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

ubpOur director, Kim Biddulph, has lived in Buckinghamshire for over ten years so knows a thing of two about the prehistory of this county. In fact, many years ago she worked on a project to get the county’s archaeological database, held by the county council, online with added imaged and teaching resources. Today you can find it at Unlocking Buckinghamshire’s Past. Search by parish, time period or type of site to find some prehistory near you. Look at the teaching packs to find loads of ideas on teaching archaeological skills in the classroom and look how the landscape of Buckinghamshire has changed over time. There are also round-ups on the website of main sites for each period. The website is maintained by the Buckinghamshire Historic Environment Service, who would be happy to supply images and more information on the prehistory of the county.

Boddington Hillfort

Boddington Hillfort

Some important sites to know about in Buckinghamshire are:

  • Mesolithic (Stone Age hunter-gatherer) camps found along the Colne and Chess valleys, for instance East Street and Stratford’s Yard, Chesham and the Sanderson Factory Site, Denham.
  • Neolithic kidney-shaped barrow at Whiteleaf Hill above what is probably a post-medieval chalk-cut cross. It is in a nature reserve and is readily accessible by foot with a nearby car park.
  • Massive Neolithic to Iron Age waterlogged landscape along the Thames at Dorney excavated for the Eton Rowing Lake.
  • Many Early Bronze Age round barrows preserved on the top of the Chilterns, e.g. Beacon Hill in Ellesborough, but only because the ones in the valleys have been ploughed flat.
  • Later Bronze Age roundhouse and settlement at the Blue Bridge in Milton Keynes.
  • Later Bronze Age or Iron Age territorial boundaries, often called Grim’s Ditch, for instance this section in Park Wood, Bradenham (just behind old Bomber Command).
  • Later Bronze Age and Iron Age hillforts are dotted among the Chiltern hills. Many of these are publicly accessible, from Pulpit Hill near Princes Risborough to Ivinghoe Beacon to Cholesbury.

One prehistoric feature that is actually a myth is the Icknield Way. Ridgeway paths like this one were all the rage in mid-twentieth century archaeological theory, but it has become clear that the majority of settlement and activity happened in the river valleys and that rivers were probably the main routeways through the landscape. Plus there are Iron Age roads at Aston Clinton that cut across at right-angles the supposed line of the Icknield Way along which no roadway was found. See Harrison, S. 2003. ‘The Icknield Way: Some Queries’, Archaeological Journal 160.

Replica Iron Age roundhouse at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. Photograph by Kim Biddulph.

Replica Iron Age roundhouse at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. Photograph by Kim Biddulph.

There are a few museums to visit in Buckinghamshire to learn about the prehistory of the county.

  • We have worked with the Chiltern Open Air Museum to develop their Stone Age workshop, they had an existing Iron Age workshop in their replica roundhouse and they have also developed an archaeological dig workshop.
  • Buckinghamshire County Museum has some awesome Iron Age objects on display in their galleries including a hoard of gold coins found near Buckingham and a beautiful mirror found in Dorton.
  • Milton Keynes Museum has a small display on prehistory which they intend to expand.

IllusCoverSome useful publications on the prehistory of the county are published by the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society. The most useful for teachers would be An Illustrated History of Early Buckinghamshire, which can be ordered from their website.

Other archaeological societies and organisations in Buckinghamshire that could be of help are:

If we’ve forgotten anything, do let us know!

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

Several weeks ago we took a trip to Devon and had a great time getting to know its prehistory. Teachers in Devon are spoiled rotten with amazing places to talk about or visit. Here are a few of them.

Devon is blessed with the site of the earliest piece of anatomically modern human (Homo sapiens) from Europe. The verdict is out on exactly how old it is, but it seems likely to date to about 40,000 years ago. It is a piece of jawbone and was found in Kents Cavern in Torquay. It was excavated in 1927 and found in a layer filled with bones of Ice Age animals such as wolves, deer, cave bear and woolly rhino. Schools can visit the cave to find out more about the Stone Age.

