Spreading the Word at the Woodland Archaeology Festival

An important part of any publicly-funded project is to ensure that its findings are made accessible to both specialists and non-specialists alike. As part of the public engagement aspect of Tracing the Lines Mike Copper, ably supported by Claire Copper, spent the weekend of 10th and 11th June making and firing reproduction Neolithic Grooved Ware pottery at the Woodland Archaeology Festival at Hardcastle Crags near Hebden Bridge. Not only did this give interested members of the public the opportunity to see how prehistoric pottery was made, as well to try their hand as making their own pots, it also provided the chance to talk about the project and to discuss some of the fascinating questions that still need answering about the enigmatic Late Neolithic. A second weekend of pot making and firing will take place at the same venue on 17th and 18th June.

Mike preparing for the firing beneath the somewhat un-Neolithic gazebo!

A very poor weather forecast meant that no firing was attempted on Saturday, but this didn’t mean that nothing could be done. Instead, a selection of replica Neolithic pots was displayed for the public to handle and ask questions about, while a further vessel was used to cook a tasty stew. Cooking in low-fired pottery requires different techniques to those used on metal vessels, including pre-soaking the pot and making sure that cold ingredients are never added to a hot pot. The results, however, are wonderful!

The delicious beef and pearl barley stew cooking on a fire of peat and wood

The following day the rain relented somewhat, meaning that the firing could go ahead – aided by the use of a rather fetching gazebo to guard against showers! Rain and wind are problems for open firing as cold water or sudden changes in temperature caused by draughts can cause the still-fragile pots to crack. Fortunately all went well.

The pots begin to appear as the wood burns down

The better weather also brought more visitors. Some had come especially for the event, others just chanced on it while walking in the woods. All, however, were intrigued by the way that Neolithic pots were made and by what they can tell us about past societies. Several children had a go at making their own pots, and one of these is currently awaiting firing next weekend.

Two Grooved Ware vessels and three Early Neolithic round-bottomed pots cooling at the end of the firing

Such activities allow the public to benefit from publicly-funded research and will hopefully encourage many to take their interests further. Indeed, a number of visitors expressed an interest in visiting places like Orkney in the future to see more of the sites that were discussed.

The two finished replica Grooved Ware pots. The contrasting colours result from the variable conditions within the firing pit.

The Tracing the Lines team would like to thank the National Trust and Pennine Prospects for providing this excellent opportunity to present our research to the broader public.