Neolithic chambered tombs to visit in England

Elsewhere we have suggested some reconstructed prehistoric houses and museums to visit to support your topic work on Stone Age to Iron Age Britain, and we thought it’s about time to add some other sites. In the Neolithic in Britain people were sometimes buried inside tombs made of wood or stone that had one or more chambers. These were usually covered with an earthen mound or a cairn of smaller stones, but sometimes these have disappeared, just leaving what is often called a ‘dolmen’ which looks like a stone room with one open side. Here we have tried to collate a list of these chambered tombs and long barrows that are accessible for visitors (i.e. not on private land) across England. The vast majority are free to visit. Do let us know in the comments if you know of a site that we have left off the list.

London

While there were undoubtedly some long barrows in the London area in the Neolithic, many of these will have been destroyed without record in the distant, and sometimes not so distant, past. There are suggested of long barrows (and the later Bronze Age round barrows) in various parks e.g. Richmond, Wimbledon Common, Parliament Hill. None of these are confirmed nor are they very easy to interpret on a visit.

South-East

Whiteleaf Hill kidney-shaped Neolithic mound, Buckinghamshire

The remains of chambered tombs in Kent are generally dolmens, just the stone chamber with no covering mound. Examples of these are English Heritage maintained Kit’s Coty House and Little Kit’s Coty House near Aylesford, and National Trust maintained Coldrum near West Malling.

In Buckinghamshire there is Whiteleaf Hill which has a rare kidney-shaped barrow on the top near a wonderful view of the Vale of Aylesbury near Princes Risborough. This had a wooden chamber inside it and when archaeologists dug it up there was only the bones of a foot left inside as the rest had been taken away as the body rotted.

South-West

Entrance to West Kennet long barrow

The south-west of England is littered with long barrows and chambered tombs. There are several long barrows in the landscape around Stonehenge in Wiltshire if you want to combine it with a visit to the stones. Quieter long barrows in Wiltshire to visit are West Kennett long barrow (which can be combined with a visit to Avebury stone circle) the National Trust’s White Barrow near Tilshead.

In Dorset there are a couple of publicly accessibly long barrows, though you can’t go inside. These are the barrows on Thickthorn Down near Blandford Forum at the end of the Dorset cursus, another Neolithic monument, and further south, near Abbotsbury, the Grey Mare and her Colts in which the stones of the chamber are now exposed as the mound has been eroded.

There are a number of long barrows in Gloucestershire that are easily accessible as they are maintained by English Heritage. These include Hetty Pegler’s Tump, otherwise known as Uley long barrow, and Nympsfield long barrow near Dursley. There is also Belas Knap chambered tomb near Winchcombe. Gloucestershire County Council looks after Windmill Tump long barrow near Rodmarton which has a false entrance.

Near Wellow in Somerset you can find Stoney Littleton chambered tomb which is accessible by public footpath.

In Herefordshire there is Arthur’s Stone near Dorstone.

In Devon there is another dolmen called Spinster’s Rock in the north-eastern part of Dartmoor.

The Long Stone at Mottistone, Isle of Wight

In Cornwall there are plenty of dolmens, the remains of just the chamber of the long barrows, such as Trethevy Quoit, near St Cleer. Other sites are Chun Quoit, Lanyon Quoit and Zennor Quoit, all accessible via public footpaths. Some of the burial chambers may have continued into the Bronze Age, such as those looked after by English Heritage: Ballowall near St Just and Tregiffian near St Buryan.

Bant’s Carn Burial Chamber on the Isles of Scilly may also be Bronze Age, like Innisidgen and Porth Hellick Down.

There is a large standing stone at Mottistone on the Isle of Wight that is accessible from a public footpath and it was the entrance stone to a long barrow.

West Midlands

Whispering Knights, the remains of a chambered tomb at the Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones in Warwickshire are a complex of standing stones and the remains of a chambered tomb. Each part of the complex has a place in a later folk tale, and the stones that were once covered by a long barrow are known as the Whispering Knights.

Though Oxfordshire can, of course, be counted among the south-west we have included it here. Wayland’s Smithy is a chambered tomb that has lost some of its covering mound, but is still great to visit. It is associated with a Saxon myth of Wayland the Smith.

