Throughout the Neolithic Houses project, we will be running workshops for local schools around Wiltshire. Our workshops are run by the Ancient Technology Centre and will include workshops such as; material gathering, being a part of the Neolithic house build and testing out Neolithic activities in preparation for our Stonehenge Discovery Visit session.
We had our four gathering material sessions last Thursday and Friday. The schools that took part were Sarum St. Paul’s CofE Primary School, Coombe Bissett Primary School and St. John’s Primary, Tisbury. These were two-hour sessions where children had the opportunity to experience how to coppice trees for the material to be used for our Neolithic houses being built at Old Sarum.
The session was held in Garston Woods, in Sixpenny Handley where the school group started the session with a nature walk around the area. The children looked for evidence of how old the woodland was and the variety of species which lived there. These included primroses, bluebells, wild strawberries and daffodils and learning about the dangers of picking other plants such as Arum maculatum, commonly called ‘Lords and Ladies’. They also had the opportunity to learn more about the use of plants in the Tudor period, such as the usefulness of moss as nappies and wound dressings when sterilised with stale pee!
We gathered around the demonstration area where Anthony from the Ancient Technology Centre showed the children how to use Neolithic tools such as flint axes to harvest wood. The difficulty of using this tool was demonstrated when it took volunteers up to 5 minutes of very hard work to chop one of the trees back to its stump (also called a ‘stool’ in coppicing). This also demonstrated how effective Bronze Age tools were compared to flint tools used in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods.
The exciting part began when Anthony demonstrated the use of modern tools like loppers and bow saws which the children were able to use under supervision. The class was divided into 5 groups with the challenge to coppice a tree.
Step 1) Children were asked to cut the smaller branches down; no thicker than their thumb. This was to clear the tree up to allow the larger branches to be chopped down.
Step 2) As a team the children were tasked to cut down a stool using a bow saw in pairs. While other members of the team held the large tree branch (to stop the branch falling on someone’s head!)
Step 3) Taking down the tree safely, this was done by a team member holding the branch from the stump at ground level (called the ‘butt’), holding it under their arm and walking forward, allowing it to fall behind them.
Step 4) The final stage was to prepare the branch to be used as construction material.
A quote from a pupil at Sarum St. Paul’s CofE Primary School ended the session by saying “Miss, miss, miss… This is the best trip ever”. With the gathering of the necessary construction materials complete, these children have now helped make a substantial contribution to the building of the Neolithic Houses.
Three schools took part in our house building sessions; Alderbury & West Grimstead Primary School, Appleford School and Shrewton Church of England Primary School; they started their session by going back in time.
The Neolithic period was 4,500 years ago; this was shown visually as a line on the ground to help explain this length of time to the children, with every centimetre representing one year. Their journey started with the children’s birthdays and going back to significant points in history, such as World War I, The Battle of Hastings, all the way back to Roman times and beyond.
Once the class discovered how far back in time they had gone they were then split into three groups to understand the different stages in building a Neolithic house. These included; using flint and bronze axes, hazel weaving and cob making.
Flint and Bronze axes
The children were given instructions on how to use flint and bronze axes to work on pegged logs. The challenge was to work out which tool would have been more effective at a time when this kind of house was being built. The children were given two minutes to cut as much wood as possible and their results were compared at the end. As you might expect, bronze axes were more effective than flint.
Hazel weaving is the method used in the Neolithic times in the building of their houses. Hazel branches are woven amongst the weight bearing posts of the structure, creating its walls. In order to prevent the branch snapping a delicate touch was required. The children were arranged into teams with each child having a role in the weaving process. As the branch was wrapped around a post, one child would stand on the branch to keep it secured in place, while another would lift the branch to weave it around the next post. This would continue until they reached the end of the branch. This replicates the skills needed to build the walls of Neolithic houses.
Daubing the building walls was one of the messier jobs that needed doing when building a Neolithic house. First the cob must be made. This is made from a mixture of crushed chalk and straw. The mixture is daubed onto the woven walls of the Neolithic house ensuring all the nooks and crannies are filled in. This was a critical process in the construction of the house, enhancing the durability of the structure and luckily, protecting the school groups from the wet weather!
A helper quoted ‘These sessions are great, the children are absorbing the information without them even realising that they are, and enjoying the experience at the same time’.
We had our first day of our Neolithic Activities session yesterday where five activities took place; these included plaiting with rush, fence building, bartering, fire making and cooking bread took place. The school groups had the opportunity to undertake 3 of the activities in an hour long session.
