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.

Book review: Stig of the Dump

stig coverWe didn’t think Stig of the Dump would be worthwhile as a book to accompany Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, as, although enjoying it as children, we thought it would be a stereotypical and old-fashioned view of a ‘caveman’. But on starting to read, Stig comes across not as primitive, but as inventive, curious and bristling with skills and confidence, a very good model of an early human.

If you haven’t read it, the premise is that Barney, a normal eight-year-old boy, falls into the local disused chalk-pit while visiting his grandmother. He falls through the roof of a shelter and comes face to face with Stig, an early human. The two become firm friends and have great fun inventing new things to help Stig live in his new home, including a chimney out of old tin cans and a window out of bottles.

One thing is a little confusing, but only if you know a bit about the Stone Age! What kind of human is Stig? Is he an anatomically modern Homo sapiens? Or is he an earlier species of human, perhaps a Neanderthal? He is very inventive, and though his language is limited he managed to communicate with his young friend very well. He seems very keen on hunting horses, which would suggest he might have been from the Palaeolithic, but could still be either. Then, in the final chapter, Barney goes back in time to Stig’s home and ends up helping Stig’s community raise standing stones. This would place him firmly in the Neolithic, with anatomically modern humans, farming and pretty stable settlements. But in the original illustrations, the 1981 and 2002 series, he’s clearly meant to be some kind of earlier human.

You can bring out these inconsistencies in the book, and use them as a source of discussion, if you have a little knowledge about the chronology of the Stone Age. Another post on that should follow!

Here are some other teaching ideas you could explore:

  • Can children invent something new using rubbish? This could spark a conversation about recycling out of necessity, and recycling as a moral issue.
  • If Stig comes from the Stone Age, which materials that he finds in the dump would be new to him? Just because it’s called the Stone Age doesn’t mean everything was made of stone. Obviously, Stig would know about wood, leather and many more materials.
  • If Stig is a Neanderthal and Barney is a modern human, their meeting is a repeat of what happened around 40,000 year ago in Europe when the first Homo sapiens people arrived and found Homo neanderthalensis already living here. Neanderthals lived on for another 15,000 years or so. What were those years like? Did humans kill neanderthals? Did they hunt better? Or did they interbreed with them?
  • Challenge children to come up with one object they’d like to present to Stig and what he would think of it. Think about what object they’d like from Stig in return.

The story explores how early humans created fire, hunted, the kind of tools they created and even some spiritual aspect of their lives. It’s also an interesting book to highlight how children of only 50 years ago were expected to be very independent! Do your children think that they would be brave enough to do what Barney did?

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/

 

Stone Age Boy by Satoshi Kitamura: a book review

Stone Age Boy by Satoshi Kitamura

Stone Age Boy by Satoshi Kitamura

Stone Age Boy is a well-illustrated and well-researched picture book for children featuring a modern boy going back in time after falling into a cave. He emerges in what looks like Upper Palaeolithic France, probably around 25,000 years ago and meets a girl his own age and learns all about her extended family.

There are detailed pictures showing the girl’s family doing all the things Upper Palaeolithic people did: hunting, butchering animals for food, processing hide for clothes, knapping flints into tools, making fire, cooking. Some of these images are labelled to make the actions clearer.

The boy and girl go back into the cave to see cave paintings when a cave bear starts to attack! The boy falls through a hole in the floor and ends up back at home. This leaves unanswered questions about whether the girl escaped from the cave bear. Pupils could imagine what happened to the girl afterwards, especially as they boy is shown as an adult later. He has become an archaeologist and is digging in the cave.

There’s also a useful timeline and glossary at the back to help access some of the concepts. For further activities to go with this book, see this blog post by Playing by the Book or this one by Learning Parade.

One Million Years of the Human Story in Britain

Just before half-term our Director, Kim Biddulph, visited a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London that just might be worth looking at if you’re a teacher planning to teach prehistory for the first time. It is called Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story and is fronted by a pensive Neanderthal model created by artists from the Netherlands. He has a Homo sapiens companion and the character in each is breathtaking.

