Prehistoric CPD

CPD is important for self employed folks – and we can be really creative about the opportunities we choose. I have just come back from an amazing prehistoric themed trip to Norfolk.

stone-age dinner is served

First we had a real treat – a day in and above the neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves with Will Lord who has been flint knapping for more than 40 years. I remember first visiting the site when his parents Val and John Lord were the custodians in the 1970s, they taught themselves to knap alongside a host of other prehistoric technologies.

The trip down the flint mine was incredible. We were lucky to join the very few people who have actually decended into Greenwell’s pit – thanks to Historic England recently approving a handful of guided tours each year down this pristine excavation. EH site manager Rob gave us a factual history summarising the practicalities, excavations, finds and research questions still being pondered. Each pit took about three months to excavate, and the spoil was used to back fill worked chambers and previous shafts.  I was surprised to realise that they wouldn’t have needed any artificial lights, as the bright white of the fresh chalk walls would have reflected the daylight 20m or so along the chambers. In the winter months, when days were shorter and the sun lower in the sky, environmental evidence indicates that the site operations were suspended,maybe they used this time to travel to communal feasting sites and trade their wares.

traveling back 4500 years

hearing the history first hand – note the original antler pit prop

Will then gave us a more emotive experience, conjuring a real feeling of connection with the people who won their material culture from this hole in the ground. It was a joy and an honour to share in his delight and reverence for the privileged access he has earned to this unique site.

picking an antler pick

sixty feet down

We had an amazing authentic experience, even eating venison roasted on an open fire, before spending the afternoon trying our skills on the flints themselves. I made some things that definately were useable at least as scrapers, if not axes, and developed an appreciation of the nuances and organic origins of flint as a material. Another craft to add to my list of skills to spend time developing.

not bad for three hours knapping

will-lord.co.uk at work

will-lord.co.uk at work

our neolithic tool box and material store

After this, we nipped across to Kings Lynn – I wanted to check out the Stories of Lynn app, which had been showcased at a recent conference. My CPD here was that digital interpretation really needs to have robust support – the EE signal was down so even though I’d downloaded the app over WiFi, the google map base needed phone data on site to work.  Similarly, the app didn’t work at all for my colleague who had the  next generation android OS. The indoor elements inside the museum worked well, but the content wasn’t well organised, putting additional barriers in the way of the audiences. It began in the wrong location, then proceeded to talk about the project and the app developers and funders, rather than the museum content.

the real huge central stump

build your own Seahenge

Undaunted, we nipped across time to visit SeaHenge at the Kings Lynn museum. We didn’t bother with their audio app, and didn’t need to – we got all we wanted from the exhibition itself: original artifacts, a life size reconstruction, a hands-on build-your-own model, and plenty of first hand accounts, different opinions and background information to browse. Well-used, low tech, done very effectively.

inside the reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse at Flag Fen

Then we went across to Flag Fen near Peterborough and saw the Bronze Age remains, reconstructed roundhouse, and log boats preserved in the waterlogged peat. There were also a few objects and information about the remarkable excavations at nearby Must Farm. The site was interspersed with a visitor centre, Roman Road and grazing soay sheep as well as planting reflecting the species found in the pollen record from Bronze Age times. There was also a ‘Big Dig’ marquee with replica pits that allowed visitors to practice archaeological skills.

Big Dig excavation activities 

This all provided grist to the mill for the developments I’m helping plan at Epiacum Heritage. A great reminder for putting the visitor experience first in your design – what is the narrative? how can improvements enhance the coherence of the story? how can you make their experience more authentic? what tools can be used to help them understand how the landscape has changed through time? Watch this space…!

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Pan-European identity for the Union Jack?

A week in Cyprus with the hosts, students and tutors of three Grampus Heritage projects, was a heartening way to spend the second anniversary of the Brexit vote. Most of the students were British, and those few that weren’t seemed to have studied at UK universities. The other tutors were Greek, Cypriot, Maltese, Polish, and Algerian, and all were open hearted and generous with their knowledge, skills, time and friendship. Every single one of them spoke English fluently.

 

We looked at casting silver jewelry, found a lost village through landscape archaeology and test excavations, and began to build adobe walls for a new training room.

   

 

We explored Choirokoitia neolithic World Heritage Site, and ate fresh halloumi after watching the goats be milked. We looked for repeating symbolism in old churches, and learnt to stitch the eight-petalled marguerite flowers in the UN Intangible Cultural Heritage of Lefkara Lace.

  

One day we went to the national archaeology museum in Nicosia/Lefkosia and I was struck,  by all the statues there all of which seemed to be smiling, and the very early ceramic models of houses.

Nicosia/Lefkosia is the capital of Cyprus, and is divided by the EU border between the Greek and Turkish sides. A city block wide, you have to show your passport twice – to enter and leave the block-wide ‘green line’ that partitions the city and island. It is a hard border, it caused refugees on both sides, and four decades later the villages are still sprinkled with abandoned properties owned by people from the other sides.

