The latest Great Lesson draws on the Wallbook of Natural History and the What on Earth Wallbook. I love these books. They are packed with details and they make a valiant attempt at tying history together. There are brilliant touches like a series of illustrations of the globe at the top of the page to show how the world has changed. As I talk to the boys, they are poring over these books and reading all sorts of extra facts, as well as seeing pictures illustrating the story I am telling.
We stopped our last Great Lesson about five million years ago in the Pliocene Era. There are lots of familiar animals by this time: the giraffe, the bat, the blue whale. But, I want to look now at a very special line of animals.
There’s the Sahelanthropus, an early hominin which might have walked on two feet, rather than four. It is around this time that chimpanzees and humans split into two separate species.
We looked at the Great Wall Book, while I talked. The boys interrupted a few times to point out other things they could see or to ask questions.
The first humans were hairier than us and had smaller brains. This Austalopithecus had a brain that was about 400cm2.
About three million years ago, in the Pleistiocine Era, Homo Habilis emerged, their brains were about 600cm2, you can see that they look more like us and less like apes.
Homo Erectus came along about two million years ago, with brains about 900cm2. They shared the Earth with animals like mammoths and giant sloths.
We think that humans began to control fire about one and a half million years ago, can you imagine the change this must have made!
I lit a candle and asked the boys to think about what fire would have done for early man.
This would have allowed our ancestors to scare bigger animals away, to keep warm in winter, even to start cooking food.
About one million years ago, Homo Neanderthalensis evolved with brains about 1,400cm2. They survived an Ice Age, probably using their new knowledge of fire and clothes to keep themselves from freezing. At this point I gave the boys a model of a stone age tool to examine.
Neanderthal grave sites have been found and some have contained stone tools. So we know that people were making tools by this time. They probably made other tools from wood and bone, but – because these rot away – we don’t have evidence of what these tools were like. This period of time is commonly referred to as the Stone Age, though it can be split into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras.
Homo Sapiens (which is the species that we belong to) evolved about 195,000 years ago. We think that people first evolved in Africa and – from there – spread out until they lived all over the world.
As you know, humans are mammals. We are warm blooded, we have babies and we feed them milk.
We think of our bodies as being made up of these systems:
the skeletal system, which holds us together,
the digestive system, which processes our food and produces waste,
the nervous system, which helps us to sense things and sends messages to our brain,
the cardiovascular system, which transports blood around our bodies,
the muscular system, which gets our bodies moving,
the reproductive system, which makes new people,
the respiratory system, which gets air in and out of our bodies,
the integumentary system, our skin, nails and hair – all the bits we can normally see,
the lymphatic system, which returns fluid to our blood and helps keep us healthy,
and the endocrine system, which produces hormones to control how our bodies work.
The earliest cave paintings that we have found date from about 50,000 years ago.
The earliest Bronze artefact found dates from 8700BC. So about that time people must have worked out how to smelt copper ore and produce copper. That’s when the Copper Age began.
We returned to the Wallbook, and the boys became very animated as they began to recognise facts they already knew.
At that time people were also hard at work developing agriculture. People began to cultivate plants rather than just going out and looking for things they could eat. Different parts of the world are suited to different crops, so in China people developed rice, while in America people grew potatoes and sweetcorn.
Around 3000BC years ago, people realised that they could smelt copper and tin together to make bronze – which is harder than copper and so useful for all sorts of weapons and tools.
About this time the Egyptians began building pyramids.
The Iron Age began about 1300BC when people began to smelt iron ore and produce iron, which is very strong and allowed people to make ever more creative tools.
The Roman Empire lasted from 900BC until 500AD.
When the Roman Empire ended, the world entered the Medieval Era. That was the age of castles and knights.
The Vikings were around from 800AD until 1100AD.
The Normans were the last people to conquer Britain in 1066.
The House of Normandy ruled for a while (William I, William II, Henry I), then Stephen Blois, and the House of Anjou (Henry II, Richard I, John), followed by the Plantagenets (Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Richard II).
Then the House of Lancaster took over (Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI).
Then they were briefly ousted by the House of York (Edward IV)
But Henry VI came back for a second reign, only to be thrown off by Edward IV again!
The Yorks held the throne with ( Edward V, Richard III).
The Yorks were followed by the Tudors (Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth II).
The Renaissance happened all over Europe from 1500 until 1800, that was when people started looking back to the Romans and the Greeks, copying and studying their art.
The Stuart House were next on the throne (James I, Charles I – who had his head cut off – Charles II, James II, William and Mary, Anne).
From here on we regularly refer to time periods by the name of the King or Queen of the time.
The Georgians were ruled by Georges I to IV.
The Industrial Revolution lasted from 1760 to 1840, which was when inventions happened in a sudden burst: engines and telephones and controlling electricity. This was also the time when the British Empire conquered huge areas of the world.
Then William IV ruled from 1830 until 1837, when Victoria took the throne and the Victorian Age began.
The Victorian Age was followed by the Edwardian Age from 1901until 1910 (Edward VII).
George V ruled from 1910 till 1936. Edward the VIII ruled for part of 1936, but abdicated.
The First World War was from 28th July 1914 until 11th November 1918.
The 1930’s are often referred to as the Great Depression. Almost every country in the world suffered poverty and a great deal of unemployment.
George VI took the throne in 1936.
In 1939 the second world war started.
World War Two ended in 1945 and – since it was ended when the American Air force dropped two atomic bombs on Japan – it led rather neatly into the Atomic Age, which is one name for the time in which we live now!
After the talk, we looked at all the equipment available. Eldest chose to study Stone Age Tools and Weapons. Middly chose to study The Heart. Then they ran outside to try and make flint weapons!
Here are their first attempts.