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.


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

What do you know? Survey on teaching Stone Age to Iron Age Britain

The new National Curriculum document suggests a couple of topics for teachers to plan, but it’s not very encouraging as there’s a glaring error in the very first. “Late Neolithic hunter-gatherers” should read “Late Mesolithic hunter-gatherers”. By the late Neolithic, around 3000 – 2200 BC, people were practising pastoral farming, mainly with cattle, although they did also hunt and gather some food too. But it’s the Mesolithic (c. 8000-4500 BC) and earlier where we think of the people as being primarily hunter-gatherers.

NC_detailAlso, to say that Stonehenge reflects Bronze Age religion ignores completely anything in that landscape other than the erection of the stones, which was one of the last things to happen on Salisbury Plain.

It’s difficult to know exactly what primary school teachers already know about the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, and therefore what they might want help with. We have made a start with some teacher’s information booklets, and we’re planning to write off the shelf lesson plans, but is there anything else that could be useful?

With this in mind, we’ve created a survey to find out what teachers are planning and what kind of support they’re looking for. If you have time, please complete the survey.

We’re here to help teach Stone Age to Iron Age Britain

Teachers are facing a lot of changes at the moment. We’re trying to help make it easier to deliver some of the new primary history curriculum by creating lesson plans, writing teacher information booklets and delivering teacher training on prehistory.

A selection of flint tools from the Stone Age

A selection of stone tools from the Stone Age

Prehistory is a huge time period. Up to now pupils have learned about the last 2000 years in school, with a little bit about Ancient Egypt and/or Greece thrown in to take it back maybe to about 3000 BC. This is a tiny percentage of the immensity of human history, which stretches back a couple of million years and in Britain, about 850,000 years. This is a huge job for teachers to take on. Which bits to teach? Which bits to leave out?

Archaeologists are over the moon that prehistory will finally be taught in primary schools, and Schools Prehistory have been fielding loads of interest from the archaeological world in the development of the curriculum. It comes on top of many years when archaeological graduates have not been accepted onto teacher training courses as not having a relevant qualification for teaching. Well, they do now.

scrapbook 002

Reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse

We hope to make it as easy as possible for teachers who have very little knowledge of prehistory to teach it to young children. But we also want to equip teachers with the most up to date information about the study of prehistory, which is a very dynamic field, and about the history of the discipline, which is useful to discuss changing interpretations of the remote past. In the case of prehistory, you have to know something about its development to understand the basic division of Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

Prehistory can only be investigated through archaeology, as, by definition, there are no historical records (though sometimes literate societies wrote about pre-literate ones). A knowledge about how archaeology works, how sites get found, and what scientific methods are used to record and study them will also be quite useful to the teacher charged with developing a term’s work on prehistory.

What’s particularly wonderful about studying prehistory is that there will be local sites that you can visit. Each county has a database of all these sites, known as a Historic Environment Record, and will be only too pleased to get enquiries from schools who want to find their local barrow or cairn, hillfort or mine. They’ll have reports on what is known about the site and pictures too.

Cholesbury Hillfort

Cholesbury Hillfort

This blog will be for sharing free resources; places to visit; case studies; exciting projects and information about people working in the field. Your feedback will help shape the blog, and the rest of the website.