Archaeology, Algebra and the Iron Age

Thanks to Trudie Cole of Poole Museum for this guest blog on using archaeology as a vehicle for teaching maths.

The introduction of prehistory in the history curriculum was great news for us here at Poole Museum, as we have a lot of archaeologists on the team. However, the elephant in the room was the increased focus on standards in maths and English. With such a crowded curriculum focused towards raising standards in these two subjects how could we realistically expect pushed teachers to develop new and interesting prehistory work?

The answer was fairly simple: look for ways where archaeology can help deliver across these core subjects. And actually, a quick review of the maths curriculum revealed lots of opportunities. There is a lot more content (so much that any realistic aim to cover it has to stretch out into other subjects), but there is also an emphasis on mathematical skills and developing reasoning and problem solving. The curriculum even explicitly mentions practicing maths in real life situations. It also talks about how maths should be taught through discussion and language and socially. To me, this sounds very much like social constructivism, which is a natural home for archaeological education.

The plan of the roundhouse excavated on Bearwood School grounds

The plan of the roundhouse excavated near Bearwood School

In all honesty, I didn’t make these connections on my own. I have been working closely with the staff at Bearwood Primary and Nursery School and their visionary Head Teacher, Laura Bennett. Laura saw the potential for developing maths teaching and learning through an archaeology project, which gave us at Poole Museum, a green light and the support to go ahead.

Another fortunate piece in the puzzle is that Bearwood School is located in an area of high archaeological activity, although this is not well known. In the fields adjacent to the school, excavations in the 1980s revealed intensive settlement from the Neolithic until the Roman period, including an Iron Age roundhouse.

The roof timbers of the Bearwood School roundhouse

The roof timbers of the Bearwood School roundhouse

In discussion with school staff we decided to build a roundhouse on the school field. Many other people have built roundhouses, including within schools and with children and communities. So we knew we were doing something achievable. What would be unique about this project was the explicit link to children’s maths work.

We started planning early on and involved children from the school on the steering group. Early work included identifying sources of funding and applying for grants. Alongside this, museum staff worked with teachers to explore cross curricular links and how to bring various maths topics to be covered into the project. The aim was to really inspire the children and give them real life opportunities for problem solving.

Building the skeleton of the house from coppiced materials

Building the skeleton of the house from coppiced materials

Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund we had the money we needed to go ahead. We coppiced some materials ourselves (museum staff, parents and children) and bought other supplies we needed. We built the skeleton of the roundhouse using manpower from the school staff, children, parents and the community. We employed a thatcher to thatch the roof. Children from the school daubed the walls.

The build was a lot of fun and engaged everyone involved with active problem solving. You can find out more about the build, what we did and how we did it on the Poole Museum learning blog.

Stories being told inside the roundhouse at the school's summer fair

Stories being told inside the roundhouse at the school’s summer fair

We held a community day to tell people about the project and gather memories of the local area. The school summer fayre was dedicated to the project and provided a showcase for the children to display their work.

A teacher’s pack will be released shortly with lots of the lesson plans that the teachers at the school used throughout the project. There will be more information on the Bearwood School website.

The finished roundhouse

The finished roundhouse

What is particularly exciting about the project is that it has initiated a sea change in how staff at the school plan and teach. Our research indicates that many schools take a cross-curricular approach to subject delivery, but still teach maths separately. However, what our project has shown is that maths can be delivered in this way and not only is it possible, but it helps with coverage and creates an inspiring context for problem solving.

Laura Bennett and myself are really keen to develop the approach and share what we have learned. Please get in contact if you would like to find out more (t.cole@poole.gov.uk).

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!

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

In honour of Yorkshire Day, 1st August, we’re starting a new category of blog post here on Schools Prehistory – the county round-up. Although schools aren’t all tied in to their local authority quite so much, the county is an easy way to divide up the country into local areas, so here goes.

Yorkshire has some amazing archaeology from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. One of the most famous sites is Star Carr in the Vale of Pickering in North Yorkshire. It dates to the early Mesolithic, just after the end of the last Ice Age around 9000 BC. We’ve shared some resources about this before, but the main sites are Star Carr project and Spencer Carter’s Microburin blog for general Mesolithic goodness. Star Carr could be used as the hunter-gatherer site to contrast with the farmers at Skara Brae.