East Midlands and East Anglia

In Derbyshire, there is a denuded chamber of a long barrow at Five Wells near Taddington; and at Minninglow near Royston Grange is an interesting site with a partially denuded chambered tomb, some of the chambers still having capstones and some not.

There are a number of long barrows known in Lincolnshire but many of these are inaccessible, and there are not so many elsewhere in the East Midlands or East Anglia. There is an overgrown long barrow in Beacon Plantation near Swaby; three long barrows called Giant’s Hills are accessible by public footpath near Skendleby.

There is a long barrow next to a footpath south of Melbourn in Cambridgeshire, although this is quite overgrown.

There is also a long barrow on Therfield Heath in Hertfordshire.

Near Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, on Sutton Common, is the remains of a Neolithic long barrow.

In Norfolk the only accessible long barrow seems to be on Broome Heath.

North-East

There are a number of known Neolithic long or round barrows in the north-east, and here are the ones that are most impressive to see and most accessible: Willie Howe near Burton Fleming, another at Wold Newton, and one at Etton Wold, all in the East Riding; and Duggleby Howe near Kirby Grindalythe in North Yorkshire.

There are not many well-preserved visitable long barrows or chambered tombs in Northumbria, but there is a possible one in High Park within Auckland Park in Bishop Auckland.

North-West

The Bridestones near Congleton in Cheshire are the remains of the stone chamber of a Neolithic chambered tomb and can be found along a public footpath.

At Pikestones on Anglezarke Moor north of Horwich in Lancashire are the stones of a chambered tomb.

Near Penrith in Cumbria is a pair of Neolithic long cairns at Mossthorn.

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

Somerset is a county of different landscapes, including the boggy areas of the Levels and the hills of the Mendips or Quantocks, Exmoor National Park as well as having a stretch of coastline. There are also many caves, which preserve remains from many periods. It has some very interesting archaeology from all periods, into the Roman period at the city of Bath and medieval occupation at Glastonbury Tor.

Some of the main sites in chronological order are:

  • Cheddar Gorge, By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29721907

    Cheddar Gorge – there is evidence of cannibalism from Gough’s Cave in the late Upper Palaeolithic, about 14,700 BP. Three skulls, one of a three-year-old child, were turned into cups and some bones were clearly butchered. It is unknown whether this was done out of desperation or for ritual purposes (Bello et al 2011). There’s also a possible engraving of a mammoth in Gough’s Cave (Mullan et al 2006). Cheddar Man, also buried in Gough’s Cave, is later in date (7150 BC – in the Mesolithic) and was not cannibalised. Remarkably, his DNA was sequenced and a descendant was found teaching in a local secondary school!

  • Aveline’s Hole – near Burrington Combe on the north side of the Mendips is a series of caves, and Aveline’s Hole may have the remains of Mesolithic engravings on its walls (Mullan & Wilson 2004). It certainly did have the remains of maybe 50 Mesolithic people buried there (Schulting & Wysocki 2002), which is an exceptionally rare thing in Britain.
  • The Sweet Track in the Somerset Levels was constructed in the winter of 3807 or the spring of 3806 BC. This precise date comes from the tree-ring dating sequence of the timbers used to construct the track that were preserved in the boggy earth (Hillam et al 1990). It seems to have been underlain by and be a replacement of another track, known as the Post Track, at 3838 BC.
  • Stanton Drew stone circle By Steinsky – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31802

    A number of stone circles at Stanton Drew probably date to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. There are three stone circles, the Great Circle second only in diameter to Avebury, an Avenue to the river Chew and a number of outlying standing stones, including a Cove, similar to Avebury and overlying an earlier burial chamber. Geophysical survey has shown there were many timber circles there, similar to Woodhenge and the Sanctuary in Wiltshire (Oswin & Richards 2011).

