Book review: Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

This newly published comic strip style picture-book tells a story of a young man’s journey from the Alps to Stonehenge. It is based on a discovery of a man buried near Stonehenge just outside Amesbury in 2002. Examination of his body showed he had grown up in the Alps and had journeyed to Britain when a young man. This book is an imaginative look at what that journey might have been for, and what is might have been like. Jane Brayne, the author and illustrator, was the first person to ever draw a reconstruction of the Amesbury Archer and now has drawn his entire story.

The book is packed full of research, from the patterns on the clothes that the people of the Alps wear based on standing stones of the region, to how copper was smelted and cast, to the inclusion of Bluestonehenge, a new henge on the River Avon at the start of the Stonehenge Avenue that was only discovered in 2008.

Many aspects of the book are more speculative, like the function of the standing stones at Carnac in Brittany, the method of sailing on rivers and the sea, and the ‘Observers’ at Stonehenge, and this provides some great material for discussion about what these monuments were for.

Information about the Archer in the back of the book.

Objects that were found in the Amesbury Archer’s grave appear in the story itself, such as the gold tress rings for his hair, the metalworking tools, the stone bracer he wore on his wrist to protect it from a bowstring, the antler pin that was a gift from his father, the boars tusks that he hunted when he became a man and, most importantly, the copper dagger, which is currently still the earliest known metal in Britain. Making a biography for each of those objects really makes them so much more significant when studying his grave, which is mentioned in the back of the book. For many years the idea of a group of people bringing a new style of pottery called Beaker Folk was ridiculed in the archaeological world, but when the Archer was found with a beaker and having come from the Alps, the idea has become mainstream again.

Another great topic is how Stonehenge is portrayed, as perhaps somewhere usually off limits and strictly controlled, but also how one of the main times for engaging with the stone circle was at the midwinter sunset, as well as at midsummer sunrise, as the alignments are exactly opposite each other at this latitude.

The great hunting grounds of the afterlife in Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

In the end it is also sad to think the Amesbury Archer didn’t get back to his homeland, which he longs to do in the book, but died and was buried near Stonehenge. In the book Brayne suggests that the people of the time believed that spirits of the dead went on to the great hunting ground, but you can see the Amesbury Archer’s skeleton in Salisbury Museum.

What did people eat in Stone Age to Iron Age Britain?

There’s a great divide between what people ate in earlier prehistory and in later prehistory, and it all comes down to when did farming start. One of the places farming was independently invented was in the Near East in around 10,000 BC. It slowly spread outwards and got to Britain by 4000 BC. This early farming culture is called the Neolithic (New Stone Age).

Early humans

Earlier species of human inhabited Britain at both cold and warm periods in the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) from about 850,000 years ago to around 40,000 years ago. Species may have included Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neanderthalensis. From the earliest times they may have had control of fire, as the earliest hearth was found in Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa dating to about 1 million years ago, although the earliest hearth in Britain was found at Beeches Pit in Suffolk and dates to about 400,000 years ago.

Tusk of the extinct straight-tusked elephant from Swanscombe around 400,000 years ago.

Homo heidelbergensis hunted or scavenged horse and rhinoceros around 500,000 years ago at Boxgrove in West Sussex during a warm period between glaciations. Homo neanderthalensis may have hunted elephants a mere 100,000 years later at Swanscombe in Kent. The now extinct straight-tusked elephant had lived in a very warm interglacial when Britain was probably cut off from the continent temporarily. Elephant bones were surrounded by flint tools that had been made on site, used to butcher it and then abandoned afterwards (Wenban-Smith 2013).

Hunter-gatherers

Some of the cave paintings at Lascaux from the Hall of Bulls (aurochs) but also showing deer and horses

Before this all over the world people had got their food by hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering wild food. The hunter-gatherer diet was quite rich. In the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age, which finished around 10,000 BC) certain animals were hunted that had adapted to the cold temperatures of the Ice Age and died out when the climate warmed. In the painted caves of Lascaux, which date to about 15,000 BC, you see horses, bison, aurochs (another species of wild cow – now extinct), giant and red deer but never reindeer, which were actually one of the main animals the people who lived nearby relied on. There are no mammoths represented here either, although they do appear at the nearby Rouffignac cave, but are not usually in the diet of the painters of this date in this area of France.