Tableau of life in the cave at Kents Cavern

Tableau of life in the cave at Kents Cavern

Display about a basket made of lime bast from Whitehorse Hill at Plymouth Museum

Display about a basket made of lime bast from Whitehorse Hill at Plymouth Museum

The cusp of the Stone and Bronze Ages can be explored by learning more about Dartmoor and the various hut circles, cairns and stone rows up there. In the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age (e.g. 3000-1500 BC) the moor was the focus of religious and funerary activity with the creation of the stone rows and circles, as well as burials under round barrows (mounds of earth), cairns (mounds of stone) and in cists (stone boxes) buried in the peat. Once such cist has recently been excavated, at Whitehorse Hill, and dates to around 2000 BC. It’s on display at Plymouth Museum until 13th December and we plan to go back and see it ourselves. Burial in the peat means lots of organic material, that would otherwise have rotted, has been preserved, including a bracelet made of woven vegetable fibre set with tin studs. It was the focus of a BBC documentary called the Mystery of the Moor.

Tin was clearly being mined in the early Bronze Age (tin being one of the elements that can be mixed with copper to make bronze) and was probably exchanged with powerful tribes in the Stonehenge area that controlled the flow of raw materials to the continent. The people were also farmers, but their way of life did not become one of permanent settlements and fields until the middle Bronze Age, which is when the reaves (low stone walls) and hut circles of stone appear on the moor. In the later Bronze Age there was a climatic downturn which made the moor uninhabitable. The Dartmoor National Park Authority has useful posters to download, including this one on Prehistoric Dartmoor, and can be booked to take your group out safely onto the moor to see the prehistoric monuments. Alternatively, you can use OS maps of the moor to study the Stone Age to Bronze Age developments. We took a trip up to see Emmetts Post, which is a later stone marker set into a Bronze Age barrow, just before it is destroyed by porcelain clay mining after being excavated by Oxford Archaeology. It was a wet day!

Emmetts Post set into a Bronze Age round barrow on Dartmoor

Emmetts Post set into a Bronze Age round barrow on Dartmoor

As we’ve explained many times before, use your local Historic Environment Record (HER)! Unfortunately, Devon has three! But if you go to the Heritage Gateway and search for Devon, you will automatically get results from all of them. The main Devon HER has started collecting and creating useful pages on Devon’s prehistoric past, including Bronze Age burial mounds on Busdon Moor, Milbur Down Iron Age hillfort near Newton Abbott, Bolt Tail Iron Age hillfort near Bigbury Bay, and Dolbury Iron Age hillfort at Killerton.

Museums you can visit to find out more about the Stone Age to Iron Age include:

Usually on display in Exeter is the Kingsteignton Idol, an Iron Age carved wooden figure. Similar figures have been found in Roos Carr in Yorkshire and from the River Thames at Dagenham (although the latter is much older, Neolithic in date). Perhaps they were used as religious statues, or maybe even children’s toys. Either way, they are fascinating.

If there’s anything other resources you’d like to add about Devon’s prehistoric past that could be used in the classroom, please feel free to comment below!

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

In a continuation of our new theme, we’re collecting useful resources and places to visit for teachers in Surrey who are teaching the new curriculum in September.

The historic country of Surrey stretched from the banks of the Thames to the North Downs but Greater London has since encroached and will be dealt with in a separate blog post. Unfortunately, because Surrey has been densely settled and farmed over the millennia, a lot of prehistoric evidence has been destroyed. The best place to go to for a run down of Surrey’s history is Exploring Surrey’s Past, especially the overviews of time periods.

Some interesting archaeology includes finds of mammoth tusks in Farnham Quarry that date to a time when Neanderthals, and possibly modern humans, were living around the area c. 30 kya. After the end of the Ice Age, a large camp was made at North Park Quarry near Bletchingley. It dates to the Mesolithic period, the middle Stone Age and Neanderthals had died out by this point.

