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22nd September 2000 at 01:00
Imagine the excitement if you found a rare piece of parchment, of great historic significance, and were able to take it into your class. "Look everybody, I've found this old piece of paper and I'm going to take it to the British Museum because it's probably worth a million pounds. But before I do, let's just see if we can work out..."

Faking old parchments or documents is not terribly difficult. You simply stain the edges with tea bags for that aged, brown look. You can always glue a document to a piece of round wooden dowel either side for added effect. For a parchment look, try using art paper; for an old letter, plain typing paper will work fine.

There are plenty of possibilities for your "find", depending what texts you have access to. They include:

* some Egyptian hieroglyphics;

* an illuminated manuscript few lines from the epic Beowulf, probably 8th century;

* a simplified extract from a historic document like the Magna Carta, for example, (witten in1215, originally in Latin, but never mind) "No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or outlawed or exiled or in any way victimised, neither will we attack him or send anyone to attack him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." Finish with, "Given by our hand in the meadow which is called Runnymede between Windsor and Staines on the 15th day of June, in the 17th year of our reign," signed and sealed "John" (everyone knows of King John because of Robin Hood films);

* a 16th-century map of Europe or the world by someone like Mercator;

* a hand-written letter dated January 22, 1901, saying, "We all feel a bit motherless today. Mysterious little Victoria is dead and fat vulgar Edward is King," signed by Henry James, the novelist;

* a made-up letter to his family from a Second World War soldier.

What is it? Who wrotedrew it? When, where and why did they do it? See if your history detectives can find out.

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