Mesolithic headdress

Teaching ideas

The headdress is an intriguing object to explore with students.

Show students the large image of the antler headdress in For the classroom. Ask them if they can tell what it is. Give them a clue if necessary: that it originally had two large antlers. Once they have identified it as a deer skull, draw their attention to how the skull has been trimmed and holes drilled in it; perhaps use an image of an actual red deer skull from the internet to compare. Ask if they can think why it might have been altered and what it has been turned into. Explain that archaeologists think it is a headdress for people to wear and ask if they can think of any reasons why people may have worn it.

One of the theories about the headdresses is that they were used in ceremonies before and/or after a hunting expedition. Explore what a hunting expedition might have been like and what the hunters would have needed. Explore with students how the headdress might have been worn. How was it fastened on the head? What else might people have worn with it? You could make replica headdresses out of found materials or cardboard and then recreate a ceremony they may have been used in. Why would people wear the antlers? Would they pretend to be deer themselves? How would they have moved? Would there have been speaking, singing or music to accompany the ceremony?

Use the other masks in A bigger picture to explore different purposes for masks and masquerades. Ask students to identify the different sorts of materials use to make the masks. There are many more masks on the British Museum website. Incorporate the students’ findings in a mask-making project.

The next three activities focus on the settlement at Star Carr.

How did ancient peoples choose where to live? Watch the fly-through of Lake Flixton in For the Classroom. Ask students to list the advantages and disadvantages of living next to a lake. Think about food sources that would be available. What animals live in or near a lake? What plants grow on the edges of a lake? Can any be used for food or for anything else useful?

Even though the people of Star Carr did not move around as much as first thought, the seasons would have made a big difference to their lives. Ask students to make a chart showing how they think Mesolithic people coped in all four seasons. What jobs would have been done seasonally? What animals and plant food would be available in each season?

With the sound off, show the video of building the Mesolithic house in For the Classroom. Can students tell what is happening at each step? What are people saying to each other? Ask them to write instructions for building a Mesolithic house, following each of the steps they see on screen. Listen to the video with the sound on. Is there anything they would add to their instructions?

The following three activities use the online catalogue of objects from Star Carr in For the Classroom. Either show students how to use the search or download a selection of objects yourself – about 20 objects would be a good number.

Download the poster about Mesolithic life in For the classroom. Transfer the statements to cards and ask the students to work out how the objects from Star Carr match up with the statements on the cards. Discuss how the objects match and any gaps or problems.

How did ancient people use the environment to make these objects? What materials did people at Star Carr use to make things? What did they make from what material? What is the commonest material used? Where did they get all the materials?

Consider how the soil has affected the appearance of the materials. Compare the wood with the bone and antler. Use the internet to look for other objects that have survived in wet conditions such as bronze objects from rivers and lakes and bog bodies such as Lindow Man at the British Museum or Tollund Man in Denmark. What conclusions can the students draw?

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Mesolithic headdress