Open days

The Neolithic Houses at Old Sarum will be open to the public this weekend! Come and have a look, step inside the completed dressed house and find out more about the project. Our volunteers will be on hand to answer your questions and show you their hard work.

Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, open 11am-5pm

Parking in the field, part of the Vikings event at Old Sarum. Entry to the houses is free, a charge will be made for entry to the Vikings event.

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.

Rope making

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.

A child hitting the bramble to remove the thorns.

A child hitting the bramble to remove the thorns.

Working in pairs to twist the bramble.

Working in pairs to twist the bramble.

Doubling  up the bramble to make rope.

Doubling up the bramble to make rope.

Cob Making

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.

Wilton Primary Campus cob making.

Wilton Primary Campus cob making.

Storytelling

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.

Luke telling the story of the debate between sheep and grain

Luke telling the story of the debate between sheep and grain

Education workshops

We’ve been running several education workshops at the Neolithic Houses – you can read more about them on our page on Schools Workshops

Here, Katherine Snell, English Heritage education co-ordinator, describes the latest of these workshops:

Neolithic Activities

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!

Two children finishing off plaiting their rush.

Two children finishing off plaiting their rush.

Working in pairs to plait rush.

Working in pairs to plait rush.

Hazel weaving

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.

The children starting to hazel weave.

The children starting to hazel weave.

Bartering

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.

Fire making

Paul showing the children how to light the kindling with flint and pyrite.

Paul showing the children how to light the kindling with flint and pyrite.

A pupil blowing on the embers to light the kindling.

A pupil blowing on the embers to light the kindling.

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…”

Cooking bread

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 children having a go at grinding the grains into flour.

The children having a go at grinding the grains into flour.

Children tasting some flat bread.

Children tasting some flat bread.

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!”

Pupils warming their hands up by the fire.

Pupils warming their hands up by the fire.

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”.

Building 848

The evidence for this building in the original consists of a chalk floor with a hearth but no stake holes for the walls. This means that any structure that we build has to leave no trace.

The different thatching styles used.

The different thatching styles used.

The main structure consists of larch rafters with woven hazel ringbeams. One section of the building is completely woven hazel, this provides a base for the grass thatch to fix to.On the other sections we have experimented with different thatching materials and methods, with most of the thatch on the roof tied on with willow.

The grass thatch.

The grass thatch.

A floor has also been laid in the building made from crushed chalk.

The interior of the building showing the floor.

The interior of the building showing the floor.

Building 547

With the end of this phase of the project in sight, and the buildings almost finished, we thought it would be a good idea to dedicate the next few days blogs to each building.

Building 547

The north-west corner of the building.

The north-west corner of the building.

This building has been used to test a lot of our construction theories. A different method was employed in each quarter of the building. Two sections of wall were woven with a diagonal weave and two were woven horizontally.

The doorway in the south wall. Two different weaving styles can be seen.

The doorway in the south wall. Two different weaving styles can be seen.

The roof was also divided into sections which allowed us to experiment with rafter placement, ways of attaching the ringbeams and different thatching materials.

the different thatching methods that we tried.

the different thatching methods that we tried.

We also used this building to test our daub material before we used it on building 851.

The chalk daub test section.

The chalk daub test section.