The spectacular Neolithic (late Stone Age) to Early Bronze Age henges (embanked circular enclosures without stone circles) at Thornborough in North Yorkshire are the largest such complex outside Wiltshire. We talked about Thornborough when we discussed the north-south divide in prehistoric archaeology. There’s more information about the henges and past research from the University of Newcastle. They could be studied for Stone Age to Bronze Age religion.

Three Thornborough Henges seen from the air. By Tony Newbould [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Three Thornborough Henges seen from the air. By Tony Newbould [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Yorkshire, and indeed much of the north and Scotland, is littered with rock art, which is mostly considered to be Bronze Age. Cups, circles and spirals were cut into stones all over, and can be seen in woods, on moors and even in public parks, like Crowgill Park in Shipley, West Yorkshire. The best way to find some rock art near you is to look on the Northern Antiquarian blog, or on the Megalithic Portal, which is a wiki that anyone with an interest can add to. What the rock art meant is not known, though it could be to do with travel (as waymarkers?) or religion.

Several logboats that might date to the Bronze or Iron Ages have been found in Yorkshire, the Ferriby boats on the north bank of the Humber being the most famous. Obviously good for studying Bronze Age travel and trade, they could also be used to look at technology. How can you make a hollowed-out log float? And how do you fell and shape it with bronze tools? What other ways are there of making a boat e.g. a coracle?

Coracles on the River Teifi, near Cardigan in Wales, 1972. By Velela via Wikimedia Commons.

Coracles on the River Teifi, near Cardigan in Wales, 1972. By Velela via Wikimedia Commons.

During the middle to late Iron Age the East Riding of Yorkshire was inhabited by the Parisi tribe who had links to the continent and incorporated one idea from their Gaulish cousins, chariot burials. The wonderfully named village of Wetwang seems to have been the centre for the Arras Culture and the most spectacular burials in Iron Age Britain, like this one of a woman that is now in the British Museum.

Some great museums to visit are:

  • Hull and East Riding Museum to walk through a reconstructed Iron Age village, see the Hasholme logboat, and wonder at what the Roos Carr figures were used for.
  • Ryedale Folk Museum has a reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse and runs school sessions in it.
  • Yorkshire Museum in York currently has an exhibition about Star Carr and will run exhibitions on Bronze Age and Iron Age Yorkshire in the next two years.
  • Scarborough Rotunda Museum has some prehistoric collections on display, including Gristhorpe Man who dates back to the Bronze Age.
  • Malton Museum which also has prehistoric collections and runs school sessions with artefact boxes.

Some great websites to look at include:

The Historic Environment Records, which can be contacted or searched online to find out what prehistoric archaeology is near you are:

Finally, some prehistoric workshop deliverers in Yorkshire include:

Get in touch if there’s a resource or organisation that’s not on the list, or if you want to read or be on a round-up for another county.

It’s amazing what you can pick up…….

Graham Harrison of Sun Jester, a partner of Schools Prehistory, gives us a tantalising glimpse into his handling collection of Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age real and replica artefacts.

After our recent training day at the Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury, I decided to treat my prehistoric tools handling collection to some new storage boxes. As it has expanded over the past fifteen or so years, I’ve ended up with a variety of containers, some not ideally suited to the purpose. I also thought that as I was emptying all the boxes out I’d take the opportunity to sort and re-catalogue the artefacts.

DSCF1750

Where did it all come from? That would take a whole batch of posts to tell!

The picture shows most of the collection, with the exception of some of the bigger items. I’ve also got an antler pick, a hafted bronze axe, a couple of bronze swords, a sword mould, a mammoth rib and bison vertebra! The right hand two thirds of the table are reproductions and the left hand third are original artefacts, by volume it’s about a 50/50 split, but the archaeological artefacts include a lot of smaller items. The plastic bags at the back of the table contain a variety of archaeological material, mostly waste flakes and partly worked flint.

Look at our recently created Workshops page to see if you’d like to book Graham or James Dilley of Ancient Craft to come in to your school or museum.

The north/south divide doesn’t apply in prehistory – or does it?

Any teacher that contacts us through Twitter, this site or, indeed, face to face, better be ready to be amazed when we point out some amazing archaeology on their doorstep. We’re so used, today, to all the good stuff being in London and the south-east, that it becomes second nature to believe all the good archaeology is in the south, too.

