The Ancient Technology Centre

The Ancient Technology Centre has developed a unique program of hands on learning for people of all ages at its site in Cranborne, Dorset. We believe that children and adults should explore their surroundings, environment and history through an exciting blend of full scale building projects and traditional skills and crafts. Our starting point is archaeology and this informs the many buildings and activities that we offer. Our goal is to enable genuine experiences of daily life in the past, we encourage hard work, sweat and blisters in the context of seasonal and sustainable practice, the results of this hard work is plain to see (www.ancienttechnologycentre.co.uk).

The Wessex Academy for Field Archaeology at Ash Farm offers us the opportunity to test ancient agricultural and woodland management techniques. We aim to make genuine links between the archaeological evidence that emerges from the Ash Farm landscape study and the daily life and practices of individuals and communities that have lived there in the past. This work will expand as the project develops and will follow lines of enquiry that are determined by the archaeological evidence.

There are two separate projects that can be started immediately.

The Bluebell Wood Project (October – March each year)

Bluebell Wood is an area of hilltop hazel and ash coppice woodland which has been allowed to become overgrown. It will be the venue for an ongoing programme of woodland management aimed at bringing the coppice back into a strict harvest rotation. We will start by surveying the woodland in detail after which we will create working coups with the overall aim of increasing coppiced stool density. Harvesting both coppice and larger trees will be carried out using replicated tools, from Stone-Age to Medieval and the material produced will be used in a range of practical tasks.

The Ancient Crops Project (Starting September 2014)

Ash Farm will host a project based on the growing of ancient crops in a number of small enclosures, of comparable size to many ancient ‘Celtic’ fields. Starting with the current (organic) soil and growing the same crop, various comparative methods will be used in the different plots to improve the soil and test the effect on yield and quality, as well as the cumulative effect on the soil. We are particularly interested in the soil requirements for producing good thatching straw in early farming communities and the subsequent thatching methods that may have been employed.

These two projects, and the experimental work that will no doubt develop as WAFA’s investigations continue, will help to illustrate the lives of those who have worked this land since Neolithic times. They also offer an opportunity to become involved in practical experimental archaeology.

The Woodland experiment

On Saturday 18th October 2014 Bluebell Wood at Ash Farm echoed to a sound that, as Luke Winter reminded us, had not been heard around there for over 4000 years. It was the dull ‘thock’ of a stone axe biting into living wood as we made the first cuts of what will be a 7 year experiment. The document that is here explains the reason behind the experiment, to determine whether or not the type of tool (stone, copper, bronze or iron) has any effect on coppice re-growth. Those of us who had not done any of this sort of work before quickly noticed the difference in the cut stems: those cut with steel billhooks very neat, in contrast to those on which stone axes had been used which looked ragged and almost flower like. Technique is important too; you simply can’t use a stone axe in the same way that you can one made of steel and even soft copper feels like a huge technological advance (which it was in about 2400BC).

This part of our overall project offers a unique opportunity to use a wide range of ancient tool types under expert supervision, appreciating the skills of our ancient ancestors while contributing to a valuable experiment. There is also something very special about working in these woods, especially when the fire is lit for tea and the sunlight catches the smoke as it filters up through the branches.

We hope that you will come and join us on one of the working parties which we will be holding over this winter and into the Spring. Dates and details will be on the website shortly or if you have a group who would like to become involved then please contact us and we may be able to set up a day specially for you.