The exhibition is on until September so it’s a perfect time for teachers to visit and learn about the first million years of human prehistory in Britain. It’s not just a story of two species. As you walk in you are greeted by busts, also by the Kennis brothers, of other human species that visited this part of the world, starting with Homo antecessor, which may have been the human species responsible for leaving muddy footprints on a Norfolk beach 800,000 years ago.

The news about the extreme age of the Happisburgh footprints was released just before the exhibition opened, and there is a section dedicated to this amazing find. What was most incredible to see were some preserved pine cones from the coniferous forest close by at the time these early humans walked across the land bridge from the continent.

The exhibition gives you some idea of how we know what we know about the last million years – mainly it’s from butchered animal bone and the flint tools that did it. There is also the end of a wooden spear found on the foreshore at Clacton in 1911 and thought to date to about 420,000 to 360,000 years ago. Videos along the exhibition give a flavour of different time periods, with new ways of making stone tools coupled with images of the animals they were intended to butcher.

Dipping dark band is burned horizon at Cutting 2, Beeches Pit, Suffolk 1992. © Tim Holt-Wilson

Dipping dark band under the seated person is the earliest hearth in Britain at Cutting 2, Beeches Pit, Suffolk 1992. © Tim Holt-Wilson

One of the most difficult ideas to get your head around is the changing environment over this immense period, and the exhibition tackles this with the videos, images of landscapes and strategically placed taxidermy throughout. The Clacton spear was exhibited alongside the cranium found in a quarry in Swanscombe, Kent, probably that of an early Neanderthal woman. The accompanying video showed the site of the earliest evidence for fire in Britain, around 400,000 years ago at Beeches Pit near West Stow in Suffolk. Britain was a peninsula of Europe for most of the past million years, but was cut off by rising sea levels more than once during this time, the last occasion being about 6000 BC.

But the Neanderthal man and the anatomically modern human man facing each other in the final room is the most amazing sight, and quite touching. Homo sapiens arrived in Europe from Africa to find another human species with white skin living here, and it looks like at least a few of our species interbred with these cousins of ours. Whether we also wiped them out is a matter worth debating with students. How would they feel to meet a member of another human species?

This is where the story ends; the exhibition doesn’t take it into the period when we were the only human species left on the planet. That’s just an addendum to an amazing story of human perseverance, ingenuity and adaptation.

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/.

Why prehistory? Why not Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age?

The National Curriculum for England does not mention the term, preferring to talk about the Stone Age to the Iron Age. The trouble with this is two-fold. First, it’s a bit of a mouthful to list the ‘Ages’ as opposed to a nice neat term like prehistory. Secondly, it misleads teachers who will be looking for resources on the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, while archaeologists who have already created resources will be using the term prehistoric.

Besides this, the term Stone Age makes it seem like an equivalent period to either the Bronze or Iron Ages, a thousand years at most, and seeing very few changes within the period. It has been a while since the term Stone Age has been replaced with the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age). And let’s not get started on subdividing the Palaeolithic.

Timeline for prehistory

Timeline for prehistory

So, we are using the terms chosen by the government in the National Curriculum as much as we can, while pushing the term prehistory, which is much more useful. Prehistory is obviously to be compared to history, which in one sense can mean the past written down. Prehistory is, therefore, the time before writing. That’s a great teaching point in itself. Without writing, how do we know anything about the past?

Through archaeology, of course, which is often assumed to be about studying objects, but it is actually more accurately about studying the material remains of the past. What this means is anything that humans have done to change their environment, as well as the objects they made and used from the environment. Pits, ditches, post-holes, gullies, mounds, banks, cairns, walls. These, as well as objects found in them, are the main stuff of prehistory. How to interpret these environmental features and objects is another great idea for teaching.

Model of how archaeology works in Bordeaux Museum

Model of how archaeology works in Bordeaux Museum

Have a look at our sample History of prehistory and How archaeology works teacher’s information booklets to see if you’d like to know more.