Who discovered how to make bronze? Where did they make this discovery? What did they make? All of these thoughts were in my head as I stood listening to Mark from the Ancient Wessex Network, as he stood just inside his tent. He did look unusual. He was wearing a pointed leather hat that was soft and looked warm. On his feet were leather shoes with laces, but they were not the sort that you see nowadays. They looked as if they were from the Bronze Age as they were gathered around his foot and laced with a series of leather laces and hoops. He was wearing rough woollen trousers and a matching top in a dark brown. Over this top he wore a linen over shirt and also a cotton over shirt. He had a small waistcoat of goat’s leather with a fur collar trim. No buttons, just a metal hoop and metal length that caught the material through the hoop. As I watched him with the group of other museum volunteers, I looked at the dug out fire and the leather bellows. At that moment I was transported to a previous age. Someone asked, “How did they discover how to make bronze and where?” Great, I thought, I’m not the only one who doesn’t know! Well, the answer was surprising but consistent with other great discoveries. It appears that the discovery was incremental; maybe some metal seeped out of some stone that was the base of a fire; maybe this metal melted together; maybe…It would have taken hundreds and hundreds of years!
Inside the lecture hall the volunteers heard about clay. Now, as someone who has just been thinking a lot about clay pots and the making of bricks, I was interested. It reminded me of the clay pots in the Wessex Gallery; the Samian ware bowl in the Pitt-Rivers collection with its truly intricate design, 2nd century AD; the pottery urns that were the burial vessels of 2000 BC. So, in the year 2016 we were encouraged to become potters in the ancient pot-making tradition of pressing a thumb into a lump of clay! Now, this may seem simple, but, believe me it does require a certain amount of skill. There are pitfalls, and they became clear as the pots were being formed. The base has to be flat, the sides equal, and the taking the piece of clay upwards, as opposed to outwards. During all of this discovery, we partook in another ancient tradition. One which I am sure happened long, long ago as folk went about their daily business – we talked. It is through this “idle chatter” that these discoveries were made, along with other revelations about patterning the pot. There were old bones, sticks and combs to pattern the pots. It was during this process that the comment “less is sometimes more” was used.
After the pot-making we could have a go at making a mould for pouring in some molten metal. That is where the bellows came in. There is something about making things which engages another part of our brain. It is an ageless sense of joy and achievement that these practical sessions produce in those joining in. I would recommend the experience. It unites us with those that have been long, long before us and gives us a sense of what “man-made” really means!