Plaiting with rush
The pupils learnt about bull rushes and how they were used in the Neolithic period at Durrington Walls and they undertook two tasks. The first task was to strengthen the rush by pairing up and holding the dampened rush at each end, twisting it in opposite directions. This twisted rush is then halved while maintaining the tension and allowed to twist around its self to form a braid.
The next task to perform was plaiting of bull rushes. Three of the dampened rush stems were tied at one end by a pupil using an overhand knot. Another pupil then starts plaiting the bull rush until reaching half way, where the children would then swap over.
Below are some of the children plaiting the bull rushes!
Hazel weaving which was undertaken in the house building session is a great opportunity to get hands on and practical in the art of weaving. Below are a group of pupils starting of the weaving process.
This activity explores the usefulness of materials and possessions in the Neolithic period and seeks to give children a greater understanding of the true “value” of everyday objects.
The pupils were given a Neolithic object from a basket and in groups decided which would be the most important object when living in the Stone Age. These objects were:
• A bronze knife blade
• A flint axe
• A small bag of wheat
• A Cows model
• A sheep model
• A pair of Leather Shoes
• A piece of Salted Meat
• A figurine (Gods)
Though each child had a different opinion as to which was most important, but the most popular choice was wheat; being a good source of food and allowing the Neolithic settlers to grow food on land by cultivating crops.
In this session Paul gave a demonstration of how to use flint and pyrite to start a fire. It was explained how hard it was to use these tools but the benefits were tremendous and essential to the survival of settlers in the Neolithic period. To get an idea of what materials are used to start a fire in this way the materials were passed out amongst the pupils such as flint, pyrite, fungus and charcloth.
The next stage was to light a fire; as time was short Paul explained that the tools he used were iron and pyrite but Neolithic people didn’t have such luxury. All the pupils had a go at blowing long steady breaths onto the embers to light the kindling.
A teacher explained “Sometimes being told something in the classroom means nothing, when they come and do it for themselves they learn how it’s done…”
This activity explores the process of taking wheat from a field to the table. The pupils learnt the different stages of processing from the standing wheat stalk, through harvesting, threshing, winnowing, grinding, mixing and baking.
The pupils were given three tasks; firstly, separate the grain from the chaff, when this is done the next task in grinding. The grains are grinded into flour using two stone querns. The final task was to shape pre-prepared dough into flat bread. The dough was then baked on a flat heated stone, once done the children got to taste what they had made. With a pupil commenting “I’m eating Neolithic bread! It could have been made 4000 years ago!”
At the end of a rainy day, pupils are warming their hands up by the fire, while a teacher says “This is fantastic, they learnt so much in a short space of time”.
Second Day of the Neolithic Activities
Three more schools came to our Neolithic Activities workshops yesterday. As well as taking part in some of the activities from Tuesday they also learnt how to do rope making, cob making and storytelling.
It was great seeing the pupils get stuck into learning how to make rope from bramble. To be able to make the rope the children had to take the thorns off the bramble by hitting this with wood until the stem is weakened to be able to twist it. With the children working in pairs they twisted each end in opposite directions until it was ready to be doubled and twisted again to make rope.
Cob making was undertaken in the house building sessions, it is a great workshop for pupils to learn how the walls for the Neolithic house are made. It is also a great way to get messy. The image below is the start of a new section which was done by Wilton Primary Campus pupils.
Luke from the Ancient Technology Centre led these sessions explaining about some of the earliest written stories from the Neolithic period with evidence found on wet clay with reed in Sumeria over 5,000 years ago.
The story that he told was “The debate between sheep and grain” and exploring the idea of what sheep can give us and what wheat can give us. After arguing for so long the Gods step in and decide that both should be brothers but wheat was more important to humans rather than sheep.
Final Day of Neolithic Activities
St. Edmund’s Church of England Girls’ School and Whiteparish All Saints Church of England Primary School had a lovely day taking part in the Neolithic Activities. Here are some pictures with pupils in action.
We would like to thank all the schools taking part this week in the different activities.
Thank you to:
• St Thomas a Becket Church of England Primary School
• Leehurst Swan
• Old Sarum Primary School
• Stonehenge School
• Osmund’s Catholic Primary School
• Wilton Primary Campus
• Downton Primary School
• St. Edmund’s Church of England Girls’ School
• Whiteparish All Saints Church of England Primary School
Also thank you to all the Ancient Technology Centre staff and volunteers in leading the sessions over the past 3 months.