It was the 14th of November 2017. At around 8 o’clock, we left Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School for Butser Farm in Charlton.
Butser Farm is an experimental archaeological site containing reconstructions of late prehistoric buildings (such as Iron Age roundhouses). It was designed so that archaeologists could learn more about the agricultural and domestic economy in Britain during the millennium (400 BC to 400 AD).
When we arrived, we made our way through the gift shop to the goat’s pen. The farm has sheep, cows, pigs and traditional and rare goats, such as the pygmy goat. We first went to a round house. Round houses were typically made during the Bronze Age. They were circular houses made with wooden “poles” and mud. In the middle of these roundhouses was a small fire. This meant the house was filled with smoke. The ceiling was made out of straw, and was burnt by the smoke; this place was called the dead zone or smoke zone. Food would be smoked to preserve it. Here we placed down our bags and went to our first activity.
We started by making string with sheep’s wool. The wool was sheared off of a sheep and was easy to rip in half. The fleece (a large piece of wool that was sheared off of a sheep) was torn into pieces and handed around. We pulled and twisted the wool to make a thin string that we could tie around a spindle. We used the spindle to spin the wool. After that, our rope was folded in half and, somehow, was transformed into a short piece of rope with a flick of the wrist. We were told that the length of this textile depended on the time of the year. During February you would get a few centimetres, however during May you would get a lot more.
After that we entered the Roman villa. The villa had multiple rooms and had square shaped rooms. First, we went into the posh room. The posh room only allowed men and women over the age of 14. This is because 14 was the age one became an adult. The women would be educated or helping around the house, however men were expected to be a soldier, so he could get noticed by a woman. The posh room had paintings and a sofa made from wood and cloth.
Next, we proceeded into the kitchen. The kitchen had a fire with a chimney (this is unlike the round house as the villa had chimneys. However, because of the square shape of the room, the heat from the fire did not reach all of the corners of the room). There was a balcony in the kitchen (probably for plays or speeches to entertain the chef). Archaeological artefacts were handed around. I received an incense holder made out of pottery with a pattern on it. These artefacts ranged from metal spoons to pottery to shells. We placed these artefacts on a grid of a bird’s eye view of the villa. We chose which room the artefact could be in an ancient roman villa.
We had lunch in the roundhouses, where, despite the fire, it was no warmer than outside. We had fun discussing the interesting information we had learnt so far. After lunch, we made our way to the more practical activities.
First, we built gates, using the weaving technique that would have been used by the Romans and Celts to keep sheep out/in. We had branches from a hazel tree because they are the bendiest branches in the UK. We weaved the branches between four posts making a sturdy gate. This was an easy process and we were surprised at how well it worked, when we’d only spent such a short amount of time working on it. There, we also saw the sheep, with the master ram being huge, with 4 horns, and one of the others with a cute tuft of wool on his forehead, making him seem almost like a cartoon character!
Next, we went to build a Roman wall! We used flint and chalk to make a wall without cement, and learnt many techniques as to how to make the stones very stable. This was very fun, and we managed to make an almost sturdy wall in little time, just as Roman workers would have done many hundreds of years ago. It was interesting to see how the Romans thought and understood the logic behind their actions.
Finally we got back onto the coach. We all left with the smell of smoke but with massive smiles on our faces.