The cave art of Creswell Crags in Nottinghamshire representing a deer and an ibex (a type of goat) then may not be representative of what was hunted for food in Britain at this time around 12,000 BC. A fragment of rib bone from an unidentified animal with a scratched image of a horse’s head on it has led to the suggestion that a few intrepid hunters were up there hunting wild horses on the tundra.

Human bones from Kendrick’s Cave near Llandudno from the Upper Palaeolithic that were tested with stable isotope analysis

The bones of humans found in Kendrick’s Cave near Llandudno in Wales were tested using stable isotope analysis. This measures the ratios of isotopes of certain elements in bone collagen from ancient bone and can give indications about what kind of food is being eaten (marine or terrestrial, animal or plant) and can also indicate where a person had grown up and traveled to. The ratios of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen from the human bone at Kendrick’s Cave suggested that they got about a third of their food intake from marine mammals, and the team who undertook the work suggested this was probably seal meat (Richards et al 2005, 393), even though the animal bones left in the cave were all from terrestrial mammals.

People living on the coast do seem to have continued to heavily use marine resources. Many shell middens survive on the coast of Scotland but the coastline of England has changed so much since the end of the Ice Age that many of these are probably now beneath the sea. In Scotland such middens have yielded shells of many crustaceans and molluscs, as well as fish and marine mammal bones, e.g. Sand at Applecross, Wester Ross which dates to about 6500 BC (Hardy & Wickham-Jones 2009).

Red deer bones and antler at the Mesolithic site of Star Carr in North Yorkshire

By this time we are definitely in what archaeologists call the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) after the ice retreated but before farming was introduced. At Star Carr in North Yorkshire, which dates to about 9000 BC, the vast majority of the food being consumed seems to have been red deer, although bones of other animals like aurochs (wild cows) and wild pigs also appears. The people at Star Carr went to the sea, as we can see from the collection of amber picked up on the beach, and if they ate seafood they didn’t carry it inland. There are scant remains of pike, though, which suggests they did fish in the now vanished Lake Flixton (Robson et al 2016).

Plant remains have also turned up, although they don’t survive very well, of course. They only survive when they are charred, which might have happened if overcooked by accident. Charred plant remains found on Mesolithic sites in Scotland (and elsewhere in Britain) have included crab apple and pear pips, haw berry stones, hazelnut shells and the roots of Lesser Celandine, which would be a little like very small potatoes (Bishop et al 2013).

Farmers

When farming was adopted from around 4000 BC, everything changed. Stable isotope analysis comparing human bones from the Mesolithic and the Neolithic show a marked change between eating a diet rich in fish to one with little freshwater or marine component at all (although this has been questioned: Milner et al 2003). Signs of malnutrition are often found on early farmer’s bones, caused by a diet of mostly dairy and bread.

Neolithic charred bread found at Yarnton and dating to about 3600 BC.

The earliest preserved bread, charred in a fire, was found at Yarnton in Oxfordshire and dated to about 3600 BC. Wheat and barley grains have also been found charred, of a similar date and some even earlier in many places in the British Isles.

Dairying may have occurred from quite early on in the farming culture of Britain. The remains of lipids, and particularly fats from milk, have been found adhering to the inside of pots in Neolithic sites like Windmill Hill in Wiltshire and Runnymede Bridge in Surrey (Copley et al 2005).

Painted cave art of a woman gathering honey from Cueva de la Araña in Spain, Neolithic or earlier

People in the Neolithic may have had a slightly more interesting diet, though, and there are also remains of beeswax found in pots from Runnymede Bridge and in many pots from farming communities around Europe and Africa (Roffet-Salque et al 2015). This may suggest that bees were being kept in semi-domestication and that honey would be available for farmers. There is a famous piece of rock art from Spain, the Cueva de la Araña (Spider Cave) which seems to show a woman collected honey from a hive on a cliff while bees fly around her. It is not closely dated, and may be Neolithic or much earlier.

