Roundhouses and Woodsmoke

So begins our first week of home education!

I know it’s the summer holidays, and if we hadn’t just deregistered we wouldn’t be thinking about it at all, but I feel it’s important to start getting out there and seeing what the World Outside School has to offer. We are de-schooling, in that I don’t plan on working on anything formal for a few months, but I want to start making an effort to get out and about, work out what The Kid is really interested in, and develop a lifestyle that works for us as a family.

On Friday we woke to grey skies and, it being July, an inordinate amount of rain. A little disappointed, we decided to go ahead with our plans and set off for Butser Ancient Farm near Petersfield where they were holding their Summer ‘Try It Archaeology Day’.2015-07-24

I had never been to the farm before and wasn’t really sure what to expect. TK and I are both interested in history, so it seemed like a good place to begin our adventures. I liked the fact that, unlike many historical sites, the farm enabled visitors to ‘step back in time’ to more than one period of history: As an experimental archaeology site, Butser includes a Stone Age area, an Iron Age enclosure with roundhouses, a Roman villa, and a Saxon House (in progress).

Our first stop was the Stone Age where TK made a wooly mammoth badge and we read about the introduction of farming and the domestication of animals. We also spoke to some lovely people from the South Downs National Park who told us all about their Secrets of the High Woods project. We compared aerial photographs with recent LiDAR surveys and learned about how they use the images to see where there might have once have been fields, settlements, and roads.

Our next stop was the goat pen. TK was too short to see inside (the goats were all being sensible and hiding from the rain) but because there we2015-07-24re very few visitors about yet, one of the volunteers let us go into the pen and get up close. Not having had much experience with farm animals, TK wa a little nervous at first but she was soon happily giving Amy a scratch between the horns and was delighted to discover the farm’s newest addition, Sorrel!2015-07-24

After meeting the goats, we decided that we would have a look at the coracles, so we wandered over to the pool where an experimental archaeologist told all about how they were made and when they were used. We learned about how they were waterproofed(ish!) and how two people could team up to fish. T K donned a life jacket and jumped in, working out the most effective way of paddling, keeping her balance, and (trying) to keep her feet dry.

In the Roman villa we experimented with mosaics, tried a Roman starter 2015-07-24 12.13.42in the kitchens and met a soldier, who helped TK dress up as a legionary. She learned all about Roman battle formations, the uses of the different weapons, and (much to her glee) all the ways Roman soldiers had of killing the enemy. She concluded that she could do just as well with her karate moves and some nun-chucks but I wasn’t convinced! After the violence of Roman warfare we moved on to the more civilised activity of indoor archaeological digging. Because of the weather the outside test pits weren’t open, which was a shame, but we were quite happy looking at an archaeology student’s sketches and brushing away at finds in trays. We discovered lots of shells – the Romans loved their seafood!2015-07-24

By lunchtime, we had had enough of being wet and were beginning to get cold. I had made the mistake of changing my mind about wellies at the last minute and the result was that The Kid’s feet were soaked. We found shelter in the beautiful Iron Age roundhouse, where she promptly discarded socks and shoes, put her feet up, and chatted to a member of the Butser Team for ages about cooking over open fires. While we baked flatbread on a stick over the fire pit, we enjoyed our lunch and watched the swallows that had made their home in the roof fly in and out. The roundhouse was toasty warm and I could have quite happily moved in but after having a look at how the 2015-07-24 12.22.45building had been put together, TK was off again and wanted to take a look around the enclosure. We tried our hands at all kinds of activities and found out about being a blacksmith, spinning wool, bronze casting, and much more. TK had her face painted with ‘woad’ and finished off the day with a lesson in wet-felting – something she was very keen to try more of at home.

In all, it was a very successful trip and we are both very keen to visit again. The farm has a Young Archaeologists club and runs workshops and special events that tie in to the Roman and Pagan calendars so I think we shall soon be back. In the meantime, I will be planning my move into an Iron Age roundhouse and looking forward to the next adventure!

  • For more information about Butser Ancient Farm or other things to see and do, why not visit my Go Exploring page?

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