Neolithic knee prints?

neolithic dresser

It is very exciting when archaeological evidence allows us to reconstruct or imagine small intimate details of the lives of people who lived thousands of years ago. The hard chalk floors of the Neolithic Houses excavated at Durrington Walls shed light on some of the domestic activities of the people who lived there – the people who may have built or used Stonehenge.


neo fire

In one of the houses, just by the central hearth, two indentations were found and it has been suggested that these could be knee prints – from somebody spending long hours, day after day kneeling by the fireplace, tending the fire and cooking.

It is unlikely we will ever be able to prove or disprove this theory but reconstructing these houses has allowed us to see how the building materials work and how they settle. When the houses open in June, we will begin to observe the impact that general use and traffic will have on the chalk floors. The fires will be lit, the floors will be swept, people will be walking through, and generally interacting with the houses on a daily basis.

What do you think? Are these knee prints or just naturally occurring indentations in the hard chalk floor?

knee prints 1knee prints 2

Thanks very much to Kate Welham of Bournemouth University and the Riverside Project for letting us use these two images of the floor of House 851 – which show the ‘knee-shaped’ indentations to the left of the circular hearth. Also visible are the beam-slot indentations where wooden furniture once stood around the edge of the floor.

nick jones twitter image finished

photo by volunteer house builder Nick Jones

There are still opportunities to get involved with the Neolithic Houses – we are recruiting for interpretation and education volunteers! Click here to find out more 

Meet the team of Neolithic House Builders! Nick Beeton

nick beeton 

What made you want to get involved with the Neolithic Houses project?

A desire to learn something practical about how our ancestors lived and fitted into the local landscape and to attempt to replicate some of the skills necessary to survive in that period.

What are you enjoying about the project so far?

The comradeship of fellow travellers uniting to learn new skills and to put them into practice.

Is there any part of the project that you’re particularly looking forward to or that you are particularly interested in?

Having done the “dry run” at Old Sarum, it is fascinating seeing all our newly acquired skills coming together in the finished article. I find all aspects of the build intrinsically interesting.

In what ways has being involved in this project made you think differently about the people of Stonehenge and their lives?

How efficient and durable were their “temporary” domestic structures.  I am sure that they were erected in less time than we took (bearing in mind that our group of volunteers were perhaps at least double the age and perhaps not so physically able as the original builders). I also find it amazing that so much skill and experience could be transmitted from one generation to the next under what we would consider arduous (and brutish) conditions especially when at the same time they had to forage/hunt for food. The building of Stonehenge indicates a high level of organisation with the ability to generate the requisite amount of time required to plan and execute the original concept and for generations following to expand that into the final form we have today.

What do you do when you’re not building Neolithic houses?

Being one of the many retired OAP’s I do nothing else – except being a Salisbury Cathedral Tower Tour Guide (since it was built…), play badminton, engage in other local activities, sail our sloop (tide and wind permitting), travel through France for up to six weeks a year (in search of ancient ruins and wines), very amateur local historian, keen visitor of historic sites that were once in the care of the Ministry of Public Buildings & Works (but are now split up into EH, CADW and Historic Scotland amongst others), etymology -with a keen interest in place names in England especially those indicating the routes taken by successive economic/social/military incursions throughout our history,  making and playing music of most persuasions (fumbling bass player of various stringed instruments ), film maker extraordinaire, keeper of useless facts and figures.

 What would you say to people who are tempted to volunteer at Stonehenge?

With my recent experience dress up warmly with waterproof clothing!  Stonehenge is a unique structure which is gradually unveiling more of it’s past so therefore it’s story is continuously unfolding.  It has a wealth of information already in the public domain, and it requires people with the skills and enthusiasm to convey this information in a simple and easily digestible form for the general public.  I do not believe in “experts” (disassembling the word gives you a has-been and a drip…) Simply put, an unlettered person with a love of the subject who can convey this effectively to a general audience is the ideal person.  Having said that, there are also many other aspects of the whole visitor experience where a volunteer does not come into direct contact with the general public, but whose worth is as valued.

Additional Volunteering Opportunities

If you are interested in beoming a Stonehenge Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer, you can find out more on the English Heritage website. As a Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the Neolithic houses once they are built (which weather permitting will be by the end of April), by lighting fires and assisting with the building maintenance.  You will bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life in our external galleries and provide a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors, helping us to deliver a world class visitor experience.

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.

The children enjoying jumping on the hazel.

The children enjoying jumping on the hazel.

The children watching Paul blow on the embers.

The children watching Paul blow on the embers.

Carol, an English Heritage volunteer helping to collect flour.

Carol, an English Heritage volunteer helping to collect flour.

Bread being cook next to the fire.

Bread being cook next to the fire.

Whiteparish All Saints Church of England Primary School having a great afternoon.

Whiteparish All Saints Church of England Primary School having a great afternoon.

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.

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”.

A visit to the Ancient Technology Centre and sunshine

We met this morning in the Viking Longhouse at the Ancient Technology Centre.
The Viking longhouse at the Ancient Technology Centre

The Viking longhouse at the Ancient Technology Centre

After a cup of tea around the fire we were given a tour of the site with the emphasis on exploring the different building technology used and how the materials that will be collected in the next few weeks relate to the Neolithic House Project.
This was illustrated by showing how the coppiced hazel is used in a variety of ways, from making hurdles (lightweight and portable fencing panels) to constructing walls and fences. It helped bring into context all of the hard work of the last few days.
We returned to the woods for lunch and the afternoon was spent with saws and lopers in hand collecting larger hazel rods that are essential for the structural elements of the buildings, for example as wall stakes or rafters.
And finally the sun came out!