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 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Three Thornborough Henges seen from the air. By Tony Newbould [CC-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.

Wolf Brother’s Wildwoods, a Forestry Commission Scotland resource

Wolf_brotherMichelle Paver’s series of books set in Mesolithic Scandinavia, The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, published by Orion Children’s Books are a fantastic read. The world is full of demons and spirits and one boy, Torak, is the hero who can save the world. He is left alone in the world when a crazed bear kills his father and the only friend he has is a wolf cub who quickly grows up to be a very useful companion.

The first in the series is Wolf Brother and, as it was set in Scotland,  Forestry Commission (Scotland) created a set of resources, Wolf Brother’s Wildwoods (pdf), for teachers to build activities around the book. These activities are mainly to encourage outdoor learning, particularly in the Forest School approach, but they are also very helpful in exploring what life was like in Stone Age Britain.

The Mesolithic (middle stone age) in Britain is a time between the melting of the ice sheets around 10,000 BC to the introduction of farming around 4000 BC. The ice sheets had left Scotland by about 8500 BC and that’s when people started to explore and exploit the area. Wolf Brother must be set at least a few hundred years if not a couple of thousand years later as the landscape is pretty well known and there are different groups of people living in different environments, e.g. in the forest, on the coast, on the islands.

Torak, as an outsider, gives the reader a chance to get to know the Mesolithic. We meet people who live in skin tents, who use flint arrows to kill red deer and then use every part of the deer for food. The Forestry Commission resource has a great poster detailing what every part of the deer could be used for. This could bring up discussions of sustainability, reducing waste, contrasts with modern day hunting in the UK, and many other issues.

every part of the deerThe book is exciting all the way through: Torak’s capture by the Raven clan; his escape aided by one of the Raven girls, Renn; their quest across a glacier; a devastating avalanche just at the right moment. Paver does not talk down to her readers, exploring topics such as self-sacrifice, loyalty, and loss. Nor does she avoid using challenging language, but the excitement and paciness of the book keep readers enthralled. It is probably most appropriate for Years 5 or 6. There are several sequels, too, so it should encourage readers to go on and read more.

The resources created for teachers to use alongside the book, Wolf Brother’s Wildwoods, provides ideas of activities to do in the classroom and outside in woodland. These include making timelines, making nettle cord, meeting trees blindfolded, building shelters, microhikes wriggling along a rope ‘track’ on your tummy, laying and following tracks, creating journey sticks, writing kennings (knowings) and making tree spirits – all prefaced by extracts from the book. There are lots of images of recreated Mesolithic scenes as well as the animals, plants and tools mentioned in the books.

journey stickWolf Brother’s Wildwoods also gives teachers south of the border a glimpse into Scotland’s curriculum for excellence. It’s always interesting to find out how others approach pedagogy, and contrast it with one’s own approach.

A book for adults set in the same time period and general area is The Gathering Night by Margaret Elphinstone. It is a very insightful view into the Mesolithic world, beautifully written and full of the same kind of themes as Wolf Brother.