then look no further than Archaeosoup, run by Marc Barkham-Astles. He has videos on just about everything from the Great Orme copper mines in North Wales to the Iron Age chariot burials of Wetwang in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Finally, if you want some soothing audio on an archaeological theme, have a gander at the Archaeology Podcast Network. There you’ll find podcasts on Archaeological Fantasies, Women in Archaeology, and the Archaeology of the Caribbean among others.

Over to you – teachers doing amazing things with the Stone Age to Iron Age topic

In these new blog categories, we want to celebrate when teachers are doing amazing stuff to bring the topic closest to our hearts, Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, to life for their kids.

A few weeks ago, before half-term, we had a quick chat on Twitter with Mr Phillips, who teaches Year 3 at St Ann’s CE Primary School near St Helens in Merseyside. He runs a class blog and has shared some awesome work he and his class have done on the Stone Age to Iron Age.

First up, children did some initial research on tablets and were given topics to flesh out in teams. Each team then became the teachers as they shared their research with the rest of the class. See the full blog post here: Stone Age researchers.

Tying in with practising writing persuasively, the class then wrote adverts to persuade people to buy Stig of the Dump, which they were using as their focus book. “If you like jaw-dropping adventure, then we have got the book for you!” We agree on our book review of Stig. See the school’s full blog post here: Stig of the Dump adverts.

Inspired by Horrible Histories, Year 3 then did some research about the Iron Age and made their own Celtic raps. We love the lyrics!

Heads hang down from our belts,

You’re the losers and we’re the Celts!

See the full blog post here: Celtic Rap!

Are you doing amazing things with your class on this topic? Tell us about it and get featured here!

New survey open for teachers on Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age

Right when we began Schools Prehistory we ran a small survey of teachers to find out what was being planned and what teachers wanted support with. Way back in 2013, many teachers didn’t even know whether they’d be required to teach Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Now, teaching has begun. We’ve been pretty quiet here mainly because we’ve been so busy writing resources on this very topic, for the British Museum and the Hamilton Trust, teaching workshops, for instance at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, and making loads of replica artefacts to send you to use in the classroom.

Our director Kim at the Stone Age camp at the Chiltern Open Air Museum

Our director Kim at the Stone Age camp at the Chiltern Open Air Museum

Ice Age spray paint

Ice Age spray paint

We’ve been trying to make sure we have gathered lots of resources for you to use here on our blog, and we’d like to know what you’ve decided to use in your teaching – and whether you’ve found something we haven’t. Please, if you’re teaching this topic, let us know what you’re planning to do via our survey on Survey Monkey and we’ll share results in a couple of weeks.

Training day on 19th June in Aylesbury

Our first training day took place on 19th June at Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury. We welcomed eleven delegates from schools and museums and ran three workshops on using pictures to teach prehistory, becoming familiar with objects and some of the practical activities that can be demonstrated to children or done with them.

We had a lot of fun and have had some valuable feedback, both complimentary and with ideas for improvement, so we’ll work on that. Some of the positive feedback includes:

“Has given me the confidence to go away and plan a session.”

“I haven’t had to teach this topic before. (I’ll) make a more detailed timeline which begins a lot earlier!”

“Knowing more about the objects makes the whole period so much more interesting. Useful to see the tools mounted on their handles.”

“Seeing the flint tool made very quickly – really interesting.”

“Gave me rough outline + ideas for how to plan/where to get resources/where to go on trips.”

Here are some images from the day.

Delegates at the training day - great venue

Delegates at the training day – great venue

Graham from Sun Jester brought in a replica handaxe (underneath) and an original that had broken in half

Graham from Sun Jester brought in a replica handaxe (underneath) and an original that had broken in half

James from Ancient Craft demonstrating how a bow drill creates an ember from which you can start a fire

James from Ancient Craft demonstrating how a bow drill creates an ember from which you can start a fire

Stonehenge lessons completed and ready to order

Very exciting news! We have finished the first set of lessons for you to order! Go over to our lesson plan page to see how you can order and be amazed at the low-low prices! The first lesson is free, for one thing!

