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‘Bronze Age People’ was a milestone Mantle of the Expert project which Dorothy did in the early ‘80s. In the drama, children were given the ‘frame’ of historians / anthropologists, charged with setting up an experiment: to see if people today could live in a recreation of a Bronze Age community.

Phyl Herbert wrote her M.Ed. thesis on the project, in 1982. It includes a vivid and detailed account and transcripts of a number of project sessions, led by Dorothy.  

To download a copy of the thesis, click on the PDF icon. Thanks to Phyl, for allowing us to publish it! 

In this video, David Allen and Phyl Herbert discuss Mantle of the Expert and the Bronze Age People project. It is a recording of an event hosted by London Drama and National Drama, on 25.11.21.

Below, we outline the key stages in the project, drawing on Phyl's thesis, and also on an article she co-wrote with Dorothy, called "A Drama of Learning: Mantle of the Expert" ("Theory into Practice," Summer 1985).

 In her notes for the article, Dorothy noted that, in planning a Mantle, the teacher selects

a central concept to the curriculum work, which can be seen to be of importance in the present circumstances of social living. In this case the concept selected was “Environment affects people’s behaviour, and indeed may actually cause it.

Then, a context is selected.


which contains within itself all the possible curriculum accruing around the central concept. In this case “To set up a modern experiment in social living within Bronze Age circumstances.” The standing stones of a megalithic site are thus considered in juxtaposition with high-rise apartments. This equation must be seen as rational to modern society.


This was the central concern of the drama.

Here is a chart which Dorothy produced - which shows her breaking down some of the "sociological" issues which the project could explore. (1)

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Dorothy once said that her energy as a teacher always went on ‘building the possibility of thickness’ (2). This meant, in part, building the ‘drama of the mind’—the imaginative immersion in the world of the drama. 


She stated: ‘I would say you are always in the play whenever the mind’s image begins to affect how you're feeling about what's going on here’ (2)There are numerous examples of this image-making in the ‘Bronze Age’ project...

Dorothy began by writing the words ‘Bronze Age People’ on a blackboard, in large, jagged letters, as if they had been carved in stone by a metal instrument. The class were invited to ‘turn your eyes inwards and conjure up pictures in your mind of this collective time’ (2)They sketched some of the images that came into their minds. Dorothy offered a model; she said, “I’m seeing a spear but I don’t know how to draw it.” (3) 


(In this video, Dorothy demonstrates a similar starting point - this time, for a drama about the Iron Age.)

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At the "Dorothy Heathcote Now" conference (2021), delegates recreated some of the tasks from the project...


Later in the drama, Dorothy invited the children to imagine they had been on a visit to a Bronze Age village in a time machine, and again, to conjure up images of what they saw.


At this point, six actor/teachers were deployed to stand in as megalithic stones, which the Bronze Age community lived near. They were draped in black cloth and wore coloured masks.  

Earlier she has told the class, when they were drawing their pictures: “…we’ll see the Bronze Age in our mind’s eye and then the Stones will appear and we’ll look up and see that the Bronze Age is here.” Their appearance then marked a transition - from the image in the mind, to the manifestation of this world, as if real.

Now she said: “That’s the place where the Bronze Age Village was, now try and see all the people living around the place, building things.” 

Again, she offered a model: “That’s the place we’ve been to – (Pause) I saw children laughing around the fire but I didn’t get the feeling how they lit fires.” The children added their own ideas: “I saw a boat” ... “I saw a bronze knife”, and so on. (3)


In the original project, some of Dorothy's students represented "Standing Stones." One of them was Luke Abbott. In this video from the "Dorothy Heathcote Now" conference, Luke speaks as a "Standing Stone"...


The group were now placed in the frame of historians / archaeologists – with the task of sifting through applications to take part in the Bronze Age village experiment.

The children examined an “advert” for applications. This became the “master” document for the project, because it presents the problem in a tightly focused way, while at the same time offering a range of learning possibilities for the drama. (5)

The task for the students was to sift through the “applications” from prospective applicants. These had been prepared beforehand, and each one contains a possible problem or implication.


The class broke into pairs to consider individual applications. See below for an example of an application. (Here, the applicant is a forester who was trained at an agricultural college – surely a valuable person for the project!)

Dorothy was in role as the “chairperson,” and discussed one application, as a “model” to the class:


“I have a form here from a man who is 27 years of age and already he has had four different types of jobs. What do you make of that? …

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“Either he finds it difficult to remain in one job or else he is very versatile. I wonder does he realize that he will have to stay in one place for six years with this experiment – after all we want stickers not drifters. Well, has anybody come across anything interesting?” (4)


The discussion opened up into a wide range of areas – for example, education, arising from an application from a couple who wanted to bring their 4 year-old child with them.

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In the next phase of the drama, the children looked for a suitable site for the Bronze Age community. They studied a map, and discussed the merits and demerits of different locations. Then, Dorothy said: "If you like we could go to the site and delay the decision of where to locate our site because in drama we can make the site as we like."


