Flint-knapping – 23rd July
Ten Society members – Kevin Batchelor, Paul Bingham, John Hardy, Denise Hardy, Christine Harmer, Rick Pratt, Jo Pratt, David Tomalin, John Winch and Tom Winch – were invited to join professional flint-knapper and primitive technologist Karl Lee in the woodland area of the County Show for a flint-knapping workshop – one of four which took place over the whole weekend. This was as a preliminary to Joy Verrinder’s Neolithic Farming project.
Karl demonstrated the basic techniques of making simple tools, and all present were invited to participate; with great skill he then showed how to make a barbed and tanged arrowhead. Many examples of his workmanship in stone axes and arrowheads were on display and for sale, and there was some discussion as to how one might distinguish these from the Stone Age originals! John Winch had also brought along a selection of superb arrowheads he had made.
The general view was that the session had been excellent, and John, undoubtedly the most experienced knapper on the Island, felt that the whole experience had been invaluable. Karl expressed the view in return that this was the best group he had ever taken, and that all participants had produced something worthwhile! Many thanks are due to Joy Verrinder for organising the event.
The Island’s First Farmers – 25th September
A packed meeting gathered in the Conference Room at Ventnor for a power-point presentation by Joy Verrinder, Projects Education Officer at Carisbrooke Castle Museum, on her forthcoming Neolithic Farming project, which she stressed would be whatever people wished to bring to it. She outlined the Neolithic sites and finds on the Island using a map based on the County Sites & Monuments Record: these included numerous stone axes and flints, trackways through Wootton marshes, and a few burial sites. Tool-making will be of course be a key feature of the project. John Winch had brought along some superb examples of arrows which he had made; Joy herself had tried making string out of honeysuckle. Another requirement will be constructing an ard, an early form of plough, as well as fence-making to enclose whatever field is chosen – which will be measured out using the famous megalithic yard. An Island example of a saddle-quern used to grind corn was illustrated.
There now seems to be more evidence for the early cultivation of emmer than there is for spelt, as was formerly thought. Cereals started in South-East Asia but changed considerably as they moved westwards; whatever the case, a farming landscape was in place by 4000 BC. Bone profiles of humans indicated both carnivores and vegetable-eaters and all grades in between, but basically everybody in the same sort of area kept to the same sort of diet. Unlike the stone houses which survive in the far north, such as at Skara Brae, there are few traces of the wooden dwellings which predominated further south, but there are occasionally examples of postholes for Neolithic longhouses, and Island houses would have been similar to these, but perhaps squarer or rounder.
Neolithic people were also the first in Britain to make pots – these are thought to have been round-bottomed, with flat bottoms coming in later. Studies in Scotland indicate that they were used for ale-drinking rather than for cereals! Joy concluded her fascinating talk by outlining the possible choices of location for the project, and inviting those interested to add their names to her expanding list of volunteers. Alan Phillips
Medieval Landscape of Parkhurst Forest and its Environs – 6th November
Ten members met at the Parkhurst Forest Car Park, on a very wet and blustery Sunday morning, for a walk led by Vicky Basford to explore the medieval landscape that makes up the Southern boundary of Parkhurst Forest. At this point the readers should be reminded that in medieval terms `forest’ referred to an area of countryside where the Crown exercised rights and privileges in regard to the preservation and hunting of game. `Forests’ were not necessarily all wooded, but were comprised of several types of landscape including wood, heath and marshland. A document dating to 1365 refers to 915 acres of wood in a forest encompassing approximately 3000 acres. The fact that this area of the Island’s landscape was under Crown control probably explains why no direct mention of the area can be found in the Domesday Book of 1086. This can probably be explained because the land was untaxable and hence the surveyors saw no reason to include it in a document primarily intended for the collection of taxes.
From the forest car park we walked the track running parallel to the Forest Road, the Southern boundary of the present forest, until it turned south. Crossing Forest Road we then walked down Poleclose Lane heading south. From here we had our first view of enclosed fields. This area boarding Poleclose Lane was included in the 19th century enclosure act, most enclosed fields on the Island being of medieval origin. After a short distance we proceeded to the west along an intersecting track past Poleclose Farm (on our left). The track bore south again taking us between Green Park Farm and Cook’s Farm and led on towards Reads Farm. At this point we were introduced to the term assart. The term referring to an area of agricultural enclosure cleared from woodland or forest. The area we travelled from Poleclose Farm to Reads Farm skirted the north and west boundaries of the Alvington Assart. At Reads Farm we changed direction to the east following the southern boundary of the Alvington Assart to Alvington Manor. We turned north along the east boundary of the Alvington Assart reaching Broadwood Farm where again we changed direction to the east. This track enters the forest at `St Austins Gate’ (1770 King’s Forest Map) later corrupted to `St Tosling Gate (1793 map). This was a reference to the leper hospital of St Augustine mentioned in medieval documents. After crossing the Gunville Road we passed along the southern boundary of the Alvington Lawn Assart. Entering aLawn Assart modern housing estate several of the group availed themselves of the facilities offered at Sainsbury Hall before continuing through the new housing estate, at Hunny Hill, and back into the fields of the Hunny Hill Assart. Heading to the northwest we rejoined the Forest Road, where we headed west for a short distance before entering the forest. From here we followed the track westward running parallel to the Forest Road and returned to the car park.
Farewells were short due to the poor weather conditions. Vicky was thanked by the group for a most interesting walk and each member was given a photocopy of the 1793 map showing the areas covered in the walk.
Anglo-Saxon Runes and their Meanings – 11th December
On Sunday afternoon twenty-five members and guests of the Archaeological Section gathered in the Conference Room at Ventnor for our end of year talk given by Alan Phillips, followed by a Christmas Tea Party in the Studio.
Alan had introduced us to the many gods in the Norse and Anglo-Saxon pantheon at a previous meeting, and he continued that theme by telling us about the Runic traditions in those cultures. For many of us present this was quite a new field of learning. Alan explained that Runes are the ancient script of the Norse and Anglo-Saxon world. They are simple angular letters cut in wood, bone, metal or stone, and were used for both secular and magical purposes. Their origins are unclear, but they bear a marked resemblance to the prehistoric cult symbols used by ancient northern peoples and found on rock carvings.
Prior to the meeting Alan had placed Rune Stones, each marked with a symbol, on a small table in front of us and had given us photocopies of runic inscriptions to which we referred during his talk. Runic alphabets are known as futharks (pronounced “foo tharks”). There is an Icelandic futhark of 16 runes, the Norse futhark has 24 runes and an Anglo-Saxon futhark of around 28 runes. The word “rune” meant in Old English a mystery or secret, and there is dissension among the academic world with some scholars working on the runes from a linguistic point of view, while many others interpret them as magical or mystical symbols. Each rune had a particular meaning of great significance in the lives of the people, representing highly important aspects, as the power of the sun, man’s relationship with the horse, battles and warfare etc. They are spoken of in poems and crossed the divide between the Pagan and Christian world. Runes have been found in many parts of the country, including the Isle of Wight. However, as many were carved on wood, with the inevitability of decay, it must be assumed that a large number have been lost to posterity.
At the close of the meeting Alan remarked that there is a lot of research into runes still to be carried out. And as we headed for our tea, mince pies and cake, we felt that a most interesting talk had given us much to think about.
Footnote. It could be said that in our own lives we have a modem runic tradition in the many symbols which daily surround us. ” No Entry” “Disabled” “30 speed limit” etc. Meanings, which are understood by everyone, and are part of our everyday world.