Dr Kevin Blockley shares how the Out of Eden project is creating a unique educational experience that immerses us in the hunter gathering world of our ancestors and our first experiments in farming.
Today we live in a time of transition, in a rapidly changing world with many uncertainties. This generation has a momentous task ahead – to lead us into a sustainable future, back into balance with our world. What better place to reflect, than at the very beginnings, the point where we begun to shape the land? It was a time of momentous change, challenge and creativity and a time from which all the possibilities of our modern world took root. Is there something which we can still learn, from the ancient way of life of our ancestors, that could influence the course of our own lives?
We have been building the Neolithic Farm in mid-Wales over the last three years and are looking at producing a unique educational experience for a wide range of people and organisations, from schools and university students to those interested in ancient crafts and more. Our buildings are based on ground plans of archaeological excavations with our imagination and research projects for the standing elements. In 2018 we received grants from the Ashley Family Foundation, Tesco Bags of Help, Powys Welsh Church Act Fund and Newsquest Media Group (The County Times). We are indebted to all four for enabling us to achieve our goals and start an educational programme on the project.
The settlement is situated on a beautiful site on the edge of the Cambrian Mountains. It’s not Salisbury Plain – the evidence that our ancestors trod this hill in the Neolithic is not tangible – but they have left their footprints all around us. There are standing stones in the Sychnant valley just over the hill – or high up above the Elan valley to the south west. There is the great Walton Basin ritual site to the south, and beyond that the long barrows and houses of Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire. Ritual sites near Welshpool to the East include a Woodhenge. And far away to the north lie the Neolithic longhouses and tombs of Angelsey.
Our vision is to build a settlement, based on archaeological excavations and our understanding of the New Stone Age or Neolithic period – around three to five thousand years ago in this part of the world. We plan to develop it as an exciting educational resource to be used by experimental archaeologists, students, schools and many others, and want to enable participants on the project to live it: getting their hands plastered in mud; sleeping on skins; cooking over fires; working with livestock; tending crops; exploring possibilities.
We believe that this work could be important in many ways. History gives us a sense of perspective that helps to put our lives and culture in context. Living with only the natural resources around us to provide for all our needs, makes us use our imaginations and become attuned to our environment in quite a different way. We will be practising some very ancient and almost forgotten crafts. We hope that involvement in this project will bring to its participants a sense of community, achievement, inspiration and revelation that can be carried into their everyday lives.
How you can get involved
There are numerous opportunities for volunteers, including a weekly volunteer group for locals, as well as more immersive, longer-term opportunities for residential volunteers, with accommodation provided nearby at Old Chapel Farm. If you’re interested in learning more, head to The Wilderness Trust website and please do get in touch. We’re particularly keen to hear from those with carpentry and building skills.
If you’d prefer just to visit, following a very successful open day last year our upcoming Prehistoric Skills camp is taking place from 19th-23rd August 2019, offering courses and taster sessions in various ancient crafts, such as flintknapping, tanning fish and deer skins, bone and antler working, net making, cordage from nettle, and building a Neolithic house. This will then be followed by two open days for the general public on the Sunday and Monday of the August Bank Holiday. You can find full details of what’s on offer here and are welcome to get in touch for further information.
The Wilderness Trust began more than 20 years ago in Shropshire. It is now based at Old Chapel Farm and has shaped much of the work that has been achieved there. It currently runs three different projects alongside, in the form of Out of Eden, The Way of Wales and The Fold.
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