This error is compounded by the myopia that fixates us on Stonehenge and ‘Wessex’. But it’s been a good twenty years since a change in the planning process has transformed what we know about the rest of the country. The hills of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire were a focus for the two centuries or more before that because there were huge estates of unploughed land there covered in barrows, cursuses and henges.

And because of Planning Policy Guidance Note 16, published in 1990, now transformed into the National Planning Policy Framework (yes, it’s important to know about this, people!), as well as targeted projects, we now have a huge number of exciting sites to shout about in the north and west, and, yes, the south and east of Britain.

Model of Mesolithic house at Mount Sandel, Northern Ireland. By Notafly (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Model of Mesolithic house at Mount Sandel, Northern Ireland. By Notafly (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s take the Mesolithic semi-permanent houses that are cropping up in southern Scotland and northern England (and for this we must thank Spencer Carter of microburin.com for his extensive notes on this and related subjects), e.g. at Howick, Low Hauxley, East Barns and on the Isle of Man, not to mention Star Carr. The Mesolithic was traditionally seen as the nomadic hunter-gatherer stage before people settled down in the Neolithic. With a house that stood for 100 years? Strange kind of nomads.

Not only that, but better understanding of the chronology of sites and artefacts has proved that many innovations moved from north-south rather than the other way round. Grooved Ware, a late Neolithic style of pottery, was first made and used in the Orkneys before spreading around Britain. Cursuses, those enigmatic double-banked linear monuments, seem to have originated in northern Britain and spread south. But they have been investigated in the opposite direction.

Three Thornborough Henges seen from the air. By Tony Newbould [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Three Thornborough Henges seen from the air. By Tony Newbould [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, because the revelation that other parts of Britain mattered too in prehistory is only a recent one, there have been tragedies where vital information has been lost. The Thornborough henges in Yorkshire are three large henges (earthern circular banked monuments) in a row surrounded by a ritual landscape of barrows, pit alignments and another cursus. Sadly for Thornborough, the underlying drift geology is gravel, which needs to be extracted to make roads and driveways and there is ongoing pressure to destroy much of the archaeology around the henges. It would, of course, be recorded, but the henges would be divorced from their wider context.

Of course, it’s not just north/south, but every region of Britain that isn’t Wessex has it’s amazing monuments. And every region has its experts, too. We’ve been gathering names of prehistorians from around the country who will be willing to talk to teachers about their local Stone Age to Iron Age sites. Why not kill two birds with one stone and teach the new prehistory element through the local history study? And get one of our experts on your doorstep to help you plan.

References and further reading

Bradley, R 2007. The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge University Press.

Harding, J 2013. Cult, Religion, and Pilgrimage Archaeological Investigations at the Neolithic and Bronze Age Monument Complex of Thornborough, North Yorkshire. Council for British Archaeology Research Report 174.

One Million Years of the Human Story in Britain

Just before half-term our Director, Kim Biddulph, visited a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London that just might be worth looking at if you’re a teacher planning to teach prehistory for the first time. It is called Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story and is fronted by a pensive Neanderthal model created by artists from the Netherlands. He has a Homo sapiens companion and the character in each is breathtaking.

The exhibition is on until September so it’s a perfect time for teachers to visit and learn about the first million years of human prehistory in Britain. It’s not just a story of two species. As you walk in you are greeted by busts, also by the Kennis brothers, of other human species that visited this part of the world, starting with Homo antecessor, which may have been the human species responsible for leaving muddy footprints on a Norfolk beach 800,000 years ago.

The news about the extreme age of the Happisburgh footprints was released just before the exhibition opened, and there is a section dedicated to this amazing find. What was most incredible to see were some preserved pine cones from the coniferous forest close by at the time these early humans walked across the land bridge from the continent.

The exhibition gives you some idea of how we know what we know about the last million years – mainly it’s from butchered animal bone and the flint tools that did it. There is also the end of a wooden spear found on the foreshore at Clacton in 1911 and thought to date to about 420,000 to 360,000 years ago. Videos along the exhibition give a flavour of different time periods, with new ways of making stone tools coupled with images of the animals they were intended to butcher.

