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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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Oswestry Heritage Comics - week 12. Click on image for larger view.

Oswestry Heritage Comics – week 12. Click on image for larger view.

The fact that we know so much about Oswestry’s past is evidence of the commitment of hundreds of local heritage volunteers. These people help curate and study the past in a variety of ways. Research, monitoring, campaigning, preservation, conservation, re-enactment – all these help ensure that the history and archaeology of Oswestry and its environs is neither forgotten nor destroyed. Projects like Qube’s Men on the Gates, or the Oswestry Castle Research Project, the work of the Oswestry Family and Local History Group, the Oswestry and Borders History and Archaeology Group, Cambrian Heritage Railways and many other local groups make up a network of enthusiasts and experts, amateurs and professionals, who contribute their time and skills to help ensure that Oswestry’s past survives into its future.

If reading the Oswestry Heritage Comics has sparked an interest in the town’s history or archaeology, then perhaps your next step should be to get in touch with one of these groups and get involved. Regardless of time, skills or experience, there’s always something that everyone can do to help protect and preserve their local heritage.

For a start, you can help me by saying what you thought of the Oswestry Heritage Comics in this very quick online survey! It’ll only take you a few minutes, and it will really help decide what happens next.

And if you’d like to learn more about the use of comics in talking about archaeology, history and heritage, I’m going to be giving a “Learning at Lunchtime” talk on the Oswestry Heritage Comics project at Oswestry Library on Thursday, October 6th, between 12-1pm.

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Oswestry Heritage Comics - week 9. Click for larger image.

Oswestry Heritage Comics – week 9. Click for larger image.

This week’s Oswestry Heritage Comic is all about Heritage Open Days. In fact, Heritage Open Days are the reason the Oswestry Heritage Comic exists at all. I’ve always enjoyed HOD, but beyond being a visitor, I’ve never really contributed to the weekend. I wasn’t sure how an archaeological illustrator could usefully contribute to such an event. Well, this year I figured out how. I launched the Oswestry Heritage Comics project as my contribution towards this year’s Heritage Open Days. The whole point of the comic is to help raise awareness about the richness and diversity of local heritage – which is also the point of Heritage Open Days. I’ve tried to feature as many major heritage places, venues and events in the strips as possible, and in this weeks’ comic I’ve got four that are specific to the HOD weekend: the Oswestry Castle excavations will be taking place, now in their third year; the reconstructed World War I trenches at Park Hall are open free of charge; there’s a Heritage Market in the Bailey marketplace in the middle of Oswestry – right next to the Town Museum and just up the road from the Cambrian Railways museum and around the corner from exhibitions in Oswestry Library and “The Bigger Picture” screenings at Kinokulture cinema; and there’s even a Heritage Bake-off taking place this year! There are walks, exhibitions, presentations, activities, talks and film showings at places like Old Oswestry Hillfort, Oswestry Station, Llanforda Hall, the Quinta, Rednal canal warehouse, Sleeping Beauty’s tower in Selattyn, the Pentre in Bronygarth, the Tanat Valley light railway and St. Peter’s church in Melverley. Events start this Thursday at some venues and run through until Sunday. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find out more about the history, archaeology and heritage of Oswestry – there are full listings of events taking place over the weekend at the Heritage Open Days website.

There are four special Oswestry Heritage Comics-related things going on this coming weekend, too. The first is a “Make Your Own Heritage Comic” activity at Underhill Farm in Llanymynech on Saturday between 10am and 2pm. This will be a drop-in event, and if it’s sunny, we’ll be outside in the grounds of the farm – if it’s raining, we’ll be inside. There’s also an exhibition of all the Oswestry Heritage Comics at the farm. There’s a another exhibition of the comics in town – “Behind The Scenes of the Oswestry Heritage Comics” is at the Willow Gallery on Willow Street all this month. Thirdly, I’m giving a talk on “Getting The Picture – Using comics in archaeological public outreach” to the Chirk History Society on Monday, Sept. 12 at the Parish Hall in Chirk, starting at 7pm. It’ll be an informal talk, but it will look at the work I’ve done in Oswestry and beyond in using comics to talk about archaeology, history and heritage. The comics themselves are also going to be visible through the weekend – on big outdoor banners in and around Oswestry. Look for them as you go around town – see if you can spot them all!

Last but not least, of course, don’t forget to pick up your copy of The Advertizer to read this week’s comic!

 

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intro_panelThis week, the Oswestry Advertizer is featuring a full-page comic introducing the Oswestry Heritage Comics project. I talk about how I got into using comics in archaeology, and why I thought using them in a local newspaper to shine a bit of a spotlight on local history, archaeology and heritage might be a good idea. It’s a very quick introduction to everything I’ve been doing with comics, information and public outreach over the past ten years – right back to the Çatal Nedir? comic I did way, way back in 2005.