  • Standing stones are also known from Exmoor, as well as the remains of stone walls of circular houses from the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
  • Earlier Bronze Age round barrows covering burials are found in many places in Somerset, for instance on the Brean Down peninsula south of Weston-super-Mare. A hillfort was also constructed on this peninsula in the Iron Age (Bell 1990).
  • Glastonbury Lake Village was an artificial island, often called a crannog, in the Somerset Levels and was occupied around 250 BC with up to 18 houses and possibly about 200 people.
  • The largest hillfort in Britain is in Somerset at Ham Hill. Recent excavations revealed the bodies of hundreds of people who had possibly been slaughtered and defleshed around the time of the Roman invasion.

Some museums and other places to visit in Somerset include:

  • Cheddar Gorge where you can explore the gorge and caves where Palaeolithic cannibals lived.
  • Weston Museum in Weston-super-Mare is currently closed for refurbishment but should be open soon and will have plenty of evidence from prehistoric west Somerset.
  • The Museum of Somerset in Taunton also has some good prehistory collections.
  • The Glastonbury Tribunal, a fifteenth century building, houses the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum.
  • Stanton Drew is on private land but there is public access.
  • You are free to roam Exmoor National Park and the national park also has an education team to help facilitate a visit.
  • Brean Down is National Trust land and so can be easily explored.
  • The Mendips are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with many prehistoric sites to visit.

References

ApSimon, A.M, Donovan, D.T, Taylor, H, 1961. The Stratigraph and Archaeology of the Late Glacial and Post-Glacial Deposits at Brean Down, Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 9 (2), pp67-136.

Bell, M 1990. Brean Down excavations 1983-1987. London, English Heritage.

Bello, S.M, Parfitt, S.A, Stringer, C.B 2011. Earliest Directly-Dated Human Skull-Cups. PLOS Onehttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0017026.

Hillam, J, Groves, C.M, Brown, D.M, Baillie, M.G.L, Coles, J.M & Coles, B.J 1990. Dendrochronology of the English Neolithic. Antiquity 64 (243, pp 210-220.

Meiklejohn, C, Schulting, R, Musgrave, J, Babb, J, Higham, T, Richards, D & Mullan, G 2012. The Aveline’s Hole 9 cranium: a partial solution to a long-standing enigma. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 25 (3), pp 275-294.

Mullan, G.J & Wilson, L.J 2004. A possible Mesolithic engraving in Aveline’s Hole, Burrington Coombe, North Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 23 (2), p75.

Mullan, G.J, Wilson, L.J, Farrant, A.R, Devlin, K 2006. A possible engraving of a mammoth in Gough’s Cave, Cheddar, Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 24 (1), pp 37-47.

Oswin J & Richards, J 2011. Stanton Drew 2010. Geophysical survey and other archaeological investigations. Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society.

Schulting, R & Wysocki, M, 2002. The Mesolithic human skeletal collection from Aveline’s Hole: a preliminary note. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society 22 (3), pp 255-268.

 

 

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

Stonehenge from the Heel Stone

Stonehenge from the Heel Stone

Wiltshire has quite a number of very well-known prehistoric sites (*cough* Stonehenge *cough* Avebury *cough* etc…) but we hope you find something new and useful in this round-up of online resources and places to visit for the county.

The main place to find out about the prehistoric sites in Wiltshire is the Historic Environment Record maintained by the county council. It can be searched online here: Wiltshire Historic Environment Record Advanced Search. Choose a time period and perhaps a place near you and find out what’s on your doorstep.

Some important sites to know about in Wiltshire in chronological order are:

  • Mesolithic occupation at Blick Mead near Amesbury. It’s been in the news a lot lately and a publication is due out soon. It is not the only evidence for Mesolithic occupation in Wiltshire, a settlement was excavated in the 1950s in Downton in south Wiltshire. Neither of these sites, though, are accessible to visit.
  • Three Mesolithic post-holes in the old car park next to Stonehenge, possibly the bases of something like totem poles, though it’s hard to say for sure.
  • Neolithic causewayed enclosures, the earliest type of Neolithic monument possibly used as meeting, market and burial places, are known at Windmill Hill near Avebury and Robin Hood’s Ball near Stonehenge, among others such as Knap Hill near Alton and Figsbury Ring near Firsdown.
  • Entrance to West Kennet long barrow

    Entrance to West Kennet long barrow

    Neolithic long barrows are quite numerous in Wiltshire. All we see is the final monument, which is the relatively uniform long earthen mound, but they all have very different histories, some with wooden and/or stone chambers containing human remains like West Kennet and then the mound, some are mere cenotaphs with no burials beneath, like South Street near Beckhampton.