Gundestrup Cauldron dating to around 1BC from Denmark (but possibly originally made in northern France)

Large scale feasting sometimes occurs in the Neolithic and in later farming eras. At Durrington Walls near Stonehenge both cattle and pigs were slaughtered at winter-time, presumably for large midwinter feasts. Feasting also seems to be a part of life in the Bronze Age and Iron Age periods, from the discovery of large cauldrons and flesh hooks, such as one decorated with corvids and water birds from Dunaverney in Ireland and dating to about 1000 BC, and the silver Gundestrup Cauldron (probably for some kind of alcoholic drink) from Denmark.

Talking of alcohol, a pottery vessel from North Mains, Perthshire in Scotland had a black greasy substance in it which was sampled. It was found to contain cereal pollen and meadow-sweet pollen, which was used in flavouring alcoholic drinks in more recent times, and the archaeologists suggested the pot originally contained ale (rather than beer which is flavoured with hops and is usually said to be medieval in date, though there is some evidence of hops being used in Roman ale (in Andrews et al 2011, 224-5)). The ale at North Mains dated to about 1500 BC (Barclay 1983). It’s likely that ale goes back a long way.

A pot containing nettle stew carbonised in a house fire in the late Bronze Age Must Farm

A more varied diet comes back in the Bronze and Iron Ages after the introduction of a wider range of crops such as oats, rye, beans, vetch, cabbage and other foods. A pottery bowl with carbonised food and wooden spoon still in it was recently found in excavations at Must Farm near Peterborough, dating to about 1000 BC. The food was analysed and found to be some kind of nettle stew.

 

A – celery seed, B – coriander seed, C – dill seed, D – olive stone. Found at the late Iron Age settlement at Silchester in Berkshire.

With Roman contact in the late first century BC, some of the elite of southern England took to importing wine and other exotic foodstuffs. At Silchester, a late Iron Age settlement in Berkshire, imported food included coriander seeds and olives. Some ended up in their graves to take them to the next world, or at least show off to mourners. What a waste!

 

References

Andrews, P, Biddulph, E, Hardy, A & Brown, H 2011. Settling the Ebbsfleet Valley. Oxford & Salisbury, Oxford Wessex Archaeology.

Barclay, G, 1983. Sites of the third millennium be to the first millennium ad at North Mains, Strathallan, Perthshire. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 123, pp 122-281.

Bishop, R. R, Church, M, J, & Rowley-Conwy, P 2013.  Seeds, fruits and nuts in the Scottish Mesolithic. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 143, pp 9-71.

Copley et al, 2005. Dairying in antiquity. III. Evidence from absorbed lipid residues dating to the British Neolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 523-546. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2004.08.006

Hardy, K & Wickham-Jones, C 2009. Mesolithic and later sites around the Inner Sound, Scotland’s: the work of the Scotlands First Settlers project 1998-2004. Scottish Archaeological Internet Report 31. http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/sair/contents.cfm?vol=31

Milner, N et al, 2003. Something fishy in the Neolithic? A re-evaluation of stable isotope analysis of Mesolithic and Neolithic coastal populations. Antiquity 78, Issue 299, pp 9-22. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00092887

Richards et al, 2005. Isotope evidence for the intensive use of marine foods by Late Upper Palaeolithic humans. Journal of Human Evolution 49, pp 390-4.

Robson, H. K., Little, A., Jones, A. K. G., Blockley, S., Candy, I., Matthews, I., Palmer, A., Schreve, D., Tong, E., Pomstra, D., Fletcher, L., Hausmann, N., Taylor, B., Conneller, C. and Milner, N, 2016. Scales of analysis: evidence of fish and fish processing at Star Carr. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.02.009.

