Digging for the truth

4th April 1997 at 01:00
TOUCHING THE PAST: ARCHAEOLOGY 5-14

Edited by Elizabeth and Neil Curtis

Scottish Children's Press Pounds 4.95

The "5-14" in the title will be very familiar to Scottish teachers as shorthand for the national guidelines in the curricular areas. The one under scrutiny here is that remarkably broad area known as environmental studies.

Some might groan at the suggestion that yet an-other subject, arch-aeology, should be added to the already long list, but the 13 teachers and archaeologists who contribute to this book are keen advocates of using archaeological approaches and evidence to understand people and places in the past.

The volume consists of the proceedings of the Touching the Past seminar at Marischal Museum, Aberdeen, in June 1995, as well as supplementary contributions. Interesting links are stressed between archaeology and the five strands highlighted in the environmental-studies guidelines: planning; collecting evidence; recording and presenting; interpreting and evaluating; and developing informed attitudes.

One chapter provides an overview and history of the 5-14 Guidelines that might be old news for Scottish teachers, but which trainee teachers and practitioners in other parts of the UK should find interesting.

Others focus on interpretation of the landscape and on the use of excavated evidence. The services provided to schools by a range of organisations, including Historic Scotland, and museums in different parts of the country, are outlined clearly.

The reader is left in no doubt that teachers in primary schools throughout Scotland are eager to exploit the valuable contribution that such links offer in promoting an understanding of the past through active learning. Perhaps some parts of the text have a somewhat tenuous link to archaeology - advice on family trees, for example - and a cheerful description of Shetland primary pupils on a beach trying burnt mound cooking by pulling shellfish from rocks and throwing them in the fire might cause raised eyebrows among some teachers.

However the contributors all display conviction that archaeology has a great deal to offer environmental studies, and this useful book highlights its potential in promoting active investigation and excitement among primary pupils.

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