  • There are two Neolithic cursuses in the county, the Lesser and Greater Cursus north of Stonehenge. Both predate the famous monument by 600 years. They may have been processional routes and the Greater Cursus has a long barrow at one end.
  • The earliest part of the Stonehenge monument is a simple circular ditch with a slight internal bank that was dug around 3000 BC. It was used as a cremation cemetery before the stones arrived 500 years later. A lot of information about Stonehenge can be found on English Heritage’s website.
  • Other henges in the county include Durrington Walls, which is just a couple of miles east of Stonehenge, and was the settlement site of the builders and worshippers at Stonehenge. Information about the most recent excavations can be found on the National Trust website. Next to it is Woodhenge, which is like Stonehenge but was once made of wood (though the little posts in the ground are now concrete). Avebury is the other well-known henge in Wiltshire and it has half a village inside it, so is very accessible.
  • Silbury Hill

    Silbury Hill

    Silbury Hill near Avebury is very imposing alongside the A4 from Bath to London. It is the largest artificial mound in Europe and dates to the late Neolithic. It is not possible to climb it. Legend once had it that it covered the burial of King Arthur, and that a similar, but smaller, mound in the grounds of Marlborough College was that of Merlin, but recent work has confirmed it is of a similar date to Silbury.

  • The Early Bronze Age is visible all over the county in the form of round barrows, many of them near Stonehenge at Winterbourne Stoke roundabout or Normanton Down. There are also the Seorfon round barrows on the A4 between Avebury and Marlborough near the Sanctuary, a Neolithic stone and wood setting. There are pages about the Bush Barrow chieftain who was buried near Stonehenge on the British Museum’s Teaching History in 100 Objects website.
  • Later Bronze Age archaeology is less visible in Wiltshire, and there is very little to see on the ground, but the county gets divided up into field systems around small settlements.
  • The Iron Age sees the rise of hillforts, for instance at Old Sarum near Salisbury (English Heritage has a Teacher’s kit about this site) and many others like Vespasian’s Camp (mistakenly once thought to have been a Roman fort) in Amesbury Park or Sidbury Camp near Tidworth.
  • Rybury Camp Iron Age hillfort near All Cannings overlies a Neolithic causewayed enclosure, so a visit there will cover the Stone Age to Iron Age topic nicely.
  • An enclosed Iron Age settlement known as Little Woodbury was excavated near Salisbury in 1938-9. It can’t be visited now but it’s a well-known site, its importance is explained in this feature from British Archaeology (scroll halfway down the page).

There are several fantastic museums in Wiltshire that are well worth a visit to see some of the finds from these famous monuments.

  • The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes has a permanent display of gold at the time of Stonehenge which includes the burial groups of several people buried around Stonehenge like the Bush Barrow Chieftain and slightly further afield, like the woman of the Golden Barrow from Upton Lovell.
  • The Alexander Keiller Museum is within Avebury henge and stone circle and was first opened by an owner of the site, Alexander Keiller. It has displays of the Stone Age archaeology of the site and nearby places.
  • The Amesbury Archer in Salisbury Museum

    The Amesbury Archer in Salisbury Museum

    Salisbury Museum houses some of the famous burials found in and around Stonehenge, such as the Stonehenge Archer who was killed by arrows in the Early Bronze Age and dumped in the Stonehenge ditch, and the Amesbury Archer, who was buried with ceremony a couple of miles from Stonehenge with the earliest bronze tools known in Britain.

  • Stonehenge has its own museum which contains the remains of the Queen of Stonehenge, among others, a burial group from one of the barrows in the Early Bronze Age Normanton Down barrow cemetery south of Stonehenge. There are also several reconstructed domestic houses based on those excavated at Durrington Walls.

If you think there’s something we missed, please feel free to let us know in the comments.