Wenban-Smith, F 2013. The Ebbsfleet Elephant. Oxford Archaeology Monograph Vol 20.

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.

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

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.

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.

Look for resources on Stone Age to Iron Age Britain from your local HERO

There are HEROs out there, you know. Yes, it’s an acronym. It stands for Historic Environment Record Officer and they manage the archaeological database for counties, districts or cities. We have mentioned them before as great sources of information on your local prehistory. Now we have more information about the HEROs that are developing resources specifically for teachers on this new topic.

Emmetts Post set into a Bronze Age round barrow on Dartmoor

Emmetts Post set into a Bronze Age round barrow on Dartmoor

We’ve mentioned the Devon HERO before, and their website is loaded with useful local information and resources to teach all aspects of the new history curriculum at both primary and secondary level.

East Sussex County Council’s HERO, Sophie Unger, has been busy. She has taken part in a Teachers CPD day to help primary school teachers to better understand the period and topics they can cover. They are also in the middle of producing prehistoric finds ‘toolkits’ with both original and replica finds and finds cards for the five prehistoric periods which we will loan out or sell to schools. They are also offering two hour schools sessions at their local record office to bring in children to discover how the HER works and use mapping resources to discover local prehistoric archaeology.

Exmoor National Park has developed three loans boxes for schools that cover the Mesolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age and the local HERO loans these out. They have also developed some learning resources on the Moorland classroom, which includes information about the prehistoric heritage of that area. Find out how to get hold of all these resources on the Exmoor National Park website.

Lincolnshire County Council’s HERO, Richard Watts, is working on a project to develop resources to support the prehistory element of the curriculum, including running teacher CPD sessions. Keep an eye on this website and get in touch with them if you’re interested in joining a focus group to shape what they create for schools.

Keep an eye on West Berkshire HERO if you live in that area. They are working with their colleagues in the council who work with schools to develop some resources too.

We’d love to hear from more HERs who are or have created useful resources for teachers. If you’re a teacher and don’t know how to find your local HERO, drop us a line and we’ll find you a contact.

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.

Lifelong Learning courses on Stone Age to Iron Age Britain

We are preparing another training day like the one we did in Aylesbury last year, and we know lots of museums and local authority school improvement departments have been running training too. We were reminded recently that a wealth of great courses are available for teachers to attend and get some ideas for teaching the topic Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. We have picked a few from all over the country that are starting soon. Many of these courses are run entirely online and you can study from the comfort of your own living room.

University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education

Archaeology: prehistoric and Roman Britain in a day, 1 day course, 7th March, £75
This day school gives an insight into prehistoric and Roman Britain in a single day! Suitable for Key Stage 2 history teachers needing a background in the archaeology of Britain or for those who would simply like an introduction to the subject, this course highlights the most important sites, finds and interpretations from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods in Britain.

Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Landscapes and Monumentality in Neolithic Britain, 1 day course, 7th February, £103.
The construction of monuments is one of the defining characteristics of the British Neolithic (New Stone Age – farmers). This weekend will look at recent research into Neolithic monuments and the wider cultural landscapes in which they are situated. This will include talks on new work in the Stonehenge and Avebury landscapes, and the Great Dolmen of western Britain.

Ritual and religion in prehistory, online course, starts 27th April, £245
How can we begin to understand the spiritual lives of people in the distant past? When do religious ideologies first appear on the human evolutionary timescale? How can we recognise and interpret ancient myth and ritual from the burial mounds, temples, art and artefacts left by our prehistoric ancestors? Using key concepts drawn from anthropology, these and many other questions will be examined as we take a global view of the archaeological evidence for prehistoric rituals and religion.

Birkbeck University of London

British prehistory: hunter-gatherers to farmers, £500, dates TBC
Humans entered Britain c. 700,000 years ago. We begin the study of Britain’s archaeology from this point, examining how people adapted their lifestyle to the changing environmental conditions through the differing Ice Ages to the end of hunting and gathering in the Mesolithic. The latter portion of the course is concerned with the transition to domestication in the Neolithic and the major modifications in the social construction of the landscape.

