Posts Tagged ‘Neolithic’

Neolithic Oswestry – Week 30 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

New Year – new tools!

Neolithic is often translated by archaeologists as “New Stone Age”. But this phrase misses out the important idea that what is significant here is that archaeologists are talking about new stone tools – one of the things that made the neolithic way of life possible was the neolithic stone axe. This new tool enabled neolithic people to fell the old forests of Europe, and till the newly-cleared soil. The settlements and fields – as well as the culture and society – of neolithic Britain were shaped by this new stone technology.

We shouldn’t think of the axe on display in Oswestry Library as just a tool – we should also think of it as a key: a key to an entirely new way of living for our stone-age ancestors. The neolithic is the time in human history when we stopped living just by hunting and gathering – following herds with the seasons – and started to live year-round in the same place: planting crops and raising flocks of domesticated sheep, goats and cattle. As well as new stone tools, the neolithic was about new ideas – agriculture, domestication and permanent settlements.

Direct evidence for these neolithic settlements in and around Oswestry tends to be on higher ground; it is thought that much of lowland Shropshire was still heavily-wooded and marshy. Archaeologists have found fragments of neolithic pottery at Grinshill and the Roveries, and even on the top of Old Oswestry. The Long Mynd and other Shropshire ridges may have been used as routeways – as people began to live in more permanent settlements, so roads and routes between them became more important. But this evidence is scant.

That’s why finds like the axe in Oswestry Library are so important: we can learn a lot from every stone tool, no matter how small or broken. Imagine how much more we could know about the past if more people were helping add to our knowledge of the past by identifying neolithic stone tools while out watching birds or ploughing fields: farmers, ramblers, dog-walkers, bird-spotters – in fact, people like you.


The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Sea-Eagle Woman - from One Girl Goes Hunting (H. Sackett, J.G. Swogger, 2014)

Sea-Eagle Woman – from One Girl Goes Hunting (H. Sackett, J.G. Swogger, 2014)

Over the past few months I’ve been working intermittently on the graphic short-story project One Girl Goes Hunting that I’m doing with fellow archaeological comicker Hannah Sackett. As I’ve mentioned previously, this is a collaborative work – Hannah’s written the script, and I’m doing the artwork. The story Hannah has written is set in the Neolithic, and is all about a young girl going through the ritual of hunting for a husband. During the course of the story she travels around the island between some of the major archaeological sites – Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, Ness of Brodgar, Skara Brae, etc. – which gives both the story and the artwork the opportunity to explore the reconstruction of Neolithic architecture and lifeways in the form of a comic.

The interesting thing about this project is that Hannah came to me with the idea of doing the artwork in a style similar to that of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films. In doing so, we’re using the project to look at the question of visual style in archaeology. Why is it that some styles – even amongst archaeological comics – are considered “more appropriate” for visualising archaeological ideas and data than others? Increasingly, this seems to be a value judgement based on cultural prejudices, rather than an objective consideration as to whether any given stylistic approach is less or more capable of carrying the information. But when it comes to education and outreach, consideration of visual cultural norms and prejudices become increasingly important. Rinko Endo, creator of comics about psychiatric nursing training, specifically uses manga for works like Aggression Management Mangawhich was originally specifically aimed at a Japanese/Asian audience. It’s an object lesson in shaping your work to the demands and expectations of your audience.

Comics – because of the wide range of stylistic options open to both text and image – have manifold opportunities to engage their audiences beyond simple considerations of data and informational content. The Studio Ghibli films appealed to us for this stylistic experiment as they already represent a visual hybrid between European motifs and Japanese manga representation. As such, they strongly suggested a way to see/show British prehistory in a new way. It will be interesting to see what the response is when the project is finished. And with increasing numbers of tourists from countries like China and Indonesia coming to the UK, perhaps thinking about “Heritage Manga” might not be a bad idea. Anyone out there like to commission a Windsor Castle Manga?

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People in the past. Just how much like us were they? How much should we recognise ourselves in representations of them?

People in the past. Just how much like us were they? How much should we recognise ourselves in representations of them?

So how similar or different was the past to the present? How much should we “recognise” the past when we look at representations of it? To what extent should different audiences feel that the past is “familiar” or “alien” to them?

Anyone who does any work visualising the past – whether in text or in image, actually – will instantly recognise these questions. This debate – rumbling ever since the first archaeologist stuck the first trowel in the ground – isn’t one that’s really ever going to be resolved. And just how much “like us” the people in the past were is one of the central debates of archaeology, never mind its visualisation. Even great illustrators like Peter Connolly get it in the neck as successive generations of archaeological opinion shifts.

So representing the Neolithic inhabitants of Anglesey in a kids’ comic presents a whole series of interesting challenges. Do we go nuclear family? Do we go traditional male/female roles? Do we depict familiar, contemporary representations of relationships, emotions and situations dressed up in Neolithic clothes – or do we attempt to create an utterly alien environment? How does all this affect the reader? What draws someone in to a representation of people in the past – and what pushes them away?

I’ve ended up somewhere in the middle. Occasionally there are, indeed, nuclear families with “typical” roles suggested, displaying essentially “modern” attitudes – but every now and again, I’ve tried to put something alien in as well. Hopefully, this compromise creates an impression not that archaeology doesn’t know, but that the past can be both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time – rather like the present, perhaps?

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