Artefacts have the power to bring history to life, and you can use technology to share the excitement of excavation with your class
One of my first memories is of unearthing a curious brass object in the garden and thinking that it might be interesting. I took it to Reading Museum, whose kindly curator thought it was Roman, and we went round the galleries - filled with wonderful material dug up from nearby Roman Silchester - to find similar examples. I suppose it was at this point that I decided to be an archaeologist.
Nearly 50 years later and now a professor of archaeology at the University of Bristol, I still have this treasured little possession and I can still remember those galleries full of the remains of daily life from 2,000 years ago.
Many of us have similar stories about the power of objects to actually "touch" the past and yet schools rarely teach history using artefacts. This needs to change.
Objects and where they come from can tell evocative stories in a way that documentary history often fails to. Although we may not be able to recover all deep political or philosophical ideas, we can understand the personal, the daily life and often the thoughts of those people in the past.
Artefacts may not be able to tell us about the causes of the First World War but they do tell us about life in the trenches. They can help us to engage with difficult topics and bring home what war was like in a physical and objective way.
It's also exciting to uncover history in this way. The process of archaeology is often serendipitous. However well-planned an excavation, we never know what may be discovered in the next 10 minutes or the next week. We ask questions and try to come up with hypotheses before we start, but are often left with unanswered questions and new avenues of enquiry. In fact, archaeology is much like reality, with no neat, predictable narratives or expected outcomes. Discoveries often far exceed expectations. The non-linear, non-narrative nature of archaeological finds is often in contrast to traditional history.
So schools should embrace archaeology in teaching. But how do we do this? It is difficult. Museums do not easily give up prized artefacts for schools to use in lessons and arranging a proper archaeological dig is nigh-on impossible.
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