Long Meg and her Daughters, Cumbria

Long Meg and her Daughters as seen from the air. Simon Ledingham [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Long Meg and her Daughters as seen from the air. Simon Ledingham [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Long Meg and her daughters is a Neolithic stone circle in Cumbria about seven miles north-east of Penrith. It may have had many more stones, but now has 68, and 27 of these are still standing. The ‘daughters’ are the grey stones set in a circle and Long Meg is a 12 foot (3.65m) tall red sandstone monolith that stands just outside the circle to the south-west. She is decorated with pecked spirals and arcs on her eastern face. Long Meg was probably transported a couple of miles from the River Eden or the Lazonby Fells and was erected first, whereas her ‘daughters’ were glacial erratics and put up later. According to local tradition, Long Meg and her daughters were witches who were turned to stone for dancing wildly on the moors on the sabbath. There are many local legends about the stones, including that if Long Meg were ever broken, she would bleed (Burl 1994, 3-6; Soffe & Clare 1988, 552).

Long Meg and her daughters form the sixth largest stone circle in Britain, Ireland and Britanny, 25 times larger than the average stone circle (Burl 1994, 1). It is part of a European megalithic tradition of building large stone monuments that starts in the Neolithic and continues into the earlier Bronze Age. There are several stone circles in Cumbria apart from Long Meg, including Castlerigg, Little Meg, and Swinside. Not many of these stone circles have had a history of excavation, and so it is difficult to pinpoint with much greater accuracy exactly when in the Neolithic or Bronze Age they were constructed and whether they have been rearranged at any point. The eighteenth century antiquarian William Stukeley suggested that Long Meg had been extensively modified within his lifetime, and stones were also moved later in the nineteenth century, so it is possible that the stones are not in their exact original positions (Burl 1994, 4).

Long Meg. PAUL FARMER [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Long Meg. PAUL FARMER [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite this, for many years it has been noted that Long Meg aligns with the midwinter sunset. The two more northerly ‘portal’ stones of the southern entrance align exactly on Long Meg and the midwinter sunset. The spiral motifs carved on Long Meg are thought to reflect the spiral shadow that the sun makes as it passes through the midwinter day (Burl 1994, 8). It is likely that there were two burial cairns in the centre of the circle, possibly built in the Bronze Age and later than the stone circle itself, that were removed by the landowners over the centuries. There are other stone circles known in Cumbria with stone cairns inside, at Gunnerkeld and Burnmoor, for instance (Burl 1994, 4-5; Clare 1975, 6, 10).

Although not visible on the ground, there was an enclosure to the north of the stone circle and a cursus monument (a long processional route flanked by parallel banks and ditches) to the west that leads to (or from) the River Eden. These were found in the 1980s through aerial photography. The enclosure bank and ditch may have been round a settlement that was lived in at the same time as the stone circle was built (Burl 1994, 6; Soffe & Clare 1988, 552). People from the settlement and surrounding areas may have processed along the cursus to from the River Eden to Long Meg and her Daughters at midwinter to “supplicate for the return of summer, light and warmth” (Burl 1994, 10).

Wordsworth was certainly inspired by the stones, writing in his 1822 poem, The monument commonly called Long Meg:

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;

If you are a teacher in Cumbria, you have your own stone circle to teach about and even visit, and don’t have to focus on Stonehenge. There are plenty of other stone circles, rows, single stones or dolmens around the country, too, like the monolith in Rudston churchyard in the East Riding of Yorkshire, stone rows on Dartmoor, and Kit’s Coty in Kent.

References and further information
Burl, A. 2005. A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Burl, H.A.W. 1994. The stone circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters, Little Salkeld. Transactions of Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2nd Series Volume 94, 1-11.
Clare, T. 1975. Some Cumbrian stone circles in perspective. Transactions of Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2nd Series Volume 75, 1-16.
Clare, T. 2007. Prehistoric monuments of the Lake District. Stroud: Tempus.
Soffe, G. & Clare, T. 1988. New evidence of ritual monuments at Long Meg and her Daughters, Cumbria. Antiquity Volume 62 Issue 236, 552-557.