Dipping dark band is burned horizon at Cutting 2, Beeches Pit, Suffolk 1992. © Tim Holt-Wilson

Dipping dark band under the seated person is the earliest hearth in Britain at Cutting 2, Beeches Pit, Suffolk 1992. © Tim Holt-Wilson

One of the most difficult ideas to get your head around is the changing environment over this immense period, and the exhibition tackles this with the videos, images of landscapes and strategically placed taxidermy throughout. The Clacton spear was exhibited alongside the cranium found in a quarry in Swanscombe, Kent, probably that of an early Neanderthal woman. The accompanying video showed the site of the earliest evidence for fire in Britain, around 400,000 years ago at Beeches Pit near West Stow in Suffolk. Britain was a peninsula of Europe for most of the past million years, but was cut off by rising sea levels more than once during this time, the last occasion being about 6000 BC.

But the Neanderthal man and the anatomically modern human man facing each other in the final room is the most amazing sight, and quite touching. Homo sapiens arrived in Europe from Africa to find another human species with white skin living here, and it looks like at least a few of our species interbred with these cousins of ours. Whether we also wiped them out is a matter worth debating with students. How would they feel to meet a member of another human species?

This is where the story ends; the exhibition doesn’t take it into the period when we were the only human species left on the planet. That’s just an addendum to an amazing story of human perseverance, ingenuity and adaptation.

Poems about prehistory – a great way to start or end a unit

Last week we sent a tweet out to teachers who were starting to plan their curriculum next year and working out what to teach about Stone Age to Iron Age Britain. We got a reply from @RobertaWedge.

Here’s a sample of The River’s Tale by Kipling:

But I’d have you know that these waters of mine

Were once a branch of the River Rhine,

When hundreds of miles to the East I went

And England was joined to the Continent.

 

I remember the bat-winged lizard-birds,

The Age of Ice and the mammoth herds,

And the giant tigers that stalked them down

Through Regent’s Park into Camden Town.

This got us thinking that a poem about prehistory would be a great way to start a unit of work about prehistory, or even to end it, and ask pupils to write their own poem. We asked prehistorians on Twitter for some more poems, and this is what they came up with.

A gold lunula from Germany

A gold lunula from Germany. By Michael Gäbler [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

@MatthewPope, a palaeolithic archaeologist at UCL, liked this poem about Bronze Age ornaments at Truro Museum in Cornwall, Three Lunulae by Penelope Shuttle. Here’s a sample:

Gold so thin

only an old woman

would notice its weight

 

Crescent moons of gold

from the sunken district

of the dark,

out of the archaeologist’s earth

 

The women of the lunulae,

threw no barbaric shadows

yet a vivid dance

lit up their bones

Standing stones in Cumbria known as Long Meg and her Daughters

Long Meg and her Daughters. David Medcalf [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

@robhedge, a self-styled flint geek, shared this poem by Wordsworth called The Monument, about the Neolithic stone circle Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumbria.

A weight of awe, not easy to be borne,

Fell suddenly upon my spirit,—cast

From the dread bosom of the unknown past,

When first I saw that family forlorn.

Jonathan Last, also known as @johnnythin, a prehistorian working for English Heritage, brought our attention to Turn by Owen Sheers, a poem about a piece of Ice Age art at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

At first glance no more than an ochre flake,

a skimming stone that might have been picked,

fitting so well as it would

 

into the ‘C’ of thumb and forefinger,

to be launched, a stuttering ellipsis,

into the heart of the river.

 

But look what we’d lose if it had.

This reindeer, alive in the lines

of its haunch, neck and hoof,

 

scratch-shaded above the suggestion of a sheath,

its motionless movement

etched by a burin struck from flint.

We seem to have gone back in time through these poems. How fitting that the next set of poems was collected on his blog by an evolutionary biologist, then, Ross Barnet (Twitter handle @DeepFriedDNA). Here’s a snippet of Fossils by Ogden Nash:

At midnight in the museum hall

The fossils gathered for a ball

There were no drums or saxophones,

But just the clatter of their bones,

A rolling, rattling, carefree circus

Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.