My basic argument has always been that when we talk about the past – history, archaeology or heritage – we use a very specialised language full of concepts and assumptions that most people don’t recognise. This is because these concepts and assumptions don’t feature a great deal in the day-to-day of ordinary life. So public outreach has to provide a context for these things in order for them to be best understood by an audience unfamiliar with them: and the narrative and visuals of comics do that very well indeed.

Over the next twelve weeks, the Oswestry Heritage Comics series will hopefully demonstrate how this can be done even with a subject as rich and diverse as “heritage”, and within the confined parameters of a four-panel strip. It’s an artistic and informational challenge, certainly – but it’s an opportunity to really test the idea that comics can be effective as a means of communicating information about the past.

The comics are only part of the package. There’s a Facebook page which will provide onward links and additional information based on the subjects of each week’s strip. Plus, over the course of the twelve weeks the comic series is running in the newspaper, I’m going to be hosting a professional-level workshop and a family activity on comics and heritage at Underhill Farm during Heritage Open Days, a kids activity on comics and family history at Oswestry Library, plus a Learning at Lunchtime talk about the project, also at Oswestry Library, a mini-exhibition of the comics and preparatory artwork at The Willow Gallery in September, with an introductory talk on the process. If funding materializes, there will also be a pop-up exhibition of some of the comics at venues around Oswestry during Heritage Open Days, plus I’ll be giving a talk to the Chirk History Society which will be about public outreach in heritage, which will draw on (no pun intended) the comics project. I’ll put links to each of these events up here, closer to the time. I’ll also put up posts here about each weekly comic strip in turn, discussing some of the “behind the scenes” process, as well as talking in more detail about the way each of the strips was written.

I’m extremely excited about this project. If it proves to be successful, I’m hoping it might provide a model for other comics and local heritage projects – both in Oswestry, and beyond!

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Full steam ahead!

Full steam ahead!

It’s that time of year again: next week I’ll be doing some art activity days at Oswestry Library, this year as part of the Oswestry Makes Festival. This year I’ve somehow got myself roped into three different events: I’m giving a workshop on applied comics at one of the 6th-form colleges on Oct. 1st, plus I’m doing a “Steampunk Heroes” drawing and colouring session in the morning and a live painting of a specially-commissioned piece of steampunk artwork in the afternoon at Oswestry Library on Oct. 3rd. The steampunk comes courtesy of the theme of the final day of the Oswestry Makes festival at the library, which is a mini comic-con, complete with costume competition and a chance to meet author Kate O’Hearn.

So, the other thing I’ve been roped into doing is coming along to the library’s comic-con in costume

What is a well-dressed steampunk artist wearing this season?

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Steampunk Batman, by Jason Lee – via vektorvisual.com

I’ve got something fun coming up on the calendar at the end of September/beginning of October: our local library in Oswestry is holding a one-day Steampunk mini-ComicCon as part of the “Oswestry Makes” festival.

Oswestry Makes is a mini-festival that runs through the summer and tries to bring together as many creatives and makers from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible. Last year the festival was themed around textile; this year the theme is “Theatre of Dreams”, and is focused on masks, costumes and puppets.

The library has been thinking about holding a mini-ComicCon for a while now, and Steampunk fits the bill as the perfect cross-over between comics and the Oswestry Makes festival. The programme for the ComicCon isn’t finalised yet, but I’ve heard that there are going to be steampunk costume-making session, a couple of steampunk film showings, and hopefully a table or two from local comics shops. Students from The Marches college are going to be heavily involved, I think.

I’ll be doing two things for the festival: a workshop/talk on making comics, and a steampunk superhero drawing session. Should all be great fun!

Now you’ll have to excuse me: I need to go and dust off my galvanic drawing-table!

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Had a great time on Monday at Oswestry Library doing an hour’s worth of colouring and drawing in the kids’ area. I’d prepped a bunch of blank “Creepy House Superhero” drawing and colouring sheets to tie in with the Library’s summer reading challenge theme. The little group of kids that came in during the hour were particularly intense and focused on their colouring in during the hour, and it was difficult to get a word out of them (I got the definite feeling that I was interrupting them whenever I asked a question or commented on their drawing!). They seemed to enjoy themselves, for all the silence; we even had one chap turn up dressed as Batman, so there was interactivity on a number of different levels!

I had fun just sitting there for an hour and colouring-in my own drawings. When I got home, I couldn’t resist doing a bit more – well, I’d forgotten how much fun just colouring-in can be! So here are my Brain Girl and Jack-the-Lantern colouring-in pages. How’s that for the start of a super creepy team-up?

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