 

 

Celts: art and identity at the British Museum until 31st January 2016

Celts: art and identity at the British Museum

Celts: art and identity at the British Museum

Celts: art and identity exhibition at the British Museum has just started and we made it a couple of days after the grand opening. It charts the development of the European and then insular British art style, mainly in metalwork, from the Iron Age to through the Roman period and into the post-Roman period of Anglo-Saxons, Picts and Gaels. It’s quite refreshing to see the links between these periods rather than to have them rigidly divided. The exhibition then goes on to describe the Celtic revival of the Victorian period and what it means to consider yourself Celtic today.

The word Celt is somewhat problematic for describing the earlier groups of people, as is reflected in the exhibition text from the beginning. The people who lived in Britain didn’t refer to themselves as Celts and the observers from outside Britain didn’t refer to them as Celts either. Greek writers referred to some people on the continental mainland as Celts for a short while. But it was eighteenth and nineteenth century antiquarianism which revealed the lost history of these early periods through sites and finds and labelled them as Celtic. The word is, of course, now used as a cultural self-identified label in Wales, Ireland and Scotland, among other places.

Setting that aside, the objects in the exhibition show a clear development of an artistic style that was widespread in Europe (some of the earlier objects come from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark) in a peculiarly British way in the Roman and post-Roman periods. It would have been good to have seen some of the continental artwork from these later periods to compare and contrast with the British stuff.

Gundestrup Cauldron. By Rosemania (http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosemania/4121249312) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Gundestrup Cauldron. By Rosemania (http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosemania/4121249312) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wonderful and well-known objects from the Iron Age part of the exhibition include the Gundestrup Cauldron, a wonderful feasting vessel made of silver and decorated with panels showing scenes of gods, animals, sacrifice, magic, music and warriors. Although it was found in Denmark, it was probably made in northern France or southern Germany, showing that there were links and movement of objects, and probably people, between these places. What is even more amazing are the animals that may be attempts by Iron Age craftspeople to depict elephants and rhinoceroses from hearsay.

Basse-Yutz flagons. By British_Museum_Basse_Yutz_flagons.jpg: [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Basse-Yutz flagons. By British_Museum_Basse_Yutz_flagons.jpg: [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Links to the Mediterranean world are also clear, with wine flagons dating to about 400 BC from Basse-Yutz in north-eastern France based on Etruscan examples and a lovely Greek painted cup repaired with gold from Kleinaspergle near Stuttgart in Germany that was traded north around the same time. ‘Celtic’ Europe was not as isolated or barbaric as the Ancient Greeks like to make out.

St Chad's Gospel. By The original uploader was Claveyrolas Michel at French Wikipedia (Transferred from fr.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/sa/1.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

St Chad’s Gospel. By The original uploader was Claveyrolas Michel at French Wikipedia (Transferred from fr.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/sa/1.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

The reconstructed Wetwang chariot and the incredible Snettisham hoards of gold and silver torcs are quite spectacular. Throughout the exhibition are also ‘ritual’ objects, including statues of possible deities, such as the two-faced statue from Holzgerlingen in Germany dating to about 500-400 BC through to an altar to Brigantia from Birrens near Glasgow that dates to AD 120-180 and then on to Christian crosses e.g. the Dupplin cross from Strathearn. Despite the conversion to Christianity, the pagan decorative style is still quite apparent, and is seen in St Chad’s Gospels, which is also on display.

Whether you’re teaching Stone Age to Iron Age Britain, Roman Britain or Anglo-Saxons, Picts and Scots, there’s loads to get out of visiting this exhibition. It’s on until 31st January and there are specific school visit sessions (all free), either self-led or with support from the museum’s facilitators.

School workshops on the Stone Age to Iron Age at museums in England

To go alongside our post about museums with prehistoric collections to see, here is a list of museums in England that run workshops on a Stone Age to Iron Age theme. They are grouped by region, again, so hopefully you’ll find somewhere near you. Let us know if you know of a museum near you that runs workshops on prehistory in the comments below. We don’t take any responsibility for the quality of the workshops on offer.

