The last two weeks have seen children on our Wild Days Out embracing the Bronze Age, carrying out their own Blashford Bioblitz and embarking on a bird and bug hunt, with a bit of fire lighting, den building and damper bread cooking thrown in for good measure!
Last week we stepped back in time and embraced the Bronze Age, with help from Dr Chris Standish from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. The Bronze Age saw bronze gradually replace stone as the main material for tools as a new culture arrived in Britain via cross-channel connections with mainland Europe. By 2200 BC the period known as the Early Bronze Age had begun.
Our fire pit was transformed into a pit furnace so we could have a go at copper smelting. The pit was lined with clay and a fire lit in the bottom, before a crucible containing copper ore (malachite) was placed into it and covered with more charcoal:
Placing the crucible containing copper ore into the pit furnace
Covering the crucible with charcoal
To increase the temperature, bellows were used to blow air into the bottom of the pit furnace, close to where the crucible had been placed. It was hard work!
Jessica having a go at bellowing
James having a go at bellowing
We also had examples to look at of the materials and equipment used for copper smelting:
Tuyere – used to transfer air from bellows to furnace, and produced from a clay/sand/gravel/straw mix
Tin ingot and mould
Crucible containing smelted copper
Whilst waiting to have a turn with the bellows, we entertained ourselves by making spears and bows and arrows from willow and turning charcoal, clay and chalk into face and body paint:
Face and body paint!
Jim practising his spear throwing!
The university had also kindly lent us a flint knapping kit, an activity hugely enjoyed by the group:
An example of a flint knapped axe head
Arturo carefully flint knapping
Arturo, delighted with his knapped piece of flint!
The finer details of flint knapping – carefully finishing the edges with an antler
Examples of prehistoric flint tools
Joel flint knapping
After everyone had been able to practice with the bellows, we attempted to smelt the copper ore by bellowing continuously for a longer period of time. The charcoal was carefully scraped back and the crucible was removed from the pit furnace and its molten contents emptied over the axe mould.
View of the burning charcoal through the Tuyere
The pit furnace
The pit furnace
Scraping back the hot coals
Pouring the smelted copper into the mould
Pouring the smelted copper into the mould
Not quite an axe head…
…but possibly a bronze Britain? Just without the tip of Cornwall and Northern Ireland?
Unfortunately there wasn’t enough copper to fill the axe mould, but we did manage to pour a shape which, once cleaned up looked remarkably like Britain! Thanks again to Chris for giving up his time and sharing with us his knowledge of the Bronze Age and copper smelting and to the University of Southampton for lending us their flint knapping kit.
With the younger children, we embarked on a Wild in the Woods Wild Day Out, den building, having a go at fire lighting, face painting and making chocolate flavoured damper bread! Here are some photos from the day:
Scary Corin, complete with face paint!
Mixing our damper bread dough
Rolling the dough into a ball
Cooking damper bread is a waiting game…
Bella with her chocolate damper bread
This week we challenged the older children to a Blashford Bioblitz, visiting as many different habitats as we could in search of amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds and more. We began with a rummage through the light trap and roped Bob in for his moth knowledge! The trap revealed 17 different species of moth, a harlequin ladybird and caddisfly whilst we also spotted a southern hawker dragonfly and brimstone butterfly over by the pond.
Rummaging through the light trap
It was then time to delve into the pond to see what else we could find, adding another 23 species to our list, including cased caddis, pond and ramshorn snails, water stick insects, newtpoles or ‘efts’, lesser and greater waterboatmen, whirligig and screech beetles, phantom midge larvae, damselfly, dragonfly and mayfly nymphs and a leech.
Water stick insects
Sorting our pond finds
Sorted pond creatures, with a different species in each compartment – some are very small!
After lunch we headed to the meadow, finding a brown hawker dragonfly, common blue damselfly, meadow grasshopper, honey bee, ants and spiders, amongst others. The meadow was also the perfect place to test out our homemade pooters, with Archie managing to catch ants and a spider in his. Inspired by Bob’s talk of how moths were named, the girls decided their common blue butterfly was to be called Ambermidia, a mixture of their names.
Archie proudly pointing to a spider in his homemade pooter
Mia with her grasshopper
In an attempt to find some shade, we popped into Ivy North Hide, spotting coot and mallard, then headed to the woodland to see what we could find up in the canopy. We held a beat tray under a tree branch, then shook the branch to see what, if anything, fell out:
Tree beating in the woodland
Oak bush cricket
Buff tip caterpillar
Our most exciting finds were an oak bush cricket and a buff tip caterpillar, with James carrying the naming theme on, renaming a midge ‘annoyingus midginus’.
After a quick visit to the Woodland Hide which revealed 9 more bird species and a bank vole, we headed down to the river for a proper cool off, catching pond skaters, freshwater shrimp, beetle larvae and stonefly nymph whilst we were there, but sadly no fish.
Finally, we had a quick peek in the compost bin and were rewarded with 3 grass snakes. Here’s a not particularly great photo of two of them, as they didn’t hang around for long!
Grass snakes in the compost bin
With a grand total of 81 different species, we had done brilliantly considering the heat!
Yesterday we carried on with the bird and bug theme with the younger children, making bee finger puppets and decorating birds on sticks before trying to camouflage our own moths by colouring them in and hiding them outside, testing our camouflage skills!
Lovely house martin on a stick
Bee finger puppet!
Colour matching our moths before playing a camouflage game
Samuel and Imogen with their creations – there is a ladybird hitching a ride on Samuel’s sparrowhawk
We went on our own mini bird hunt challenge, visiting both the Woodland Hide and Ivy South Hide in two teams – the totals were almost the same, with only a Coal tit in it for the winning team!
Bird watching from the woodland hide, there were birds there a minute ago!
After embarking on a fun and rather giant bug hunt, we headed to the meadow to see what we could find:
Corin with his Common blue damselfly
Joseph with his grasshopper
Isabella and Florence with their leafhopper
Leafhopper, Cicadella viridis
So all in all it’s been a fun and busy couple of weeks, filled with birds, bugs, copper smelting and more. Thank you for reading to the end!!!