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.

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!

Historic Environment Records, the archives of Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age Britain

We have talked before about the archaeological databases that exist for every area of the country, mostly called Historic Environment Records. These are consulted by planning and commercial archaeologists (see our booklet, How Archaeology Works) before houses, roads and the like are built so that any known archaeology can be noted in the planning consent, perhaps with a requirement to excavate it.

Teachers have always been welcome to consult their local HER, which has details of all archaeology from Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) onwards. But written sources, historical images and one or two famous historic sites (Hadrian’s Wall for the Romans, Hampton Court for the Tudors etc…) have generally predominated in the teaching of these periods before the new curriculum. Now, there are one or two very famous sites mentioned in the non-statutory guidance for the Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to Iron Age topic too. What is very heartening, however, is that most of the teachers Schools Prehistory has talked to want to teach about their local prehistoric sites, not just Stonehenge and Skara Brae.

Well, the HERs are the place to go to find out about these local sites. Most HER’s have a basic online database, accessible through Heritage Gateway, where you can search your parish for sites and finds of a particular period. Some HERs have gone further and produced period overviews for their local area and more.

If you’re in Surrey, go to Exploring Surrey’s Past and look at the overviews of the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age, Neolithic (New Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. There are some nice illustrations to bring the periods to life as well.

If you’re in north Devon near Exmoor National Park, take a look at their HER, which also has period overviews for the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. They also have a loan box free to schools with replica Mesolithic and Bronze Age objects.

In Buckinghamshire, Unlocking Buckinghamshire’s Past has period overviews for the whole county, summaries of the archaeology in each parish, a timeline for the county, and a glossary of archaeological terms so if you ever come across a word you don’t know, you can look it up there. Loan boxes were created for the Schools Library Service.

West Yorkshire HER and archaeological advice service has lots of images of prehistoric sites on their website.

Is your HER not mentioned here? Let us know and we’ll add you to the list of HERs with useful resources for teachers teaching Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age.

Advice for Historic Environment Records and the new curriculum

After the meeting at The Hive a couple of weeks ago we started thinking about what Historic Environment Records (HERs) could easily do, with little resourcing, to engage with the new curriculum.

Our director, Kim Biddulph, worked for four years in Buckinghamshire HER during a project to get it online with images digitised and attached and associated articles and resources for teachers and the community to more easily use it. You can see the results at http://ubp.buckscc.gov.uk. The teacher information is out of date, now, as teachers will be after Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age information.

ubpFor HERs that aren’t online, or don’t have associated resources for public accessibility, here are a few ideas that could be done pretty quickly and cheaply.

1. Does your region have a research framework? If so, you should have county/district resources assessments that you could share as PDFs on your website. Ideally do a precis of the resource assessment and label them with “Stone Age”, “Bronze Age” and “Iron Age” terms. These are the terms used in the curriculum, these are the terms teachers will be searching for.

2. Teachers and pupils love images. You have amazing collections, particularly of excavations and aerial photographs. Nick an explanation of aerial photography from somewhere, e.g. this one from Cornwall, and add in your own images. Create a quick image gallery on your website of relevant excavations or sites. Label them with captions that give the bare essentials that a teacher would need to use them in the classroom.

3. If you use HBSMR, and it’s online, buy the Themes module and add some of the above detail directly into the database. This allows you to link these articles directly back to the raw data on a site. Obviously, there are some costs to this option!

Any more great ideas, do post in the comments below.

How to find prehistoric remains local to your school

In our survey of teachers about to teach the new primary history curriculum later this year one of the main things respondents wanted information on was the prehistoric remains local to their school. A fuller account of how to do this is given in one of our information booklets, How to research your local prehistory, but here are a couple of tips.

The main way is to contact your local Historic Environment Record (HER). It is now statutory that all local authorities maintain a HER, so search on your local county or unitary authority website for archaeology or historic environment. A small number of authorities have outsourced the function to an external consultant, but it should still be accessible.

Some, but not many, HERs have online databases. One, that Schools Prehistory’s Kim Biddulph worked on many years ago, is Buckinghamshire County Council’s HER at https://ubp.buckscc.gov.uk/SimpleSearch.aspx. Here you can search by parish, period, type of site or find (object) or simply by using a keyword.

ubpMost HERs have a similar database not fully accessible online, so it will just be a case of contacting the Historic Environment Record Officer (yes, that acronym makes HERO!) and giving them the post-code of your school and an idea of what period you’re looking at. Start with the whole of prehistory and then narrow it down if you get loads of results.

The HER also holds reports of any archaeological investigation undertaken at each site, possibly photographs, and can plot the sites on a map for you so you can find them easily. This is a publicly accessible record so it’s there for you to use. As you’d be accessing it for educational non-commercial purposes, the service should also be provided free, or at least very cheaply.

We undertook a search for Low Ash Primary School in Shipley and found some Bronze Age cairns (stone burial mounds), Iron Age settlement enclosures and, excitingly, some Bronze Age rock art easily accessible in their local park. We put together some notes for the teachers with teaching suggestions, a map of where everything was and a package of images to use on the whiteboard.

sample_low_ashA selection of what’s in the local HERs is on the National Monument Record held by English Heritage. Their website Pastscape has a searchable database, so you need to know your local authority area again and search for prehistory.

If you don’t have time to do all this research, we’re happy to do it for you. Group together in your local cluster of schools and get us to find the exciting prehistoric remains local to you that will bring prehistory alive for your pupils.