Friday, 13 February 2015

Back in the Bronze Age for the night

Margaret and I have cranked up our evening activities by booking a string of events at the Key Theatre and also a string of historical lectures.
Last night, we went to a lecture at Flag Fen about the archaeology of the Fengate area by Francis Pryor. These days, Fengate is an industrial/retail park with a gas-powered power station and not at all attractive to the eye.
In the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age, it was a thriving community of farmers and would have supported a large, peaceful population rearing sheep and goats.
Francis Pryor has been excavating the area since the 1970s, with Peterborough Development Corporation allowing digs on land that was to be developed. In Fengate, he found field patterns from 3000 BCE, including drove roads, stock pens and roundhouses.
The really interesting thing is that this information has been used to tell us a great deal about those societies. For example, the size of the sheep pens that were found suggest that they were dealing with flocks of a thousand sheep; also the scale and organisation of development suggest there had to be some kind of committee or council to recognise ownership and to organise community projects. It seems local government in Peterborough goes back at least 5,000 years.
There have been some amazing discoveries in Peterborough - the oldest wheel in Britain, the oldest fabric and (not many miles away) the amazing sea henges, circles of split trunks with a massive, inverted tree root in the centre and a body laid upon that.
After Francis Pryor, there was a talk by a chap called Ian Pycroft who is a historical re-enactor. He has lived in a reconstruction of a Bronze Age roundhouse and came dressed as it is thought a man would have dressed in 1500 BCE. At first I was a little sceptical, but he soon won me over. He basically undressed in front of us (not completely), told us about the garments and then handed them around for us to look at. He also had various remade items, including flint knife, bronze knife, axe and sword; spear, arrow (with flint head), cooking pot, drinking vessel, pin, button and some nettle string.
The items have been made using techniques (as best as we know) as they would have been in the Bronze Age. The most amazing, I thought, were the string, the sword and the arrow. The string is made from nettle fibre and was really strong. It looked for the world like the garden string I use. It's made by one of his friends. The sword, cast in bronze, had been polished using the stones and aggregate as used by Bronze Age craftsmen. It was heavy and it shone with a wonderful soft light - a golden sword.
Francis Pryor said he was convinced that the Arthurian legend of Excalibur (the sword in the stone) has its origins in Bronze Age casting. Swords were cast in stone moulds and would have been literally pulled from the stone after manufacture.
The arrow was a perfect wooden shaft with a small flint arrowhead, bound and glued in place, while the flights were two goose feathers, attached front and rear to the sides of the shaft. It was a work of art.
Our other nights out were less highbrow. We went to the Key Theatre to see a Johnny Cash tribute act. I was staggered to see the Key full, it shows you what big business tribute bands can be. I thought they needed a June Carter, but sadly it was just an old chap “not pretending” to be Johnny Cash, "just playing his music". I think he would have pretended to be Johnny Cash if he'd been good enough.
Still, it's always good to see competent musicians playing live and the audience was really swinging at the end. Some young girls in jeans and cowboy shirts were even dancing in the aisles.
We also saw comedian Lee Hurst, famous for being on the sports quiz They Think It's All Over. His career has gone down since then and he had only filled half the theatre. He was good, but I sensed his heart wasn't in it. He told a lot of jokes about performing oral sex on women and then started going on about his many sexual conquests. It all got a little wearing.