The abiding theme of the week was summed up by a Turkish-Cypriot shopkeeper, who settled us down for a nice haggle with a glass of chai – she said  “us together – no problem, but big problems up there between countries”.  Over the week on this divided island, I thought more deeply about my own ‘Island mentality’. It’s within my lifetime that Turkey and Greece divided Cyprus, but over a thousand years since England was invaded and we became ruled by a foreign power.  Our national identity is a permanent thing, made more so by the sea that surrounds these islands. Yet many in our neighbouring countries may have lived in the same valley or village and had their national borders shift around them, in some communities this has happened multiple times in the last few hundred years. They may be from different countries, but there is a shared fluidity in their National identity,  as something that has recently and repeatedly been challenged and redefined. Here in England we can be complacent and rigid in what national identity means.

When their excellent English wasn’t up to the job, some of the other tutors reverted to the specific name in their native tongue. Frequently this was close to the sound of the word in other native languages – some words in Algerian sounded familar enough to be understood in Greek, and others in Turkish. There is a shared history across and beyond the Mediterranean, which we all can hold in common.

This bowl was made between 1050 and 950 BCE in Cyprus, and is on show in the Cyprus Museum. It is decorated with what is familiar to me as a Union Jack.

Thanks to Martin Clark and Ho Cien for the photos

 

Inspired Surprise!

So lovely to see the Dukesfield project used as an exemplar for community engagement and activity planning in the #InspiredFutures training today. I was there with St Augustine’s Alston, who I’m helping to develop a project plan.

Exciting discussions around rekindlung churches’ social role as part of their living Christian heritage and mission. Keen to see how this can be realised in the deep rurality of Alston Moor – an area characterised by a distinctive self-reliance and resillience.

Lovely to catch up with Jo Scott who was leading the training, and to bump into Jane Brantom, Daina Denbury and Nicola Bell who were part of the Dukesfield team too.

Wilder Walk in Kielder Woodlands

Just in time for the Wild at Kielder Festival this weekend, I’ve been working with the Forestry Commission to reinstate some secret paths through the old woodlands around Kielder Castle. The route is specially designed to make it easy to walk to Bakethin Nature Reserve from the castle, by taking visitors through a wide variety of beautiful habitats.

These include riverside meadows with wildflowers and ancient woodlands, and takes in spectacular views from Kielder Viaduct:

The circular route is less than two and a half miles long, and there are two short cuts back to the Kielder Salmon Centre and Kielder Castle, if little legs start to feel tired. It’s a great option if you feel the need for some #WildTime before the infamous Kielder midges emerge later this month.

You can see the route here:

 

Help Marcus the Minifigure on his mission from Epiacum View Geocache

Marcus, the Roman Centurion minifigure, is making the final preparations to set off on the first stage of exploring the Roman Empire from Epiacum Roman Fort in South Tynedale. As part of the celebrations marking the 60th year since the first archaeology excavations took place at the special site, the volunteers of Epiacum are sending him off to spread the word about the fort and its landscape. Now we hope families will join in the fun and move Marcus from cache to cache so he can patrol the rest of the Empire.

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Marcus is part of a worldwide treasure hunting game called geocaching, which encourages people to explore their local countryside and find secret packages left by other geocachers. Earlier in March, the volunteers at Epiacum set up their first geocache, hidden at a spot that gives a great view of the fort. Now they have put the Marcus minifigure into their cache and are tracking him on the geocaching.com website to follow his adventures as other geocachers help him complete his mission.

Epiacum View Geocache

It’s 60 years since the 1957 excavations which established that the fort is incredibly well preserved. This is thanks to the generations of farmers who have looked after the land. The archaeological findings were so important that only a few years later, the fort was made a scheduled monument. Since then the site has been protected and only Epiacum’s infamous moles have been allowed to dig there.

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The popular molehill surveys turned up treasures that will be on show at the forthcoming Diamond conference on 20th May 2017, alongside artefacts from the 1957 dig.

Geocaching is a really fun way to get kids out and exploring for free. They love the challenge of hunting for the hidden caches, and the website helps them find out interesting nuggets about the places.  All you need is a smartphone with a geocaching app, and you can find out how easy it is at www.geocaching.com.

You can follow Marcus on his mission, and book tickets for the Diamond Conference at www.epiacumheritage.org.

Marcus the Epiacum Minifigure - sets off to find his geocache

Elsdon Pinfold – an EPIC community

Have you ever been to Elsdon? Nestled in the heart of Northumberland National Park, local residents have described it as ‘a history book around a village green’. With a castle motte, bastles, a medieval pele tower and art deco houses, I think they’re right. The Parish Council set EPIC (Elsdon Projects in the Community) the task of ‘enhancing the pinfold’ – a listed structure on the village green, that has in recent years been used as a urinal and rubbish dump, but is very much loved by local people.

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I met with EPIC at the start of the summer to listen to their ideas, and they consulted on a four part proposal for the project. As well as having conversations with local residents, and emailing a few questions out to the whole parish, they also set up a stall at the annual village fete.

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When they’d all recovered from that, we had an open meeting to look at what people had said they valued about their pinfold:

what-people-value

So we’re now busy planning some investigations over the winter so we can find out what is hidden beneath the weeds, and some volunteer tasks to tidy up the overgrowth so we can see the daffodils in the spring. Meanwhile, they’re thinking about ways they’d like to show visitors that they care for their unique pinfold – from sculptures to stargazing, it’s certain to be appropriately EPIC.