The First Foresters - Explore the Woods Around You!
Want to learn more about the ancient woods in your area, the Neolithic period or explore the creation of spaces through time? Forestry and Land Scotland, in partnership with Archaeology Scotland, have created a fantastic free resource to help you do just that. This resource can be used across the UK. If you would like a free hard copy, please email email@example.com
The First Foresters booklet combines an inspirational blend of archaeological discussion, creative indoor activities and practical outdoor learning. The beautifully illustrated booklet links today’s native woodlands, the ancient wildwood of the past and the Neolithic pioneers who ventured into it, and is a fresh take on the presentation and interpretation of our ancient past. It is aimed at teachers, youth group leaders, archaeological educators and anyone interested in our native woodlands.
Matt Ritchie, National Environment Advisor (Archaeology and the Historic Environment) for Forestry and Land Scotland tells us a little bit more about how the project was was envisioned:
Last Spring, Forestry and Land Scotland’s archaeologist Matt Ritchie was walking his dog (a young cocker spaniel called Dougal) around his local woods. While Dougal explored, Matt got thinking about the difference between places and spaces.
“My job is all about place – recording, conserving and valuing archaeological sites. This is really important – we all love visiting historic places, taking part in surveys and excavations and looking at or holding artefacts from the past. But what if the place is no longer there? Can we find the space to imagine the past, using our knowledge of what has gone before to try to experience what life might have been like?
Dougal’s Wood has some big trees in it – and I mean really big. Because the woods were planted as part of a designed landscape, the original trees all grew up together. Although the wood is now really diverse, with fallen trees leaving spaces in the canopy for new trees to grow into, some of the old trees have some special characteristics. There is one old oak that has grown straight up – it is easily 30m high and well over 1.5m thick at the base.
This old oak is just the sort of tree that our Neolithic ancestors would have made very interesting use of when they entered the wildwood covering Britain over 6000 years ago. We know that these first foresters made cleanings in the wood for fields and pasture – and that they used the timber to erect huge timber circles, enclosures and avenues. But these timber monuments have all long since rotted away. How best to use the space in our woods to imagine life in the Neolithic?
When you visit your local woods, think about how it feels to walk amongst the trees, looking up into the canopy and into the wood itself. Look for trees that you could fell – if only you had a good polished stone axe – to carve into a totem pole. How many would you need to make a timber circle? What would it feel like to cut down a mighty oak?”
So Matt and his friend Kim got thinking. How could they use the space within a wood to explore places built so long ago? Their new book, The First Foresters, will help teachers and archaeologists lead a range of exciting and imaginative activities. Throughout the resource, the ancient woodland environment is described as a wildwood (to be tamed or feared), a timber resource (to be used or controlled), a place of ancient mystery (to be worshipped and respected) and a familiar natural world (in which to live, hunt and gather). The First Foresters provides the background information (and a cast of cool characters) to help explore our Neolithic past, and to ask today’s children how they see their own forests and woods? Perhaps a little bit of everything?