British prehistory: the age of metals, £500, dates TBC
Metal was introduced to Britain during the Bronze Age. We examine the impact of this and the changes in social organisation and belief systems brought about during the Beaker Period. Land management becomes increasingly important towards the end of the Bronze Age as evident in field boundaries and the development of weapons. The Iron Age introduces large-scale occupation sites in the form of hillforts. The increasing complexity of the social organisation of Britain prior to the Roman invasion in AD 43 will be covered, as well as the question of the Celts in Britain.

University of Southampton Lifelong Learning Department

Cave art and archaeology of art, 1 day conference, 7th March, £40
From the earliest times humans made visually spectacular things. This study day will explore prehistoric ‘art’ from the early creation of figurines in the Ice Age (Upper Palaeolithic) to the decoration of metalwork and other utensils in the Iron Age.

University of Exeter Department of Continuing Education

Understanding human environments in British prehistory, online course, starts 9th Feb, £155
This online course introduces you to the ways in which people interacted with the changing environment in Britain from the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago, through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages to just before the arrival of the Romans.

If you know of any other courses, online or offline, day long or evenings, please let us know in the comments below.

Book Review: The Boy with the Bronze Axe by Kathleen Fidler

This book is set in Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands so would be a perfect book to accompany an in depth study of the settlement and way of life of these Neolithic farmers. Attention to detail is enormous, and the author has clearly done plenty of research into the layout of the settlement, the rooms and the artefacts used there. It is 164 pages long and is primarily aimed at older children, perhaps Years 5 and 6.

The story starts with a brother and sister Kali and Brockan walking out to a rock exposed by the low tide where the biggest limpets grow to collect a treat for themselves and their parents. They find so much tasty seafood that the time passes quickly and before they know it the tide has risen and will soon cover the rock. Luckily for them, a stranger in a strange long boat made by hollowing out a tree trunk rescues them and takes them back to Skara. He is a young man called Tenko who has travelled from the south all alone and hopes to find sanctuary in Skara.

Interior of one of the dwellings at Skara Brae. Taken by Jun and shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Interior of one of the dwellings at Skara Brae. Taken by Jun and shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

The people of Skara are interested in his boat, the like of which they have never seen. The children also appear to know nothing about trees as the Orkneys are mostly devoid of them. But the most amazing thing Tenko brings is his axe that shines like the sun. Kali asks him what stone it is made out of, and he tells them it’s not made out of stone, but bronze. The presence of the bronze axe causes tensions as several people desire to own it. It is a great adventure as well as being very well researched.

The book ends with the final storm that shifts the sand dunes directly on top of the settlement, burying it for nearly 5000 years until a similar storm swept the sand away and revealed it to archaeologists. The details are threaded through the story, with a broken necklace in one of the dwellings and a hearth made on top of the sand under one of the broken roofs.

Make a replica clay axe, then make a mould from that and pour melted chocolate in it

Make a replica clay axe, then make a mould from that and pour melted chocolate in it

The book would provide plenty of opportunities to discuss how people discovered bronze, what it would mean to people who’d never seen it before, how the technology spread, and why it took over from stone tools in the end. Try casting an replica axe; instead of molten metal use chocolate or freeze water in axe-shaped moulds.

You could also have discussions about the farming lifestyle at Skara and how food was supplemented by hunting and gathering, and to what extent children undertook this.

 

 

Ring of Brodgar from above by Giles Carey

Ring of Brodgar from above by Giles Carey

Religion could also be explored, as one of the chapters involves a ceremony putting in one of the stones of the Ring of Brodgar and another sees the tribe’s wise man being interred at Maes Howe. The author suggests the enigmatic carved stone balls found in Skara were representations of the sun and used for ceremonial processions to the Ring. Look at the resource on carved stone balls from the British Museum’s Teaching History in 100 Objects website. Make your own from dried clay balls. If you’re feeling very adventurous, you can even explore Platonic solids with them. See this video of a lecture at Gresham College by Professor Tony Mann.