London

The Museum of London at Barbican runs a great overview workshop that involves shadow puppet shows with a story and song for each period in later prehistory, the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. Children then get to handle replica objects as featured in the story, as well as real archaeological objects from London.

The Museum of London’s London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC for short) in Hackney also runs workshops for schools looking at real objects from the Stone Age to Iron Age found in London to find out what they tell us about people’s lives in prehistory.

South-east

scrapbook 004The Chiltern Open Air Museum near Amersham offers a Stone Age workshop (which our director Kim Biddulph developed for them) exploring the skills and lives of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers where children get to make fire, shelters, bramble or nettle cord and pigments. You can then contrast this with a workshop set in the Iron Age roundhouse where children grind wheat, make bread, churn butter and wattle fences.

Luton Culture offers three prehistory sessions either at the Stockwood Discovery Centre or in school. One is object and chronology based, the second looks at the changes from hunter-gatherer to farmer and the third gets the children creating their own prehistoric art using natural pigments and brushes.

St Albans Museum isn’t all about the Romans, they also run a Prehistory Explorers session in local schools where children find out about how archaeologists work and how they piece together evidence about the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

Celtic Harmony are near Hertford and have a reconstructed Iron Age village where children can learn all about life as an ancient Briton. They run a range of workshops where children can become warriors, farmers or hunters

Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford offers a Stone Age to Iron Age workshop that we developed for them! Children will work out from the clues on the timeline what period their collection of objects comes from and then hunt around the museum for objects to help them solve everyday problems using only the materials available to them in either the Stone Age or the Metal Age.

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford runs a workshop on Life in Prehistoric Britain, which gives children chance to handle artefacts and work out what they tell us about people’s lives and then hunt for objects on display in the museum. Children get to make a replica torc and take part in a prehistoric celebration.

The River and Rowing Musuem in Henley on Thames runs a workshop designed for Key Stage 2 pupils that covers the Stone Age to the Iron Age. It gives pupils the opportunity to handle prehistoric artefacts and have a go at cave painting.

Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury currently runs workshops that can be tailored to a time period including the Stone Age, such as exploring the objects from a burial in A Murder Mystery or comparing several time periods of Buckinghamshire in Time Travellers.

Knole Park in Sevenoaks, despite being better known for it’s medieval deer park and Jacobean house, I am reliably informed that they undertake Stone Age to Iron Age outreach sessions in schools and prehistory walks around the grounds.

Dover Museum focus on the Bronze Age as they have the remains of a Bronze Age boat in the museum. They run a drama workshop on Bronze Age community life, or craft workshops making replica boats or pots. They have set days for booking their workshops.

Braintree Museum offers a new Stone Age to Iron Age workshop designed for Key Stages 1 and 2 to carry out a mini dig, and handle archaeological collections. It also provides the opportunity to try some archaeological tools and try cave painting.

Lewes Castle in Sussex runs handling sessions for schools exploring changing technology from Stone to Bronze and all children handle real prehistoric artefacts from the collections.

Banbury Museum have developed a Time Traveler workshop designed for Key Stage 2 that maps changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age by creating a timeline and handling and investigating objects.

South-west

Kresen Kernow offers an innovative Prehistoric Cornwall workshop – free of charge – to schools right across Cornwall. Linked to the National Curriculum it highlights the social and technological changes which can be traced in Cornwall’s unique archaeology. Featuring a handling session and various activities linked to a site near to your school it will take your children on an immersive journey from the Neolithic to the end of the Romano-Cornish period. For more details see: https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/community-and-living/records-archives-and-cornish-studies/learning/formal-education/topics-and-themes/key-stages-1-2/

Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery in Exeter run and Stone Age to Iron Age experience for schools that is led by a storyteller. It gives pupils the opportunity to handle genuine and replica artefacts as well as learning about their local environment. The session culminates in a drama performance.

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery runs a workshop on Bronze Age Dartmoor, focusing on the changes in technology in the Bronze Age, but also includes an overview of prehistory from the Stone Age to the Iron Age.

