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.

IMG_5184

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.

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.

When do you start teaching Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age?

There are two meaning to this question. Do you start teaching this topic in September? Are you teaching British history chronologically starting with Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age in Year 3? Do let us know.

The other meaning is, when in prehistory are you going to start? We’ve been working on some updated timelines and we can take you through some possible starting points as well as give you an overview of the prehistoric period.

The non-statutory guidance in the National Curriculum starts with comparing Neolithic (sic) hunter-gatherers with farmers at Skara Brae. If you want to start with this topic, you’ll need the first timeline. It starts in the Mesolithic, which is actually the time of hunter-gatherers rather than the Neolithic as suggested in the NC.

Later Prehistory timeline

Notice that we have used kya, for thousand years ago, and BC for this period. beyond this BC becomes a little redundant. Also note the march of sheep from the Near East to Britain. Climate changes affecting the sea level are key to understanding the Mesolithic. After the Ice Age as the climate warmed, the glaciers melted and sea levels rose. Britain had been attached to the continent by a land bridge across the North Sea (called Doggerland after the Dogger Banks) and the Channel. Around 6200 BC this sea level rise was exacerbated by a marine landslide off the coast of Norway which caused a tsunami that finally flooded Doggerland and caused Britain to be cut off from the continent.

But if you were to start the topic in 12kya, you would miss being able to talk about cave art, which we have heard here at Schools Prehistory that lots of teachers want to do. Cave paintings or engravings and portable art all date to the Upper Palaeolithic, when Homo sapiens first arrived in Europe. Not much is known in Britain, but there is some at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire. If you want to start at this point, you’ll need this timeline.

Timeline starting 40kya

 

The Upper Palaeolithic is within the last Ice Age and was connected to the continent throughout. Ice sheets covered Scotland and most of northern England and at the last glacial maximum, around 20kya, would have stretched from the Wash to the Severn. Nevertheless, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens did venture this far north at various points and it is thought that people were moving great distances for hunting. If you do start teaching from this point onwards, you also get the great opportunity to talk about Neanderthals, who died out around 24kya but co-existed with Homo sapiens in Europe for about 15,000 years. What a great P4C topic!

But if you do start only at 50kya, you miss out on being able to talk about the oldest human footprints found outside Africa – those of Homo antecessor at Happisburgh in Norfolk. They date all the way back to 800kya – nearly 1 million years. So, if you think East Anglia is as sexy as we do, here’s a timeline that can help.

Timeline starting 800kyaApologies for the slightly messy look. It still needs some work. What you’ll notice when you get back this far, is that there isn’t just one Ice Age, there are several. In between some of the glacial periods, sea levels may have risen high enough to cut Britain off from the continent a few times before receding again as the ice advanced once more. The earliest hearth known in Britain dates to 400kya, though it is thought that humans could control fire much earlier from evidence in Kenya and Ethiopia.

There may be many of you who balk at teaching 800kya of history, and we totally understand. The arrival of farming in Britain may be a good place to start, as it’s only 4000 BC. This technology sees the start of so many massive changes, from permanent settlement to dividing the landscape into territories and fields, and ultimately to massive population growth, pressure on resources, social stratification and violence. It also spurs on technological advancements like using fire to make metal tools and the invention of new ways of travelling, like the wheel. The introduction of farming was accompanied by changes in religious and funerary practices that give rise to huge ceremonial monuments needing massive communal effort to create. It would be a good place to start. Here’s a more detailed timeline for the Neolithic (late Stone Age) to Iron Age.

Neo BA IA timeline

 

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.

Useful images and resources on Heritage Explorer for Stone Age to Iron Age Britain

Heritage Explorer has lots of images for teachers to use in the classroom from English Heritage’s many archives. They already have lots of useful images for the topic Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age and here are some of them. Follow the links from the images to find more information. Thanks to Heritage Explorer for allowing us to feature these images on our blog.

Aerial photograph of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Stonehenge in Wiltshire from 1906

Crown copyright NMR

Also see English Heritage’s Stonehenge teacher’s pack.

Aerial photograph of Neolithic Avebury and Silbury Hill, Wiltshire

Crown copyright NMR

Cutaway section through Grimes Graves Neolithic flint mine, Norfolk

Copyright English Heritage Photo Library

Aerial photograph of the Late Bronze Age Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire

Crown copyright NMR

Reconstruction drawing of Iron Age roundhouses from the 2nd century BC at Danebury hillfort, Hampshire

Copyright English Heritage NMR

There is also this excellent little book written for English Heritage available as a PDF about teaching prehistory. It is a little old and be warned, it says the earliest humans in Britain came in 500,000 years ago (BP). Recent investigations have pushed this back to 800,000 years ago.