A couple of problems we have with this book is that the women, and particularly Kali and Brockan’s mother, are mostly invisible and completely passive. The only reason we can think of to explain it is that the book was originally written in 1968 and thinking about gender roles in prehistory clearly didn’t cross the (female) author’s mind. It would be a good talking point to see whether children found this believable.

Another problem is more fact based; Tenko is supposed to have experienced from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the Scottish mainland. While this gives the author, and you, a handy way to contrast the two lifestyles, in reality people in mainland Scotland would also have been farmers by this date, with a little hunting and gathering on the side. It’s also unlikely that bronze was introduced through the Shetland Islands, which is what is suggested in the book. We also have a small issue with the place names. The author has used modern ones, which is great for kids to identify sites, but most of these names are the Norse words that replaced earlier place names. Also, logboats were probably not that good at sea and were made for river transport.

But apart from that, a great book for older children which gives you lots of ways in to explore Skara Brae and important themes in prehistory.

Book review: The Whitestone Stories by John Barrett, illustrated by Christine Clerk

This is the first book so far that we have read that deals with later prehistory for children, apart from the Wolf Brother series which is set in the Mesolithic (middle Stone Age – after the ice and before farming). What is so attractive about this book is that it covers not only the Mesolithic period but also later Neolithic (farming) and Bronze Age, though unfortunately stopping short of the Iron Age.

Barrett’s prose is beautiful. It helps the reader become immersed in these other, very different, times. The first story recounts the coming of humans to Britain and starts by evoking the smells, sights and sounds of the wildwood.

When Summer came to the forest, all the thickets sparkled with red raspberry jewels; and the grasses were spangled with scarlet strawberry drops as bright as the garnets in the mountain rocks.

Plenty of scope for analysing rhythm, rhyme, alliteration and imagery there and for drawing what the phrase conjures up in the mind’s eye. The Whitestone itself is a glacial erratic that has been dropped by a glacier and witnesses the changes all around, the disappearance of the forest, the ploughing of the land and the building of huge monuments.

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Crawling into West Kennet long barrow to meet the ancestors

Although never explicit, you could make links to what is now Avebury, the West Kennet long barrow and Silbury Hill, or similar monuments in Scotland with Barrett exploring how such monuments might have come to be built and what people did there.

The stories do not shy away from some discussion of magic but many read as if they are parables that would have been told around the fire to children in prehistory to ensure that they knew how to behave, for instance to only take what they need from the forest and not everything, to be kind to one another, to be honest and not envious and to be loyal to ones friends.

Because of this tendency for the stories to come across as legends already very old by the time they are told in prehistory, some of the mechanisms of change in society may not reflect modern archaeological thought. The coming of farmers in boat loads and exterminating the hunter-gatherers, for instance, as in Chapter 3, is not now considered to have been the case. The ideas and products of farming may instead have been adopted by the indigenous population of Britain.

The changes in religious beliefs over the millennia are very interesting, from the ancestor worship of the Neolithic to possible worship of the sun and moon in the Early Bronze Age (which coincides with very rich burials of individuals indicating some kind of high status, in the book they are described as kings), to worship of a destructive water goddess in the later Bronze Age that links to the deposition of lots of metalwork in rivers and bogs at that date. It is pure supposition that there was a change from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society in the Bronze Age, though.

Dancing girls of the later Bronze Age - this is as bad as the nudity gets

Dancing girls of the later Bronze Age – this is as bad as the nudity gets

The pencil-drawn illustrations are very rich in content and would repay some attention, particularly looking at the way people’s dress changes over the years, and the different reconstructions of settlements and religious ceremonies. Be warned that there are some topless dancing girls in this book, which may have happened in the later Bronze Age (though the only evidence we have is from Denmark).

Overall this is an excellent book and deserves to be widely used in the classroom as there is otherwise a dearth of good picture books about the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. This book goes some way to addressing that.