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kim biddulph

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Stone Age woman in the Chilterns

cropped_DSCF0511Back in May I led an archaeology themed guided walk along part of the Ridgeway National Trail at Ivinghoe Beacon as part of the Chiltern Walking Festival. I was dressed as a Stone Age woman all in skins and fur but I covered the archaeology of all prehistoric periods at Ivinghoe Beacon and the surrounding area. I brought along some replica artefacts for people to connect with as we walked and tried to build up a period of a changing landscape from the Ice Age to the Iron Age.

I have been thinking about a number of things since. The choice of Stone Age clothing was not mine but my clients. I would have preferred, before the walk, to have been Bronze or Iron Age so that I could feel like my character could look back at the past. But, in reality, would a person in the first or second millennium before the common era have had any concept of the developments in the past before them? Well, yes, but they would have been mythical and largely not factual, I would have thought. So I ended up not in character at all, as I wanted to talk about so many different periods. Still, I rock that Stone Age look.

DSCF0471The other issue that came up was the authenticity of the Ridgeway and the related Icknield Way. A whole heritage industry has built up around the idea that these were long distance routeways from the Neolithic onwards but the evidence is less than compelling. It has become an axiom repeated again and again with little reflection or reference back to its origin myth in Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum. The article I encountered a few years ago, “The Icknield Way – Some Queries” by Sarah Harrison in the Archaeological Journal, had clarified some of this for me and I felt that I couldn’t in all conscience perpetuate this legend.

The essence of Harrison’s queries are that the old arguments for the existence of the Icknield/Ridgeway long distance route is the survival of upstanding monuments on the chalk uplands, but the emergence of developer-led archaeology has shown that there is just as much if not more settlement in the valleys, but it’s just been covered with alluvium or flattened by later ploughing. The only other argument is that there is flint from Norfolk in Wessex, but there are plenty of other ways it could have got there. A counter-argument is that any actual tracks found near the route of the so-called Icknield/Ridgeway are generally aligned a different way.

DSCF0535It felt good to do research again when doing this walk. I had a good sense of what I wanted to say but I went back to the sources to get the specifics. The original excavation of Ivinghoe Beacon in the 1960s was reported in Records of Buckinghamshire and, though referenced by later articles, one aspect was never again mentioned, and that is the recovery of a trepanning disc from a human skull that had been turned into a pendant. Imagine my delight! I promptly made one myself (from a sheep shoulderblade though!) I got some good reactions from that.

References

Cotton, M. A. and Frere, S. S., 1968. Ivinghoe Beacon excavations 1963-65. Records of Buckinghamshire 18 (3). pp 187-203.

Harrison, S 2003. The Icknield Way: Some Queries. Archaeological
Journal 160:1. pp 1-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00665983.2003.11078167

 

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Roman cooking day at Wycombe Museum

Early in July I headed back to Wycombe Museum after doing an Iron Age food day to do a Roman cooking day! I worked with families to create dishes from Roman cookbooks by Apicius and Columella.

DDulk5qXgAAfK56We started with a salad from Columella, which involved crushing salad leaves with chopped leek and soft white cheese (feta is good). Mixing in some vinegar with peppercorns crushed in a mortarium added a bit of a bite.

We then made Apicius’ roast tuna with a vinaigrette including the famous garum, a fish sauce. You can still get a Thai fish source that’s quite similar. It smells awful but makes food taste amazing.

 

IMG_1909We finished with another from Apicius which was boiled ostrich! The sauce involved making a roux from red wine and flour, and then adding vinegar and garum as well as crushed coriander seeds and dates. This was, perhaps, the most popular dish.

Throughout the day we talked about where all the ingredients came from, with some of the most exotic like peppercorns and coriander being traded from India to the Roman Empire, and on to Britain, while some are very local like the flour, celery seeds and leeks. We also talked about how these recipes would be for the very richest people, perhaps some in Londinium would have had access to such exotic ingredients as ostrich!

IMG_1901The table and storage wares were used for their original purposes, from grinding food on mortaria, to storing dates in a carrot amphora, and drinking mulsum (a spiced wine but we used grape juice) from little Samian cups poured from an authentic flagon.

All the kit I use is made by an amazing group of craftspeople, e.g. Graham Taylor of Potted History, Trinity Court Potteries, Gilbert Bourroughes, and the metalwork by Steve Norris of Red Dog Forge. My outfit was based on a 2nd century tunic found in a grave in northern France and drawings of Roman people by Jane Huggett.