Also by going to the Heritage Explorer search page and searching for prehistoric under the when tab you will bring up a huge number of images from English Heritage’s photo library of different sites around the country.

Teaching resources for Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age

There has been a lot of talk on Twitter recently about the lack of resources available to teach this new topic at Key Stage 2. Here at Schools Prehistory we have been scouring the internet for teaching-ready resources to support the themes mentioned in the non-statutory guidance so here they are.

Late Neolithic (sic) hunter-gatherers and early farmers, for example, at Skara Brae

Neolithic in the sentence above is a mistake and should read Mesolithic, which was the period of hunting and gathering, broadly, whereas the Neolithic was the time of farming.

Instead of going late Mesolithic we recommend contrasting Star Carr, an early Mesolithic settlement in North Yorkshire, with Skara Brae.

Star Carr, Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire

This site was inhabited very soon after the end of the last Ice Age around 9000 BC. It has the remains of the earliest house found in Europe and red deer antler frontlets that were used in ceremonies, hunting or both. It was on the banks of the now vanished Lake Flixton and so the waterlogged soils have preserved some amazing organic artefacts, such as birch bark roll firelighters and a wooden paddle for some kind of watercraft. From animal bones found at the site it is clear that the people who lived here in a relatively settled fashion hunted red and roe deer, wild cattle and pigs and numerous water birds.

For the Mesolithic in general you could do worse than following @microburin, and especially looking at this blog post: http://microburin.com/2013/06/01/sneak-peek-star-carr-exhibition-yorkshire-museum-mesolithic/.

The history of excavation can be followed (almost like doing the digs again yourself in class) at the Star Carr Research project website http://www.starcarr.com/. Some of their videos about Star Carr are useful, including The Other Side of the Antler, http://vimeo.com/2205880, though it is half an hour long. This 1 minute 30 second video was created for Yorkshire Museum and is a fly-through of what Star Carr and Lake Flixton might have looked and sounded like in 9000 BC http://vimeo.com/66913559.

A great storybook to use to discover more about the Mesolithic is Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver.

Skara Brae, Orkney

Skara Brae is an unusual site –  the remains in the Orkney Islands are not typical of the Neolithic in the rest of Britain. It was first inhabited around 3000 BC and finally went out of use just as bronze was making its appearance, around 2500 BC. It is made up of eight circular stone-built dwellings cut into a midden or rubbish heap. One of the dwellings seems to have been used as a workshop but the other seven were inhabited, probably by a family. They have two stone bed frames on either side of the house, a central hearth and a stone dresser directly opposite the door, which could be locked from the inside to ensure family privacy. The people on Orkney grew barley, kept sheep and pigs but also supplemented their domesticated food with gathered seafood.

Education Scotland is probably the best place to start to explore Skara Brae, as it has links to lots of other resources from other organisation http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/earlypeople/skarabrae/index.asp. If you decide to explore Skara Brae on this website you will find a Flash game that children can click on and learn more about the settlement.

Another Flash game worth taking a look at is on the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/learning/primary/skarabrae/flash/index.shtml. It’s a little more cartoon-y but it also has loads of videos that explain about Skara Brae very simply and activities to learn more detail or apply knowledge.

Orkney Jar is a website all about the Orkney Islands and their heritage, and it has a great section on Skara Brae: http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/skarabrae/index.html. From there you can also explore the other settlements and religious sites on the islands.

The Boy with the Bronze Axe by Kathleen Fidler is set in Skara Brae.

Bronze Age religion, technology and travel, for example Stonehenge

Never mind that Stonehenge was started well within the Neolithic, around 3000 BC, the final phases of this great monument were undertaken right at the end of the Neolithic around 2500 BC and it continued in use and importance well into the Early Bronze Age. The thing to remember with Stonehenge is that it is only one monument in a complex landscape of inter-related monuments that connect with and reference each other that stretches from the start of the Neolithic to the end of the Early Bronze Age.

There are two main competing contemporary theories about the meaning of Stonehenge. One is espoused by Mike Parker Pearson, that Stonehenge, built in stone, was the focus of burials and was the realm of the dead, as opposed to nearby Durrington Walls. The latter had huge buildings built of wood and evidence of feasting, was the realm of the living and for celebration of life. They were linked by the River Avon, which was the focus of funeral processions.