Is this what the Blackweater Valley looked like 30,000 years ago? Neanderthals and mammoths together. By Randii Oliver [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Is this what the Blackweater Valley looked like 30,000 years ago? Neanderthals and mammoths together. By Randii Oliver [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When farming appeared in the Neolithic, people started building huge monuments. There was a big enclosure at Staines Road Farm near Shepperton, in which a woman’s body was buried at the entrance, which faced to the Midsummer Solstice sunrise. Surrey’s one and only known long barrow at Badshot Lea would probably have had a wooden mortuary chamber to start with that several people were interred in, and only later would a long lozenge-shaped mound have been constructed on top of it.

The Bronze Age saw the beginnings of hilltop enclosures, and there was one excavated under Queen Mary’s Hospital at Carshalton. For many years it was thought that most prehistoric people lived on hills, but it was the seminal excavation on the site of a new motorway bridge at Runnymede that changed that view. A late Bronze Age riverside settlement, complete with wharf, was excavated in the 1970s. It had been preserved by waterlogging, and was sealed under several feet of alluvium or riverine silts.

Colin Smith [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Eroded bank and ditch of the hillfort on St Ann’s Hill. Colin Smith [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A hillfort proper, St Ann’s Hill can be visited (Chertsey Museum below does guided walks to it). Some excavation in the 1990s confirmed that it dated to the early to middle Iron Age and contained post-build roundhouses. Not everyone lived in hillforts in the Iron Age, though, and there are numerous smaller villages or hamlets such as the one at Runfold Farm near Tongham.

Recently Schools Prehistory was invited to a Learning on My Doorstep event at Brooklands Museum and we met all the museums and organisations in Surrey that are preparing to run workshops on Stone Age to Iron Age Britain and lend out loan boxes of prehistoric artefacts, real and replica.

  • Farnham Museum has been preparing some objects for their loans boxes and have a good range of materials in there, from flint to bone and skins. They plan to run workshops in the museum as well as take objects out to schools. Their main thrust is to see how things changed over time in the Stone Age to Iron Age. Sophie Smith from Farnham Museum is on our Experts on your Doorstep list.
  • Surrey Heritage at the Surrey History Centre is providing loan boxes of Stone Age artefacts and can lend out mini-digs to use in school to learn about archaeological techniques. These will require a £25 returnable deposit. Contact kate.jenner@surreycc.gov.uk for more information.
  • Chertsey Museum also has mini-digs for schools to borrow or can do a big dig when you visit the museum and is working on a prehistoric loans box. They also take guided walks up to the local Iron Age hillfort on St Ann’s Hill.
  • Guildford Museum also lend out loan boxes on archaeology and Stone Age axes. They cost £10 for three weeks and schools have to collect the boxes and drop them off.
  • Spelthorne Museum, Staines, are currently developing their offer, but already ran a Secrets of Stone Age Spelthorne day in July so it won’t take too much for them to prepare a new session.
  • Elmbridge Museum have a new Stone Age workshop for the autumn, and have created a discovery box of real Stone Age artefacts too, including a stone mortar that children will be able to see has been well used.
  • Haslemere Museum are well-known for their Ancient Egyptian session and have extensive prehistoric collections. They are in the process of developing a prehistoric session to support the new curriculum.

There is another very small museum known as the Abinger Mesolithic Pit Dwelling Museum. This was set up in the 1950s when it was thought people lived in pits. A more up-to-date view of Mesolithic dwellings has now been installed, thanks to the Surrey Archaeological Society.

A great book that has lots of up-to-date research about Surrey’s past, but doesn’t entirely focus on prehistory, is Hidden Depths: An Archaeological Exploration of Surrey’s Past.

If there’s anything we’ve missed, let us know in the comments below.

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.