First Public Archaeology Twitter Conference #PATC 28th April 2017

The amazing Lorna-Jane Richardson organised the first Public Archaeology Twitter Conference as part of her work and experimentation in digital public archaeology on 27th and 28th April 2017. It was an amazing day full of brilliant presentations in the format of maximum 12 tweets over a 15 minute period. There were 58 papers, and on 28th April they ran from 9.15am to 11.30pm (BST)!

It was wonderful to see the incredible projects people are doing around the world to engage people in archaeology, particularly by Gavin Mackenzie and Kenneth Brophy with Team Build ‘n’ Burn.

I got fired up about the image problem archaeology has, thanks to a lack of diversity, most brilliantly expressed by Cath Poucher (plus she inspired me to use more gifs).

 

I researched and presented my own paper, and I’ll let the tweets speak for themselves.

This image above is from Stone Age Boy from Satoshi Kitamura, so ‘woman on hide’ is alive and well in children’s picture books being used in schools today.

The books were Stone Age Boy by Satoshi Kitamura, The Wild Girl by Chris Wormell, Ug by Raymond Briggs (a book, by way of full disclosure, I absolutely hate btw), The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein, Stone Age Bone Age by Brita Granström and Mick Manning, and Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson and Emily Gravett.

This image above is of the central character in The First Drawing by Mordica Gerstein. Is it a boy or a girl? S/he is referred to in second person all the way through to encourage the reader to put themselves in their place whether boy or girl. But everyone I know who has read it (including my daughter of 7) thinks it’s a boy.

It was also great to get some feedback from other tweeps.

 

 

And this couldn’t have been done without Lorna, obviously. I wholly support this tweet.

 

The conference was, quite simply, incredible.

Iron Age Masterchef at Wycombe Museum

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Me set up at Wycombe Museum with my portable roundhouse!

As part of a suite of pilot activities for the Chiltern Hillforts project planned by the Chiltern Conservation Board to go to a Stage 2 Heritage Lottery Fund application, I ran some family activities around Iron Age food at Wycombe Museum during the Easter holidays.

Families were invited to book on to one of two workshops, either making bread and butter from scratch or boiling water with hot stones. It was, of course, meant to be fun and educational, but also to gauge what interest there might be locally for more events like this in the Stage 2 lottery bid and what level of knowledge already existed about the Chiltern hillforts with this audience.

 

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The bank and ditch of a Chiltern hillfort, Pulpit Hill.

 

A hillfort is a woolly name given to a wide range of defended sites of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, many, but not all, of which are on hills. These generally do seem to have been lived in to some extent when excavated and there is some evidence that some of them were attacked. There are around twenty of them in the Chiltern hills and while some have been excavated, such as Ivinghoe Beacon and Ravensburgh Castle, others have been sadly neglected. Others, still have either been ploughed flat, like Cheddington hillfort, or occupied by later buildings, such as at West Wycombe and Cholesbury, both of which have churches inside them. The Chiltern Hillforts project aims to do more investigation and public events in and around the hillforts. They are currently raising some matchfunding via Just Giving if you feel you’d like to donate: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/chilternshillforts.

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Children grinding grain on a flat rotary quern. Photograph courtesy of and copyright Colin Drake.

So the Iron Age Masterchef event proved that there was a demand for events like this. Many of the parents were looking specifically for heritage events to support their child’s interest in archaeology and history, or their schoolwork. Many of the children had studied the new Stone Age to Iron Age topic in school and so had more background knowledge than the parents (one of whom guessed the Iron Age was in the 17th century – to be fair, technologically, it was still the Iron Age in the 17th century even though archaeologists tend to define the end of it as the Roman invasion for their own purposes).

The children were very committed to keep going with all the activities, especially grinding grain on querns. We also found out that making butter in a bag is quicker than using a pot and spoon, and that even young children can do it very effectively. They tried out some bread cooked directly on the fire and several children stayed for a very long time trying to make the water boil, and we did get bubbles in the end! Here’s a video of a boiling pot from an earlier test I did.

Teaching outside the classroom

spider-021I just had a random thought this morning that all this talk from archaeologists like me but also ecologists, scientists, artists, business people, teachers themselves and many, many others about the importance of learning outside the classroom may belie an underlying, perhaps subconscious, assumption that school is not the best place to teach kids.

