Technology - Prehistory and beyond......
In early January 2019 we kicked off our Home Ed History sessions, welcoming a dozen enthusiastic future historians and archaeologists to our Great Hall for an afternoon of immersive and enriching history.
Our theme was deep time and we journeyed along a timeline for almost a million years exploring technology, the archeology of fire, the human revolution, and connections between the three.
Our blank, but very green, timeline accumulated meaning as we marked on our destinations including The Devensian and Anglian glaciations, the miniscule points at which Britain has been an island and the amazing Palaeomagnetic Reversal, replete with magnets and compasses.
We had Beeches Pit – the oldest current evidence we have of the controlled use of fire in Britain on the 400,000 year mark, corresponding nicely with examples of Clactonian stone industry. Deeper into the past, beyond even the Palaeomagnetic Reversal, we encountered footprints on the beach at Happisburgh in Norfolk. At 800,000 years old, perhaps Happisburgh topped even Clacton for a Sunday afternoon seaside stroll!
Finishing up examining some Neolithic arrowheads, just several centimetres along the timeline, this was an afternoon of extensive time travel.
The Archaeology of Art
This week we ran the second in the current series History for Home Educators, exploring our deep, deep past. But this week we left our Happisburgh footprints and the Palaeomagnetic Reversal well behind us as we headed in the veritably modern Upper Palaeolithic and the art world.
Our first stop was Gibraltar, nestling between the foot of Spain and the Rif mountains of Morocco. These were in ancient times, the Pillars of Hercules through which the brave or foolhardy may very well venture and topple off the very edge of the world!.
Today, Gibraltar marks not the edge of the world, but presents hotbed of history and culture. Importantly for us, the Unesco World heritage Site of Gorham’s Cave holds a very rare example of Neanderthal art. Abstract in form, our young historians interpreted it both as a hashtag and a very old game of noughts and crosses.
Our journey took us northward to Spain and France and into the Upper Palaeolithic proper, with zoomorphic imagery of caves such as Lascaux and Chauvet.
Britain is not so well known for Upper Palaeolithic rock art, but there are a few scratchings that have been interpreted as such, Cat Hole Cave (the discovery of which your host was, peripherally, involved with!).
Our session was spent largely discussing the process of creating rock art, its meaning and significance and there were some fantastic ideas and insight from our students. To appreciate this properly, we had a go. Using red ochre, possible the oldest of art materials, fresh from Clearwell Cave in the Forest of Dean, we conducted some experimental archaeology, recreating the famous hand prints, both in positive and negative form.
Throughout the session we referred to a broad variety of sites that are important to the student of prehistoric art, from Gibraltar, of course, to the Forest of Dean, to the Gower and Cheddar in Somerset. Our focus was on how art related to burial practice, landscape and occupation.
In our next session we return to Gibraltar as we explore and reappraise those enigmatic ancestors of ours - Neanderthals.