Trivial Pursuit meets Challenge Anneka in a modern approach to Ancient Egypt. Jon O'Connor reports.
This package builds on the series of five programmes about Ancient Egypt which ends its BBC2 run today. Bundled with a well-researched resource pack, the collation provides a good mixed-media approach to ancient history for modern children.
The programmes themselves tackle history in a manner that crosses Challenge Anneka with Trivial Pursuit, each setting out to solve a minor mystery as a device to introduce serious archaeology in a light-hearted manner. One particular king, lost from the ancient genealogy table, turns out to have been Queen Hatshepsut, whose temple in modern day Luxor was the scene of mass bloodshed last month.
The Egyptian propensity for getting too much sand in the breadmix proves to be the bizarre link between soil erosion and dental erosion. And in between breathless bouts of detective work we begin to see how such snippets of life can be rebuilt from the evidence of artefacts and visual records on the walls of the great tombs.
The ingenuity of these exercises is enough to offset the drawbacks in presentation style as cheery chappie races gormlessly across exotic locations while excited techno-girl taps the laptop and supplies Useful Facts.
Harriet Martin, archeologist turned teacher, is a true Ancient Egypt fan. Her guidance notes for the TV series and supplementary resources pack are both authored with teachers and pupils in mind. The resource pack in particular succeeds in putting Ancient Egypt into chronological and geographical context.
Everyday life 3,000 years ago comes alive through a focus on the climate, the rigid social hierarchy and the cultural sophistication of the people.
Discovering the sheer scale of the geography provides a backdrop for achievements which were sculpted on a truly massive scale, using only the most basic technology.
The pack encourages children to grasp these ideas by using the available evidence to support their understanding and learning. In case you haven't got a mummified pharaoh handy, the pack includes good quality A4 photographs of artefacts, together with some dramatic shots showing the strange juxtaposition of ancient pyramid, modern city and the Nile.
The meticulously detailed activities for pupils demand the use of research skills, logic and inference - all good study techniques. There are cut-and-stick timelines, quiz sheets to check what children have learned and plentiful chunks of simplified information to give teachers the confidence that they have something to teach.
A virtue of the pack is the wide range of approaches that is used sensibly to explore the historical focus. Role-play works well as a vehicle to explore various trades and professions, while truefalse multiple choice questions home in on evidence which may or may not substantiate fairly subtle statements.
The hazards of farming, taxmen and the crucial role of the Nile as Egypt's lifeblood provide some oddly humorous material. As the Egyptian treasury record keeper said to the scribe: "Don't you remember what happens to the farmer when it's time for the harvest tax? The snake has taken half the grain and the hippopotamus has eaten the remainder." The familiar story of EC subsidies and VAT, really.
And the extraordinary names add poetic appeal. It's good to know that in Egyptian mythology, Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Geb the land and Nut the sky. Such little gems help to bring stories of the long-dead back to life for children.
The Landmarks: Ancient Egypt video (including five programmes) plus the resource pack is available from February 1998 and costs Pounds 38 including VAT. The pack on its own costs Pounds 12.99. Both are available from BBC Educational Publishing, FREEPOST LS2811, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 6YY. Tel: 01937 541001