I say perhaps subconscious because most of us are aware of how much work teachers put in to creating engaging experiences for their kids, and I always try to write engaging materials for teachers to use in their constrained environment. But on the other hand we are also aware of just how much more engaging, stimulating, exciting and challenging learning outside the classroom in the school field, the library, a park, a museum, a gallery, a theatre (the list is endless), can be.

rsz_scrapbook-030Kids used to learn outside the classroom all the time, before universal schooling. Did they learn more, or better, then? I guess not, learning to read, write and, to a certain extent, do maths is difficult outside a classroom. I seem to be arguing for a focus on the three Rs in schools and jettisoning the arts, humanities and sciences from the curricula. But that’s not the essence of my argument. I’m arguing for embracing more creative ways to teach the non-core subjects that will also support and apply the core skills.

photoEverything that can be taught outside the classroom, should be taught outside the classroom. Schools could become arbiters of real life experiences rather than child corrals. I guess that’s where many home-edders are coming from. The logistics would be horrendous and state funding would have to be massively increased, but it’s a thought.

365 Days of Archaeology on the Archaeology Podcast Network

download-365As you may know, I have a podcast on the Archaeology Podcast Network all about stories set in prehistory. The Network has so many podcasts about various different aspects of archaeology to listen to and is just growing and growing. Each episode of my podcast is an hour long, and I know that’s a big commitment to listen to, so why not try out a bitesize podcast, from five to fifteen minutes each, every day for 2017? I bet you’ll be hooked by February.

Listen to every single podcast on this webpage, or subscribe via iTunes.

If you just want to listen to my contributions because you can’t get enough of my voice and archaeological knowledge (it happens…) here are my episodes.

4th January: The Archaeology of Whitehall Palace

15th January: The Origins of the British Museum

18th January: The Red Lady of Paviland

6th February: Trowelblazer Mary Leakey

5th March: A prehistory of the Prehi/stories podcast

18th April: Gertrude Caton Thompson

27th April: The gravel of Abbeville

30th April: John Lubbock

5th May: Children’s books about prehistory

8th May: Tollund Man

Teaching History in 100 Objects

teachinghist100objectsThe British Museum was commissioned by the Department for Education to create resources for the new history curriculum at Key Stage 2 and 3, Teaching History in 100 Objects. The format was similar to the radio series by the museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects. In reality these 100 objects were just jumping off points for finding an infinite array of objects to use in the classroom.

I wrote all the object files for the new area of the Key Stage 2 curriculum, Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Some of these objects are really iconic to archaeologists so it was very excited to be able to write about them.

It was very interesting to work out what the big messages embodied in the objects were, rather than explain it from an archaeological perspective. The red deer frontlet headdress from Star Carr, for instance, stood for the rich and complex culture and belief systems of the early Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. A saddle quern from Wales reflected the change to farming and the important role of women (presumably the ones who used the querns to grind grain, though I’m happy to be challenged on that interpretation) in the Neolithic.

Doing this work also introduced me for the first time to the Must Farm excavations, which are ongoing. The earlier excavations uncovered eight scuttled logboats dating from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, preserved in the waterlogged mud of an ancient riverbed. I was very lucky to go and visit the more recent excavations of a roundhouse that had been preserved by conflagration and then submergence in the same water, a little downstream.

I also wrote about Anglo-Saxon, Pictish and Scottish objects for the Key Stage 2 curriculum and a selection of later objects for the Key Stage 3 curriculum, including a demi-culverin cannon from the Mary Rose, a banner of the Jewish Baker’s Union, a burned Second World War ID badge belonging to Thelma Barlow of the Parnall’s Aircraft Factory (she survived, thankfully) and a cloth celebrating Ghanaian independence.

It was a fabulous project to work on, with such a range of interesting objects to write about. Since then the British Museum has partnered with the TES to run Huge History where schools work on their own museum objects. More objects being studied in the classroom is great by my book.

Fossils and dinosaurs

I really enjoyed writing about fossils, while my co-writer wrote about dinosaurs, for the Hamilton Trust. I think it was one of the most enjoyable blocks I have so far written for them, despite having also written Stone Age to Iron Age Britain, the Shang Dynasty of China, the Ancient Greeks and the history of various sports.