Feel prehistory come alive in reconstructed houses

Around the country there are a number of places where you can go and see or sit inside a reconstructed prehistoric house. We haven’t visited them all by a long shot, but here’s the list. Let us know what you think of them if you’ve visited.

South-West England

Ancient Technology Centre, Dorset

Interior of the Earthhouse at the Ancient Technology Centre

Interior of the Earthhouse at the Ancient Technology Centre. Photo courtesy of the Ancient Technology Centre.

This set of reconstructed buildings in Cranborne in Dorset includes a Neolithic (Stone Age) log cabin and two Iron Age roundhouses, one very special one based on unusual roundhouses excavated on the Isle of Man. There are also Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Viking replica structures there, too, so you could teach the whole of the British history part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum there if you want to!

The site is not open every day so schools must contact the site and work out a suitable day to visit, and plan what activities your pupils will take part in. The focus is very much on hands-on skills.

http://www.ancienttechnologycentre.co.uk/dayvisits.html

Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire

Inside the house based on one from Danebury hillfort at Butser Ancient Farm

Inside the house based on one from Danebury hillfort at Butser Ancient Farm

This site in Hampshire is the third version of Butser, which was first established by Peter Reynolds to conduct experiments in Iron Age farming techniques. Most of what we think we know about house construction and food storage comes from the experiments conducted there in the 1970s and 1980s. They also keep ancient breeds and grow ancient crops.

They have an Iron Age settlement, a Roman villa and are developing some Neolithic houses based on those found at Durrington Walls near Stonehenge.

http://www.butserancientfarm.co.uk/key-stage-1/.

Neolithic houses at Stonehenge

Neolithic House number 1 completed at Stonehenge, courtesy English Heritage

Neolithic House number 1 completed at Stonehenge, photo courtesy of English Heritage

The new visitor centre at Stonehenge is complemented by reconstructed Neolithic houses, the kind of dwellings people may have lived in at the time of one of the major phases of construction at the monument, about 2500 BC. The houses were built with guidance from the Ancient Technology Centre, above. English Heritage will be running Discovery Visits at the houses and visitor centre, which will involve hands-on learning with replica objects and craft activities.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/discover/neolithic-houses/

South-East England

Chiltern Open Air Museum, Buckinghamshire

Replica Iron Age roundhouse at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. Photograph by Kim Biddulph.

Replica Iron Age roundhouse at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. Photograph by Kim Biddulph.

The museum in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, mainly preserves buildings at risk from around the Chilterns. Most of them are nineteenth century in date. There is a reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse based on one excavated near Dunstable and a great Iron Age and Roman theme day that schools can book to find out about life 2000 years ago and how things changed.

http://www.coam.org.uk/schools/how-to-book/

Celtic Harmony, Hertfordshire

Children get a chance to try out Iron Age jobs, like grinding grain and baking bread in the reconstructed roundhouse, or older children will learn hunting techniques in the woods and how to lead a tribe.

http://www.celticharmony.org/

Ufton Court, near Reading, Berkshire

A reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse can be visited at Ufton Court Educational Trust near Reading. A visit includes meeting an Iron Age person and then comparing their way of life to the Roman and re-enacting Boudica’s revolt.

http://uftoncourt.co.uk/schools/history/

Eastern England

Flag Fen Bronze Age Centre, Cambridgeshire

Earliest wheel found in Britain at Flag Fen in Cambridgeshire. © Francis Pryor

Earliest wheel found in Britain at Flag Fen in Cambridgeshire. © Francis Pryor

You can go see the preserved timber posts of a huge walkway across the fen leading to a wooden platform where hundreds of bronze weapons and other artefacts were committed to a watery grave, along with reconstructed Bronze Age and Iron Age roundhouses. In the on-site museum, there’s also the earliest wheel found in Britain.

