The nature of the problem
It’s week three of the project and the students are having the chance to put their ideas into practice. They’ve been concentrating on introducing young people to the basic concepts of archaeology. It’s no easy job. Misconceptions abound. The movies don’t help: an archaeologist’s life is definitely not like the screen portrayals of Lara Croft or Indiana Jones. Nor do we dig up dinosaurs: that’s the job of a palaeontologist.
And some solutions
The students presented a whole range of solutions to the problem. I think my favourite was the ‘rubbish game’. They talked about how archaeology is not really about looking for buried treasure: it’s about dealing with other people’s rubbish to see what it can tell you about life in the past. To help make the point the students had made several sets of cards showing different objects. These were handed out to the children to see what they could deduce from the images. I was particularly impressed with one child who worked out that the items were old because something was labelled in ounces and ‘today we use grams’.
Making archaeology local
The students also spent time with the children looking at aerial photographs and old maps. This is a useful idea because it makes archaeology local. Too often school books illustrate the biggest and best. Children can therefore find it hard to relate to this (unless, of course, they happen to live on Hadrian’s Wall or in Hampton Court Palace!). You can show how things change over time in their area by asking questions such as Can you see where your school is? or Why isn’t it on this map? Wasn’t it built then? and Can you see what was here before your school was built? Archaeologists call this process map regression. It not only a good way of working out where things were in the past, it also allows you to start thinking about what kind of evidence might survive.
All enthused about archaeology
And now the children at Greenhill Primary School are all enthused about archaeology. It’s just as well really because next week we’re having a dig…