Digging up yesterday's rubbish

6th March 2009 at 00:00
History is brought to life via archaeology and artefacts found on a famous battleground

In groups of two, the first-year pupils examine the artefacts, writing down size, shape and colour. They say what the objects feel like, and what they could possibly be. This may not be a real archaeological dig, but for the youngsters at Preston Lodge High in Prestonpans, it is the next best thing, re-enacting what happens and discovering what an archaeologist does.

The East Lothian school lies on part of the site where Bonnie Prince Charlie fought and won the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 - his day of triumph before he lost at Culloden. Glasgow University's Battlefield Archaeology Unit is soon to begin an archaeological dig on the site and is taking a series of workshops locally to involve the community and give school children an idea of what will happen when the work begins.

"It is great to bring archaeology into schools, and it is very much part of what we do," says archaeologist Natasha Ferguson. "People forget that, as well as being an archaeology unit, we are a place of learning. Working with schools allows the children to see what we will be doing, but it is also about bringing learning skills into context for them."

While the identity of some objects, such as coins, is obvious, others, like musket balls or trigger guards, require a bit of investigating. Ms Ferguson and history teacher Gillian Duthie are on hand to answer any questions, to show them what to measure and to explain that a lot of the things archaeologists find are yesterday's rubbish. They soon learn that you can't always be sure what things are, and that further investigation is often necessary.

S1 pupil Julia Gribbin enjoyed drawing the artefacts. She says: "One coin was really shiny despite being old, and I was really surprised at this."

"It makes them think how what we chuck out today is tomorrow's archaeology," adds Miss Duthie.

A specially set-up camera enables the pupils to photograph the work, and a worksheet illustrates each item's connection with a soldier. They are encouraged to think about how the soldier would have used them and where he would have kept them.

Miss Duthie is happy about how the class went. "I feel they got a lot out of the class. Most engaged, and they were very interested, asking questions. I want them to ask questions, rather than being spoon-fed".

"As part of the course, we focus on what is history, and how we know these things happened; where did we get the evidence? We touch on archaeology, on sources and artefacts, giving them a grounding, but not much on how to carry it out. Archaeology helps put history into context."

Miss Duthie describes archaeology as a detective story, where clues are pieced together. As a working archaeologist, Ms Ferguson is very aware of this simile. "It is very much like a detective story, with forensics being used to find out how something happened," she says.

Shelly Dalgleish (S1) appreciated the opportunity to look at items from the past. "I didn't realise that so much detail was needed to find out about the artefacts," she says. "History is one of my favourite subjects and this has made me want to find out more about the battle."

Both the school and Glasgow University are very aware of how all this fits into A Curriculum for Excellence, and the many cross-curricular learning opportunities available.

"Maths, history, geography, science - they are all covered in archaeology," explains Ms Ferguson. "We look at why lead changes over time; what the biologychemistry is which causes this change; how the land has changed over the years."

Marion Morris, the head of history, was instrumental in developing links with Glasgow University. "It has been great having Natasha in," she says. "We are keen to do a lot of archaeology but don't have enough time, so it is excellent having someone come in. It enlivens it and adds to the pupils' knowledge.

"Archaeology is not an add-on. We are keen to enhance their learning, and the pupils have really enjoyed holding the artefacts. They need to see the relevance of archaeology for it to become meaningful."


Colour is always an issue when it comes to painting, but in an art competition run by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, it applies also to race.

The UK contest hopes to emphasise the changing face of Britain - one in five pupils comes from an ethnic-minority and children are six times more likely to be of mixed heritage than adults.

Secondary pupils are invited to submit self-portraits that explore the complexity of their identity and background. "We want to inspire them to see self-portraiture as a powerful way to tell us who they are, and reveal how the next generation is starting to define itself," says Trevor Phillips, chair of the commission. "The testimonies and the art from 1,000 young people can reveal their experience of life in a way no desk research could."

Workshops have been held at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow, and schools in Aberdeen, Dundee and Orkney. Steven Shankland, a BP Portrait winner, held a master-class at Machar Academy, while printmaker Elspeth Lamb worked at Stromness Academy.

An exhibition of 100 finalists will run at a London gallery.

Closing date is March 25.


Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today