Historic England asks teachers to explore our prehistory with new resources

Historic England has created a new free online resource designed to help teachers explore the story of Britain’s prehistory with their pupils. Spanning the entire period from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, the interactive timeline gives teachers a vivid visual representation of how Britain’s landscape and inhabitants changed in the 400,000 years from the Palaeolithic era to 43AD.

The timeline features images of the kind of evidence that exists for Britain’s oldest inhabitants: footprints, bones and tools, as well as interactive maps showing important archaeological sites around the country. Through a series of visuals, the timeline illustrates the changing climate and geography of Britain – as it evolved from being a part of the same landmass as France, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, to its eventual isolation as an island.

The timeline works well alongside other Historic England online resources, for example the teaching notes, presentations and activities exploring life in Bronze Age Britain through the exciting story of the recent excavation at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire; and a whole range of images for the period featuring archaeological sites around the country, tools and remains and modern reconstructions of homes and settlements.

Catherine McHarg, Archive Education Manager at Historic England said: “Our new interactive timeline is a really easy way into learning about prehistory – while still providing high quality, detailed and accurate information for teachers to work from. Teachers have told us that it can be a tricky topic, partly because many of them have not had the opportunity to learn much about the subject before they teach it. On top of that, they are sometimes battling preconceptions with children thinking that prehistory only means the dinosaurs! We hope by bringing all the information together into one place we can help put the period into context for teachers and their pupils – having a dynamic visual prompt of the chronology is a really effective way of doing that.”

The tool is the latest addition to the popular library of free resources and teaching aids on HistoricEngland.org.uk/Education. The library includes themed collections of images (including castles, cathedrals, children at work and crime and punishment), as well as ready made presentations and worksheets linked to the curriculum.

All Historic England’s education content has recently been updated and re-presented on its new website.

Catherine McHarg added: “We’re constantly updating what we offer to keep pace with changes in the curriculum and in response to what teachers tell us they need. We’re particularly focused on supporting teachers in working with local heritage, because apart from the difficulty some schools have in working out how to meet the curriculum requirements on this topic, we know that engaging children in the history they see around them every day is one of the best ways of exciting them about the subject. Local heritage projects are also a great way of galvanising children’s pride in their local area and helping them understand the broader span of history and where they fit.”

Historic England has also curated around 10,000 archive and modern images specifically for teachers. The collection offers a comprehensive resource teachers can draw on to illustrate almost any topic or geographical region – the most popular images include a 1920s image of the Bryant and May match factory in London (birthplace of the first British trade union for women), a striking image of Victorian foundrymen in Maidenhead, and World War I Land Army girls at work in the fields of Devon.

See the gallery of the most popular education images, and stills from the new prehistory timeline here.