http://www.fensmuseums.org.uk/page_id__86_path__0p2p.aspx

Hadleigh Country Park, Essex

Hadleigh’s roundhouse is based on a floor plan from an archaeological excavation at Little Waltham, near Chelmsford. The field containing the roundhouse is open on most days to allow visitors to view its exterior. Schools can book to see the inside of the roundhouse and do some activities, like an archaeological dig.

http://www.hadleighcountrypark.co.uk/

Northern England

Howick reconstructed Mesolithic hut, Northumberland

This Mesolithic house in Northumberland dating to about 8000 BC was quite a sensation when it was excavated by archaeologists from the University of Newcastle. A reconstruction was built for BBC’s Meet the Ancestors which still stands and can be seen on the Maelmin Heritage trail.

http://research.ncl.ac.uk/howick/images/Maelmin.pdf

Herd Farm, West Yorkshire

A settlement of three Iron Age roundhouses has been built and is open for school visits at Herd Farm north of Leeds. Children get to become Iron Age villagers and learn everyday activities people would do in the Iron Age.

http://www.herdfarm.co.uk/2015/06/29/the-iron-age-experience/ 

Ryedale Folk Museum, North Yorkshire

This museum seems to have an Iron Age roundhouse and leads educational sessions with schools.

http://www.ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk/

Wales

Castell Henllys, Pembrokeshire

The reconstructed village at Castell Henllys

The reconstructed village at Castell Henllys

The roundhouses at Castell Henllys are built inside the original Iron Age hillfort, for an extra authentic feel. There is an education centre nearby with plenty of objects excavated from the site to look at, as well as replica objects to handle.

http://www.pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk/default.asp?PID=261

Llynnon roundhouses, Anglesey

The two roundhouses are thought to be how Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age houses looked in the area. Local schools use one of the roundhouses.

http://www.anglesey-hidden-gem.com/llynnon-iron-age-settlement.html

St Fagans Open Air Museum, Cardiff

A new Iron Age replica farmstead was recently opened at St Fagan’s Open Air Museum. The building, which is based on an archaeological site from the time of the Roman conquest, is a recreation of a small Iron Age farmstead near Llansadwrn in the eastern corner of Anglesey.

https://museum.wales/stfagans/bryn-eryr-open/

Caer Alyn

Caer Alyn, courtesy of the Caer Alyn Heritage Project

Caer Alyn, Wrexham

Caer Alyn heritage project runs digs on an Iron Age hillfort and two roundhouses have been reconstructed there.

http://www.caeralyn.org/community-archaeology.php?=&content=story&storyID=156&fixedmetadataID=14

Northern Ireland

Navan Fort, County Armagh

Inside the roundhouse at Navan Fort. Courtesy of Navan Centre & Fort.

Inside the roundhouse at Navan Fort. Courtesy of Navan Centre & Fort.

Navan, or Emain Macha, is an iconic place in Ulster history. It was an Iron Age ritual fort in which a series of huge roundhouses were built. Then, in AD 94, the biggest roundhouse of all was built (or possible several concentric circles of posts with no roof) and subsequently set on fire and sealed under a rubble and earth mound. One of the earlier, smaller, roundhouses has been reconstructed near the site and there are a number of school workshops available.

http://www.armagh.co.uk/navan-centre-fort/

Scotland

Scottish Crannog Centre, Perthshire

View of the Scottish Crannog Centre. Courtesy of the Scottish Crannog Centre www.crannog.co.uk

View of a reconstructed Iron Age crannog. Courtesy of the Scottish Crannog Centre www.crannog.co.uk

Crannogs, dwellings built on piles in lakes, were built in Ireland and Scotland for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The Scottish Crannog Centre is a reconstruction of an Early Iron Age example. Pupils learn about life on the crannog in Lock Tay and try their hand at wood-turning, stone-drilling and fire-making. Children realise how ingenious Iron Age people were to survive and prosper in this situation.

http://www.crannog.co.uk/

 

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.

Stonehenge: a new dawn for education groups

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

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

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

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

A school group getting closer to the stones

A school group getting closer to the stones

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

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