But, we have missed out the Iron Age! To go forward in time to the immediate pre-Roman past, @HenryRothwell promised some hillfort poems. And he came up trumps with this set collected by Susan Scheid on her blog Prufrock’s Dilemma. One of the poems is On Wenlock Edge, about the Wrekin in Shropshire, by A. E. Housman:

The Wrekin. By Russell Corbyn [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Wrekin. By Russell Corbyn [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman At yonder heaving hill would stare:The blood that warms an English yeoman,

The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

 

There, like the wind through woods in riot,

Through him the gale of life blew high;

The tree of man was never quiet:

Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

In a serendipitous moment, archaeologist Gavin MacGregor (@gmacg_1) posted on his blog about new poetry written about Aberdeen’s urban watercourses in a collection called Upstream by Lesley Harrison. One is entitled Prehistory and starts:

land       mass

out         crop

sand      stone

rain       fall

We have made a tour of Britain through these poems, from London to Cornwall to Cumbria and up to Aberdeen. We’ve also had a tour through time, from the Iron Age to the Palaeolithic. Some recurring themes have come up, rivers, animals, dancing, people. What will your pupils write about? I’ll leave you with a section of a poem by Gareth Owen called Miss Creedle Teaches Creative Writing:

Are you imagining a time before you were born?

What does it look like? Is it dark?

(Embryo is a good word you might use.)

Does the music carry you away like a river?

What is the name of the river? Can you smell it?

Foetid is an exciting adjective.

As you float down the river

Perhaps you land on an alien planet.

Tell me what sounds you hear.

If there are indescribable monsters

Tell me what they look like but not now.

(Your book entitled Tackle Pre-History This Way

Will be of assistance here.)

—————————————————-UPDATE—————————————————-

For an anthology of poems on the theme of climate change, Jo Bell, UK Canal Poet Laureate, wrote on the theme of Doggerland, the submerged landscape beneath the North Sea that was once dry land and provided a walkable route from what is now Britain to the mainland European continent. It’s a thought-provoking link to the issue we face today of rising sea levels.

Read the poem on the Guardian website here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/21/a-climate-change-poem-for-today-doggerland-by-jo-bell

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

Francis Pryor on why studying prehistory will be good for kids

Time Team at Friar's Wash Roman temple complex, Hertfordshire.Professor Francis Pryor (right) writes about why it’s great news that kids in England will now be learning about British prehistory.

We all need a sense of perspective if our lives are ever to make any sense. When I was very young I adored dinosaurs and made models of them. By the time I was a teenager that sense of the distant past began to expand, but I could find very little that filled the huge gap – a mere 100 million years, or so – between the Jurassic and our own time, because history began, with a respectful clunk, in 5th century BC Greece. There may have been a mention of the Mycenaeans there somewhere, but certainly there was nothing about Britain, which may as well not have existed. It wasn’t until my university ‘gap’ year that I realised just how advanced British Neolithic culture actually was – and what we know now has truly transformed things, to such an extent, that I would have no hesitation in saying that Britain from about 4000 BC was effectively civilised. Indeed, I would see the birth of modern Britain at around 1500 BC, mid-way through the Bronze Age. By that time the British Isles were cleared of most forest cover; there were field systems and settlements and these were linked together with a national road network, plus a host of local lanes and trackways. There would have been regular crossings of the Channel and North Sea and people living along the Atlantic coastal approaches were in constant touch with communities further north, in Orkney, Shetland and Scandinavia, not to mention the Atlantic shores of France, Spain and Portugal. By the Iron Age Britain had developed its own artistic style, known as Celtic Art, which has a liveliness and robust vigour that still speaks to us, 2300 years later. Indeed, I have heard it said that Celtic Art was Britain’s only original contribution to world art (but that’s a bit hard on the likes of Turner, Constable and Moore). Yet until now this rich story has been ignored by schools and educationalists.

I believe passionately that we’ll only avoid making profound mistakes, with many decades of unfortunate consequences, if we can learn from the past. That’s what I meant when I began this piece with that phrase about ‘a sense of perspective’. In the short-term world of politics, where, we are told a week is a long time, history and the appreciation of historical events, can provide guidance for decision-making, but only if the politicians concerned want to learn. I well remember the despair of many colleagues working on archaeological projects in the Middle East, when Bush and Blair confidently announced their disastrous campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will have to come to terms with the ill-will of the Arab world over the next century, let alone weeks. As mistakes went, that was a big one. But archaeology and prehistory deal with processes rather than events. So the perspectives we bring are longer-term. Maybe the children at primary school who are about to be taught prehistory will be less self-centred and arrogant. And with luck those that eventually become our leaders will have a better sense of their own limitations. With luck…

Find out more about Francis on his blog, http://pryorfrancis.wordpress.com/.