'This is history for real'

28th March 2008 at 00:00

Scotland's rural past comes alive with the launch of a new resource pack

Can you spot a "rig and furrow" or distinguish between a "byre dwelling" and a "byre"? What is a "souterrain"? What were "crucks" used for?

Scottish pupils from upper primary and lower secondary will soon be able to answer such questions, following the launch of a teachers' resource pack from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The pack has been produced as part of a project on Scotland's Rural Past.

Launched in October 2006, the project supports schools and local communities which want to investigate the remains of abandoned settlements in their areas. To date, schools from as far apart as Islay, Dalkeith, Mull and Inverness have been trained to use global positioning systems, tape measures and more detailed survey equipment to explore old field systems, farmsteads and townships.

Now, with the launch of the pack, a further 10 to 15 schools will be trained by RCAHMS experts, and any school can download the pack to use in its own way.

"Scotland's Rural Past is about understanding the landscape, its evolution and history and how human beings have affected it from the Middle Ages to the 20th century," says Tertia Barnett, project manager. "It's about getting young people actively involved in their local environment, surveying settlements which are disappearing before they have been properly recorded. This is history for real."

The resource pack comprises case studies designed to present teachers with evidence - aerial photographs, old maps, archaeological plans and records, and historical documents - that will enable schools to become actively involved within the Curriculum for Excellence framework.

Schools, Ms Barnett suggests, can set up their own archaeology clubs. The project team can provide information on abandoned rural settlements that need recording in your area. They can arrange a visit to look at potential areas, meet possible partners and help develop your project. They can also provide training and resources.

"Since we received the training, we have continued to develop as an archaeology group," says Sandy Smith, a design and technology teacher at Islay High. "Not only did the training put valuable skills in the hands of the initial pupils trained last October, but they have now trained another six students in the art of archaeological survey.

"Without this training, researching the history of Islay life could be fairly dry. But the survey skills have given us fun and provide interactive activities which are now one of the cornerstones of our projects."

Heather Waller, head of Ulva Primary in Mull, says: "It's great for children to get out and learn more about their local area and its past. They get so much more from this kind of active learning and it becomes so much easier for them to imagine homes and the way of life of the people who lived here.

All data collected by schools and community groups will be added to the RCAHMS records to help future understanding and conservation of the sites. The project receives funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the National Trust for Scotland.


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