The other is proposed by Tim Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, who point out that the bluestones (the smaller stones used at Stonehenge) were brought all the way from Wales and this might have been because they were thought to have healing properties. The Amesbury Archer, a man who had travelled from the Alps was buried close to Stonehenge around 2300 BC with the earliest copper knife and earliest gold objects found in Britain. Some years before his death he had lost his left knee in an injury and the bones had become infected – had he travelled to Stonehenge in the hope of being miraculously healed?

English Heritage has recently opened its new visitor centre, along with reconstructed Neolithic houses based on various ground plans found around Britain. They also have loads of resources online to explore, from a timeline of the building of Stonehengetaking a virtual tour of the monument, to an interactive map of the surrounding landscape, with this page covering the technological side of how the monument was built.

Wessex Archaeology was the company that excavated the Amesbury Archer’s burial and do take a look at their website to see: the excavation, more about the burial, explanation of the importance of the finds and, finally, a blog post discussing whether he was a pilgrim or a magician.

Wiltshire and Devizes Museum houses the contents of several very rich burials from the Early Bronze Age excavated in the Victorian period, including the Bush Barrow chieftain, the Golden Barrow female leader and the Upton Lovell Shaman.

Studying the Bronze Age would not be complete without considering bronze itself, and one way of doing this is to explore the copper mine at Great Orme near Llandudno in Wales. They have a section of their website dedicated to articles about the mine: http://www.greatormemines.info/Articles.htm.

The last chapter of Stig of the Dump might be a good one to read alongside studying Stonehenge, as the modern children are transported back to Stig’s world at the solstice during the building of a stone circle.

The Secrets of Stonehenge by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom was recommended by @zooarchaeologis.

We are selling a set of lesson plans on the various theories about Stonehenge over the centuries.

Iron Age hillforts: tribal kingdoms, farming, art and culture

The problem with hillforts is that they are actually a number of distinct monuments that have been lumped under one heading. They also date from the Late Bronze Age through to the Late Iron Age, and many were constructed on the site of earlier monuments and were then built on again in the Roman period. Confusing!

Hillforts may have been used as temporary refuges in times of inter-tribal warfare, some of them were continuously occupied and some were probably used as seasonal or annual meeting places for widespread communities that may have identified as the same tribe. They would also have been imposing and visible symbols of political control over a landscape.

Regular settlements in the Iron Age (and, indeed, the preceding later Bronze Age) would have been made up of one or more roundhouses (made of wood, wattle and daub and thatched, or made of stone and roofed with turf), possibly reconstructed several times over the course of centuries, and sometimes enclosed by a bank, ditch and fence and sometimes not. It is in the later Bronze Age that large swathes of the landscape get divided into fields, though these are mainly thought to be for controlling cattle.

At the risk of being political, one of the main things to understand about the Iron Age in Britain is that there were no Celts, as such. Celts were really real, and had migrated from central Europe to western Europe, but they didn’t get to Britain. It is likely that Britons shared a language and a culture with those who called themselves Celts, who lived in what is now France and other countries. The art of western Europe in the Iron Age is usually called Celtic art, as well, and it was enriched by amazing works of art created in Britain as much as the continent.

A brilliant resource created by Captain Hillfort himself, @henryrothwell, is The Digital Hillfort Map Project, which will eventually have every hillfort for England, Scotland and Wales.

The most completely excavated hillfort is Danebury in Hampshire. Hampshire County Council’s website has some information and images of the excavation, artefacts and reconstructions of how it might have looks.

Having said that Celts never got to Britain, a great site for exploring what life was like in the Iron Age is the BBC Wales Celts site, which has various tasks such as building a hillfort, designing a torc (a gold or silver neck-ring), weaving or building a chariot. Another great BBC resource is the Iron Age village in which you can learn to make fire, grind grain, bake bread and spin yarn, all without any Celts.

The warrior culture of Iron Age Britons can be explored through this BBC Flash game about the Wetwang chariot burial. Up in this wonderfully named east Yorkshire village was found a spectacular chariot burial dating to about 200 BC, one of only seven found in the area. What was really amazing was that it was a woman’s burial – an early Boudica?

The only book we have found so far, and we haven’t read it, is Adventure on the Knolls by Michael Dundrow. We’d love to know if anyone has read it and what they think.

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/

 

Francis Pryor on why studying prehistory will be good for kids

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

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

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

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