The set of lessons is about Stonehenge as that’s what we thought a lot of teachers would be interested in teaching. Stonehenge is pretty well known, after all. Obviously, Stonehenge itself is getting geared up for teaching visiting groups.

We are getting interesting feedback, though, that teachers want to know about their local prehistoric sites. We’ve got some advice for researching your local prehistory.

Here’s a taster of what’s in the Stonehenge lessons, which include slides, teacher’s notes, lesson plans and worksheets. They’ll all be supplied as PDFs.

stonehenge portfolio copy

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!

Stonehenge: a new dawn for education groups

Susan Greaney has been very busy for the past few years, as Senior Properties Historian for English Heritage, on the interpretation for the new visitor’s centre at Stonehenge, which was launched last year just in time for the important winter solstice. Here she tells us what awaits visiting schools to Britain’s most iconic prehistoric monument.

You may have seen in the news that the Stonehenge visitor centre has now opened to the public. Housing a fantastic exhibition, an indoor café and a shop, this building has transformed the experience of all our visitors.

For the first time there are also high-quality facilities for schools and education groups, making a visit to Stonehenge easy, informative and hopefully inspiring! A fully equipped education room is available both for free self-led visits as well as Discovery Visits, led by our experts. Opening for bookings from this week, the new space has its own toilets, bag storage and interactive whiteboard.

Groups can find out more about Stonehenge in the extensive exhibition gallery, where for the first time archaeological objects from the World Heritage Site are on display. A variety of films, models and displays, as well as a changing temporary exhibition, help to tell the story of the unique monument and its surrounding prehistoric landscape. From Easter 2014 the reconstructed Neolithic houses in the outdoor gallery will also be built and available for education groups to use.

A school group getting closer to the stones

A school group getting closer to the stones

Our new Discovery Visit ‘Neolithic Life’ will explore how people lived at the time of Stonehenge, with pupils able take part in a number of hands-on activities such as cookery, fence building and rope making. As well as exploring how, why and when Stonehenge was built, the visit encourages pupils to use enquiry skills to investigate why Stonehenge and the surrounding area was so important in prehistory. This session will be available from 6th May and you will be able to book from mid-March.

With prehistory on the primary curriculum for the first time, now is the perfect time to bring your school to Stonehenge. More information about the facilities available, online resources and how to book can be found on the English Heritage website.

The prehistory of Christmas

If you’re planning your 2014 history curriculum soon and thinking of teaching Stone Age to Iron Age Britain in the autumn term, fear not about tying it in with Christmas. There are loads of ways in which you can use Christmas to discuss prehistoric life and ways of seeing the world.

The entrance to Newgrange. Note the 'roofbox' that would let light in at midwinter sunrise. By Superchilum (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The entrance to Newgrange. Note the ‘roofbox’ that would let light in at midwinter sunrise. By Superchilum (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas is placed very close to the midwinter solstice. Many Neolithic (new Stone Age) monuments are aligned on the midwinter sunrise or sunset and so it is likely that there were ceremonies held around this time to ensure the coming of spring. Monuments with this alignment include Maes Howe on Orkney, Newgrange at Brú na Bóinne in Ireland and, of course, Stonehenge. The rites may have involved some kind of sacrifice, an altogether bloodier affair than modern druidical get-togethers.

Much of the rest of the links to Christmas traditions are very much based on supposition from later traditions and educated guesses about the way people used to live. Sometimes there’s not always the evidence available to support these suppositions.

