1 March—22 March 2021

Archaeology study sessions: early prehistoric art in the British Isles

Join us for a series of four online study sessions to discover the history and archaeology of early prehistoric art in the British Isles.

Over a 20,000-year period, human communities had to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Accompanying this change was a dynamic art tradition that can be described as ‘a different kind of art’, unique to the British Isles.

This lecture programme looks at all major discoveries from the past 150 years and explains why they remain important signatures to what is a fragmentary archaeological past.

Numbers are limited to allow participants to ask questions and discuss the topics covered.

Sessions last for 90 minutes and take place on Mondays via Zoom at 7.30pm (GMT) on:

  • 1 March – In the beginning: the context of the first artists
  • 8 March – Other evidence: art in artefacts
  • 15 March – Art and the hunter
  • 22 March – Art in death

Lectures will be recorded and made available for those not able to attend every session. A reading list and further information will also be provided as part of the course.

Speaker: Dr George Nash is an archaeologist and specialist in prehistoric and contemporary art. He is an Erasmus Mundus Professor of the Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, convener of the Welsh Rock Art Organisation and a former Research Fellow with the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Bristol.

How to take part

Due to COVID-19, this year’s study days will be run online via Zoom over several sessions.

Book your place below. Details of how to join each session will be sent to you along with a reminder about your booking in the week leading up to the course. You will also receive a confirmation email once you have registered.

Please visit the Zoom website for guidance on joining meetings. Allow extra time before the talk begins to make sure everything is working correctly.

Additional information

Concessions are available with proof of identity for people over 65, unemployed people, disabled people (carers free) and Friends of Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

Session breakdown

Monday 1 March – In the beginning: the context of the first artists

Before 2004 and the discovery of Upper Palaeolithic rock art in the British Isles, text books suggested that there was no long-term human occupation north of the Loire Valley in France – it was too cold.  However, the archaeological record for Ice Age Britain suggests a different story. The first session will discuss the climatic and environmental context of the first artists.

Monday 8 March – Other evidence: art in artefacts

Coupled with the first discoveries of Upper palaeolithic rock art during the first 10 years of this century, are a number of artefacts that indicate the artistic prowess of our ancient ancestors.  These discoveries include the way we buried the dead and how we adorned their bodies.

Monday 15 March – Art and the hunter

Moving forward by a few thousand years, the British Isles were slowly becoming detached from the Continent of Europe due to climatic conditions and changing landscapes. This rapid change introduced new flora and fauna and resulted in artists producing new forms of artistic endeavour.  Although there is evidence of rock art being produced, decorated portable items become the preferred art form.

Monday 22 March – Art in death

By the time communities start to bury their dead within artificial caves – Neolithic burial-ritual stone chambered monuments and start to organise the landscape in a ritual-symbolic way, a new set of ideas are installed which include decorating and venerating places for the dead.  This act of imposing art onto death monuments is prevalent around 3000 BCE when the passage grave tradition is active across most of Western Europe.

Archaeological study sessions

Bristol Museums has run a programme of study days since 2013 and an archaeological field school since 2019. Due to COVID-19, this year’s study days will be run online and broken down into several linked sessions. Profits from study days and the field school help support the work of Bristol Museums.

Sessions are open to everyone aged 16 and over and suitable for complete beginners to those who have studied archaeology before.

The study day programme and field schools are directed by Kate Iles, curator of archaeology. For more information or to join our mailing list, please contact [email protected].