I got to write about some very interesting characters in the history of science, including Mary Anning, Charles Darwin and William Buckland. Mary Anning and Charles Darwin are specifically mentioned in the Key Stage 2 science curriculum, of course, and both their stories are very engaging, if very different.

Mary was the daughter of a cabinetmaker and lived in Lyme Regis. She managed to get some rudimentary schooling and learned to read and write, but that was it. She made her living by finding fossils on the beach and selling them to collectors. Most of these were wealthy, educated gentlemen dabbling in natural history who went on to publish the finds as their own. Now the specimens she uncovered are being reclaimed for her. I was excited to see a huge ichthyosaur (a marine reptile from the same time as the dinosaurs) she found in the Natural History Museum in London recently.

Ichthyosauria.001 - Natural History Museum of London.JPG
Ichthyosauria.001 – Natural History Museum of London” by Drow maleOwn work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

I am very fond of Charles Darwin, and I have written about him elsewhere, but I didn’t know very much about William Buckland before writing this block for the Hamilton Trust, so it was quite a journey of discovery! I wrote the block using a ‘Take One Picture’ model, which has been used for museum teaching quite a lot. The image in question was a silhouette (very popular in the nineteenth century) of Buckland and his wife and son and several of their fossils.

Buckland family silhouette.jpg
Buckland family silhouette” by Mary Buckland, née Morland (1797-1857) – http://blogs.royalsociety.org/history-of-science/2011/02/07/females-fossils-hyenas-1/ Originally taken from Elizabeth Gordon’s (1894) The Life and correspondence of William Buckland, London: John Murray. p.103.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Buckland found many Ice Age fossils in his explorations of Britain’s caves, including Kirkdale in Yorkshire and Goats Hole Cave on the Gower Peninsula of Wales. Famously, he discovered a skeleton in the latter that he named the Red Lady of Paviland and posited that she was a Roman camp follower. In reality the ‘Red Lady’ is actually a man and may date back as far as 30,000 years, a burial from the Upper Palaeolithic.

He’s more famous, though, for identifying the first dinosaur, although they weren’t called that at the time. Earlier finds of the same dinosaur, Megalosaurus, had been thought to have come from Roman war elephants. He noticed that a jaw bone looked very much like modern lizards, but much larger, and therefore coined the name. His wife, Mary, was an excellent scientific illustrator as well as a natural historian in her own right, and drew the Megalosaurus jaw in question for her husband’s publication.

Buckland, Megalosaurus jaw.jpg
Buckland, Megalosaurus jaw” by Mary Morland (later Buckland) – http://www.lhl.lib.mo.us/events_exhib/exhibit/exhibits/dino/buc1824_l.shtml. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Quite wonderfully, he also coined the term coprolite for fossilised faeces, having first been notified by Mary Anning of strange stones found in the abdominal area of the ichthyosaurs she was finding.

The block gave me an opportunity to explore the history of science with children, and to reflect on how science works, how it is important to publish and get your name on discoveries, and the social history of the nineteenth century where women were not given the scientific kudos they deserved. I may also have revealed Buckland’s proclivity to eat every animal he came across, from bluebottles to mice on toast by way of panther. Well, I couldn’t not, could I?

Discover Darwin

I’m always a little daunted by the prospect of reading the classics. I don’t get on well with Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy, though Jane Austen is my all time favourite writer. So I didn’t expect to be able to follow the writing of Charles Darwin when I first read On the Origin of Species. Amazingly, I could, and very easily. Darwin had not written a dense scientific treatise. It was a popular book intended for a very wide audience. It’s wonderfully poetic in places.

If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to read just the last chapter of the book, or even just the final paragraph if you’re that worried. The final chapter summarises the entire book, and the last paragraph is an even more succinct precis.

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

I used this paragraph as the basis for a few lessons work on non-fiction writing for a set of lessons The Charles Darwin Trust educational consultants (including me) wrote for the London Borough of Bromley. The borough had unsuccessfully attempted to get the natural environment around Down House listed as a World Heritage Site as it was there, in Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory, rather than the Galapagos Islands or anywhere in South America, that Darwin did most of his thinking, observation and experimentation that confirmed his ideas about natural selection.

entangled bank

I contrasted Darwin’s writing with that of modern science writers such as E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins (in hindsight I should have included some female science writers). I wanted to get across the idea to children that writing in science doesn’t have to be impenetrable and that by writing in an engaging and even poetic way, it can bring science to a wider audience.

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