Fire is still used in the Up Helly Aa midwinter festival in the Shetland Islands. Based on Viking traditions, these would have stretched back into the Iron Age. The idea of bringing light to the darkest time of year cannot have been difficult to come up with in prehistory, as in later centuries. Bronze Age burnt mounds spring to mind, such as those found at Bradley Fen, Whittesley in Cambridgshire. These were placed on the edge of the fen, just on dry ground. Burnt mounds are a mass of cracked and burned flint pebbles, usually next to a water trough or natural watercourse, and often associated with animal bones. Light and feasting were clearly part of the prehistoric ritual year, but was it at midwinter? Archaeologists aren’t sure.

Iron Age quadrangular pillar from Pfalzfeld, Germany. The faces are crowned with mistletoe leaves. By w:de:Sozi, Sozi (photographed by myself, V2/4) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Iron Age quadrangular pillar from Pfalzfeld, Germany. The faces are crowned with mistletoe leaves. By w:de:Sozi, Sozi (photographed by myself, V2/4) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The tradition of bringing greenery into the home has a very long history, too. What could be more of a symbol of fertility and the promise of the return of spring than an evergreen, whether that’s holly, ivy or a pine tree? Despite the lyrics of the song, holly and ivy have very little to do with celebrating the birth of Christ. Another evergreen is known to have been of importance to Iron Age druids: mistletoe. Whether you use Asterix or Caesar as your source, it’s clearly documented that druids collected mistletoe for use in their ceremonies, along with sacrifice, and there is mistletoe iconography in Celtic art on the continent.

Gift-giving would have been a regular occurence in prehistory, used to negotiate social relationships between peers, and between the more and less powerful. Much of what we see as ‘trade’ would actually have been gift exchange. If communities are getting together for midwinter ceremonies, gifts are bound to be given and received.

Decorated Saami drum used by shamans. The world is divided into three layers. The upper world related to sky - there's clearly a reindeer up there! By Christopher Forster and Tor Gjerde (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Decorated Saami drum used by shamans. The world is divided into three layers. The upper world related to sky – there’s clearly a reindeer up there! By Christopher Forster and Tor Gjerde (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ethnographic evidence is not terribly fashionable at the moment, but it seems relatively acceptable to look to the traditions of the Saami (previously known as Laps) in northern Norway and Sweden. Some Saami continue their ages old semi-nomadic way of life herding reindeer. They were forcibly converted to Christianity in the 17th century, but a great deal of information exists about their pre-Christian traditions, which include flying reindeer pulling a supernatural being behind them. Remind you of anyone?

The Christmas story is, of course, very much embedded in this midwinter mixture (which also includes many aspects of pagan Roman Saturnalia). Exploring the pre-existing traditions that it was introduced into would give pupils a really rounded view of why we do what we do at this time of year.

References

Aldhouse-Green, M 2005. The Quest for the Shaman. Thames & Hudson, London.

Green, M 1997. Exploring the World of the Druids. Thames and Hudson, London.

Pryor, F 2003. Britain BC. Harper Perennial, London.

Schools Prehistory’s Edward Biddulph is elected FSA

It’s a particularly exciting time here at Schools Prehistory as our very own Edward Biddulph has just been elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries! For those of you who have a copy of our History of Prehistory information booklet, you will know that the Society of Antiquaries was established in 1707 as an offshoot of the Royal Society specifically for men who were interested in the ancient past of Britain.

To be elected you have to be ‘excelling in the knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other nations’. The process is quite lengthy and involves sourcing at least five existing Fellows who can write in support of your initial proposal, also by an existing Fellow. It then goes to ballot to the whole Fellowship of the Society and as long as you don’t get too many ‘no’ votes, you’re in!

Edward is, naturally, thrilled to be joining the ranks of such an exalted crowd that has included William Stukeley, Augustus Pitt Rivers, Mortimer and Tessa Wheeler and, more recently, Michael Fulford, Barry Cunliffe and our own academic advisor, Francis Pryor. We’re also thrilled for him. Well done Edward Biddulph BA(Hons) MA MIFA FSA!

Edward Biddulph with a mug of tea with the letters FSA on it

This has not been photoshopped, honest