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”.

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Felling a large tree

We have moved up in size with todays task.
Armed with ten volunteers and four flint axes we headed back to the woods to fell a thirty metre high pine tree.Today the volunteers chose the axe that they preferred rather than us insisting on them using a variety, as we felt it would be more productive for them to be comfortable with a particular tool. We felt that it was going to take a while and yesterday we had all estimated how long it would take to fell the tree and we had a range from thirty minutes to three hours.

The tree to be felled

The tree to be felled

It didn’t take long for the chips to start flying as we took turns chopping for two minutes each and by lunch time we had cut a large wedge out of the tree. We continued into the afternoon focusing now on the back cut to ensure that the tree fell where we wanted it, not where it wanted!
The first cut

The first cut

Starting the back cut

Starting the back cut

Ready to fall

Ready to fall

At 2.30pm, after a valiant effort by all involved, the tree started to creak and a few more blows later it fell. Cheers echoed round the wood, we had done it all with flint tools!

11,000 blows later

11,000 blows later

The successful team

The successful team

The total amount of blows struck was 11,477! We counted every one!
We have now reached the end of the harvesting phase and now all the materials will be delivered to Old Sarum for the construction phase to start at the beginning of March.

Return to the woods

After a week away we returned to the woods with flint axes in hand.
Many of the axes had been repaired or re hafted and their edges honed in preparation for the task ahead.

The mission today was to cut down twenty larch trees. These trees were far more substantial than the hazel coppice, being about twelve years old but, because they are a softwood, we wondered if they would be any easier.

Trees to be cut

Trees to be cut

The first signs were promising as the sound of flint axes striking trees echoed through the woods and large chippings littered the floor. It wasn’t long before the first tree crashed to the ground and from then on trees were harvested at a steady rate.

The first one down

The first one down

Larch poles ready to go

Larch poles ready to go

Tomorrow we move on to something larger!

 

A Neolithic industrial landscape

Today we were back in our original coup to finish collecting the last of the small hazel rods.
Our volunteers didn’t look particularly surprised when the flint tools appeared again, we are wondering whether the excitement of using them is wearing off.

The effects of hazel coppice on a copper axe

The effects of hazel coppice on a copper axe

Over the last couple of days we have also been experimenting with copper and bronze axes, the buildings at Durrington Walls that we are reconstructing were built at the end of the Neolithic era. It soon became apparent that these axes with their sharp metal edges are more efficient at cutting wood and, given the chance, most of our volunteers preferred them.
This is our last day in this coup as we now have enough hazel rods to build with and it is amazing to think that a week ago you couldn’t see across the coup!

A Neolithic industrial landscape - coppiced hazel waiting to be taken to Old Sarum

A Neolithic industrial landscape – coppiced hazel waiting to be taken to Old Sarum

Start of the second week

It is the start of our second week of coppicing and the enthusiasm was still evident when our volunteers arrived this morning, maybe the sunshine helped.
We continued where we left off last week, looking for larger rods to use in the main structure of the buildings.
Today, however, we intended to harvest the majority of the hazel with the flint axes and adzes that we have, which meant that we only used the bow saws and lopers to remove the shoots and branches on each rod (brash). This allowed us to gain a huge amount of practical experience using flint tools and also find their limitations, they don’t cut through wood quite as easily as steel tools! They tend to peel the wood along its fibres rather than cutting through which means that it takes considerably more blows to remove a hazel rod.

Hafted axes ready for use

Hafted axes ready for use

When you have spent a day of using these tools you certainly don’t need to visit the gym!

Using flint tools in the mud

The coup has become incredibly muddy after so much prolonged rain and it is hard to believe how you would have coped with these muddy conditions in the Stone Age. No grippy, steel toe capped boots in Neolithic times!
The focus of today was to continue with our use of flint tools to coppice the hazel in our coup. It was interesting to see how much time Neolithic people would have had to spend removing the enough material to make their houses. Our flint tools have been made by one of our volunteers James Dilley, who trades under the name Ancient Craft.
Some of the flint axes before they were hafted.

Some of the flint axes before they were hafted. Photo by James Dilley

Flint axes and sickles, now hafted with handles

Flint axes and sickles, now hafted with handles. Photo by James Dilley

A fully hafted and bound flint axe, ready for use

A fully hafted and bound flint axe, ready for use. Photo by James Dilley

We have had some breakages of our flint axes and it is now a question of whether our technique is lacking or whether our Neolithic ancestors had the same problems, and, if they did, were they all capable of repairing these axes when they were damaged.
One of the flint axes in use. Photo by Keith Murray

One of the flint axes in use. Photo by Keith Murray