Salisbury Museum runs two workshops on prehistory. One is focused on the Amesbury Archer, a Bronze Age burial discovered near Stonehenge and now on display in the museum. Children get a chance to handle a replica costume of this person and try on prehistoric outfits themselves. In Surviving the Stone Age children are guided through making a survival game that they then play and see who manages to survive the Stone Age.

Wiltshire Museum in Devizes runs a workshop called Journeys into Prehistoric Wiltshire that get children handling objects found in the county and making replicas to take away.

Andover Museum of the Iron Age

Poole Museum runs a workshop called Changing Societies in which the class is split in two and one experiences life as Stone Age hunter-gatherers while the other tries out the Iron Age farming lifestyle. They then get back together and swap notes.

Andover Museum of the Iron Age runs workshops on life in the nearby Danebury hillfort, looks in depth at one of the burials there and also runs a cross-curricular workshop looking at the materials used in the Iron Age.

East of England

Hoeing the fields

Hoeing the fields at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse in Norfolk runs a Neolithic Britain workshop where children get to recreate a hunt in the woods, try out ploughing with an ard and work with various tools.

 

 

 

 

 

Ipswich Museum in Suffolk offers a workshop called “How did life change during the Stone Age?” During this full-day visit pupils investigate, questions and compare two lifestyles in our prehistoric past. Artefacts, art and role-play bring the distant past to life.

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge offers a multi-sensory prehistory session for schools, with object handling. Contact their outreach organiser via their schools learning web page.

Flag Fen near Peterborough is the site of a Bronze Age settlement and ritual platform on the edge of and going into the fens and is also the home of the Must Farm boats that were found recently. They run two sessions for primary schools, focused on prehistory and archaeology.

East Midlands

Derby Museum and Art Gallery runs Adventures in the Stone Age workshop focusing on how humans survived in Europe 40,000 years ago during the Ice Age and can include an optional make and take activity.

West Midlands

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery runs two prehistoric sessions with one including handling objects and the other providing arts and crafts activities. At Sarehole Mill children can make prehistoric shelters, do some digging and visit a real Bronze Age site.

Heritage Education in Warwickshire offers a day long workshop called Stone Age to Iron Age that they can come and deliver in the classroom. The workshop uses replicas of objects from Heritage and Culture Warwickshire’s archaeology collection.

North-east

Hull and East Riding Museum runs three different workshops on the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

Bronze Age axe head and mould. Image copyright Leeds Museums and Galleries.

At Leeds City Museum you can book a timeline workshop where children become the heads on a timeline of bodies from the Stone Age to the present day to get good chronological understanding. At the Discovery Centre down by the canal, there is a Stone Age to Iron Age workshop in which children can handle archaeological artefacts to find out about the prehistory of Yorkshire.

At Dig in York children get to take part in a mock excavation and discover objects. They can then look at burials and beliefs or houses over time from the Stone Age onwards.

At the Yorkshire Museum in York is a workshop called Prehistoric Progress which lets children explore artefacts from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages and work out what the major technological advances were, as well as do practical activities such as make shelters, pots and jewellery.

The Yorkshire Museum of Farming near York has an Iron Age roundhouse and teachers all about Stone Age and Bronze Age life including hunting, farming and making pottery.

The Bowes Museum in County Durham offers a Stone Age to Iron Age workshop specifically designed for Key Stage 2 pupils.

North-west

The Manchester Museum runs a workshops called The Mystery of the Thunderstone where children learn to excavate and record Stone Age and Roman artefacts to solve the mystery of what the thunderstone is.

At Tullie House in Carlisle children get to handle and record objects, role-play ceremonies inside stone circles with real and replica artefacts, and make their own lunula, a crescent moon shaped neck decoration from the Bronze Age.

Touchstones is a museum and discovery centre in Rochdale and runs Stone Age and Bronze/Iron Age workshops for schools. In the Stone Age workshop children make paint and pottery, and in the Bronze/Iron Age workshop they learn about making houses and weaving. They also offer an outreach session in schools and loan boxes of real and replica objects.

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.

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.

People in prehistory were not stupid

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

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

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

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

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

Replica Neolithic pot

Replica Neolithic pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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*UPDATE*

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