They began by agreeing the layout for the "megalithic stones": "We'll fix them so that we get to a stage where we say ... 'that is how the stones have been ever since the very beginning...'" (3)

 At the [imaginary] "site," they measured out the land and marked it with stakes; and looked for fresh water, and collected samples of plants and soil etc., recording their findings and marking them on a map. This work again demanded images in the mind.


In the next phase of the drama, the children moved into representing the people in the Bronze Age community. They worked in groups; each group was given a task sheet, such as: Your task this day is to fashion the rope harness for the cow. Take strong reeds from the river bed, make them soft and pliable so that they may twist and hold when plaited firm …


And: Your task is to shape the molten bronze into a cutting knife so that a beast may be dismembered, its skin stretched and scraped, and flesh be cut from bone…

And: Your task is to set the two great Quern stones ready into place—make the hollow for the grain with flint and bronzen knife; carve the runnels for the grounden flour… [etc.] (5)

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The project culminated in a ‘crisis’ situation: a fire in the village. Here are some of Dorothy’s own notes from the Archive:


They [the children] decided to explore the disaster of a fire in the roundhouse. The contract was made, as was assessment of the various possibilities of combustion related with material, watchfulness, and responsibility in such circumstances.

From then on, the normal activity associated with the feast of Samhain was developed in now-action time. (1)

The actions which the group had performed previously, such as making wicker baskets, grinding flour with the quern stones, etc., were performed again; and at the same time, the children imagined the first signs of ‘danger.’ She told them:

From now on the fire can only happen to us... We told you how it might be beginning. From the newly woven basket there. ... The fire has to happen to us. I can't deal with it now. We all have to be equally responsible for the truthfulness —and we are inside a wooden building with a thatched roof ... and... a hot stone missing... On you go, get on with the day... (3)

The group planned how exactly the ‘fire’ would happen: "It was agreed that a hot stone should go astray, smoulder patiently amid new wicker baskets still wet from forming and weaving, and eventually leap into hot flame." (3)


There was a slowing down of experience, to build the ‘possibility of thickness’. As the fire was prepared, "at contracted intervals a ‘stop time’ convention was used and any individual could state what fire risks they perceived because of the tasks they were engaged with." (1)

Again, there was a ‘drama of the mind’: 


At each ‘stop time’ moment individuals gave tiny pieces of information which allowed an escalation of danger to be anticipated and experienced as ‘frissons of possibility'. ...

At no point do the participants ‘flee the fire’ and hurry through to an ending. Instead they understand and plot the experience of fire danger, as it escalates, until finally they engage with the decisions about choice to leave and the last placement of bodies with considerations of even the last thoughts of such people.

Thus drama can fulfil its true function, namely, the exploration of the affairs of mankind. (1)



Dorothy defined the fundamental elements of theatre as: sound / silence; stillness / movement; light / dark. She urged teachers to use their imagination, to visualise dramatic moments and situations in these terms.


She suggested a way that teachers could develop this faculty in themselves – by taking a piece of text, such as a passage from a novel, and going through it, noting down all the movement in it; then, repeating the task, and noting down all the sounds, and so on.


At the "Dorothy Heathcote Now" conference (2021), Louise Ryan led a workshop on Dorothy’s “Bronze Age People” project. Participants recreated some of the drama strategies that Dorothy used, to build the idea of a Bronze Age village in people’s minds. Then, Louise introduced a task, which showed how the elements of sound/silence etc., could be used in the classroom to enhance children’s creative writing. She recalls:

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The participants in the workshop asked how they could meet curriculum objectives through the use of drama. I decided to show them how Mantle of the Expert can support creative writing, by embedding imagination into the writing process.

We had already started building our “Bronze Age” village in our mind's eye. Now, we explored the themes of light/dark, stillness/movement and sound/silence.


The participants used these themes as a way to build their own “story maps” of life in the Bronze Age village. They worked through each strand, step by step, imagining the sounds in their stories, and then the movement, and so on. They also had opportunities to step into their stories, and explore their storyscapes.


The participants gave an oral retelling of their story or shared their story plans. We then discussed how this could be further developed in the classroom, by allowing students to draft their stories and edit their work.


SOURCES: (1) Heathcote, in: Herbert & Heathcote,  ‘A Drama of Learning—A Theory of Education as Presented Through Process of Mantle of the Expert.’ Dorothy Heathcote Archive, MMU (AI041); (2) 'Dorothy Heathcote Interviewed by David Davis.' 2D magazine 4:3 (1985); (3)  Herbert, A Theory of Education as Presented through the Drama Process 'Mantle of the Expert'. M.Ed. thesis (University of Newcastle, 1982); (4) Herbert & Heathcote, 'A Drama of Learning: Mantle of the Expert.' Theory into Practice XXIV: 3 (1985); (5) ‘Bronze Age Experiment.’ Dorothy Heathcote Archive, MMU (AS017). 

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