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.

Over to you – teachers doing amazing things with the Stone Age to Iron Age topic

In these new blog categories, we want to celebrate when teachers are doing amazing stuff to bring the topic closest to our hearts, Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, to life for their kids.

A few weeks ago, before half-term, we had a quick chat on Twitter with Mr Phillips, who teaches Year 3 at St Ann’s CE Primary School near St Helens in Merseyside. He runs a class blog and has shared some awesome work he and his class have done on the Stone Age to Iron Age.

First up, children did some initial research on tablets and were given topics to flesh out in teams. Each team then became the teachers as they shared their research with the rest of the class. See the full blog post here: Stone Age researchers.

Tying in with practising writing persuasively, the class then wrote adverts to persuade people to buy Stig of the Dump, which they were using as their focus book. “If you like jaw-dropping adventure, then we have got the book for you!” We agree on our book review of Stig. See the school’s full blog post here: Stig of the Dump adverts.

Inspired by Horrible Histories, Year 3 then did some research about the Iron Age and made their own Celtic raps. We love the lyrics!

Heads hang down from our belts,

You’re the losers and we’re the Celts!

See the full blog post here: Celtic Rap!

Are you doing amazing things with your class on this topic? Tell us about it and get featured here!

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!

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.