Towards a framework for teaching Stone Age to Iron Age Britain

At a recent meeting of archaeology and heritage education professionals at The Hive in Worcester, it was suggested that a national framework was put together as further guidance for teachers in this new curriculum area. The current non-statutory guidance was thought to be lacking in detail and accuracy. Some thoughts as to what would be in that framework were suggested and the overall discussion brought out others, so here is a first stab of what this framework might include. It is very much up for discussion at the moment, so do add your thoughts below, whether you are a prehistorian or a teacher.

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Teach to the local

Find out about your local prehistoric sites (see guidance here) and use these in your teaching. Many worries among teachers and heritage professionals was that this era is the most remote to be taught to children of a very young age. By focusing on your local sites, some of which may be visitable, this can help children access this period.

year group

Overview vs. depth study

It is recommended that the whole period is put into some perspective with an initial look at the whole time period of prehistory and some of the major events, and then to focus in one one period or aspect of this period of history.

Theoretical stance

Be aware that the theoretical standpoint in archaeology towards this time period has radically changed in the last 40 years or so. While you don’t have to go into much detail of this with your pupils, be careful about what sources you use. Books written in the 1960s will generally present an out-of-date interpretation of the evidence (see this note about our references). The best bet is to find very recent popular publications or use news items on the BBC.

New sources of evidence

The ability to read objects as sources of evidence will be key in this period before writing. There is some pictorial evidence but this is as ambiguous as the objects made and used in prehistory. Written sources of evidence for the later periods of prehistory need to be used with even more care as they are generally written by classical authors about societies they know little of directly but have heard about second-hand. This does not make literacy impossible to cover while studying this time period, though, as there are plenty of books and poems about prehistory.

Littlenose the Hunter

Littlenose the Hunter

Not just the object, but also its context

What is sometimes missed when studying prehistory is the context in which many of the well known objects were found. Even some sites are often explained out of context with wider developments in the landscape, such as at Stonehenge. It will be necessary both for archaeologists to make their site plans, including phasing, available for teachers to use, and for teachers to become familiar with this form of secondary evidence. A diagram of this sort will be much more accessible than a written site report.

Scientific strides

Wonderful developments in scientific archaeology are allowing greater precision in dating sites and the possibility of dating a wider range of objects. Other types of scientific analysis allow archaeologists to build up an idea of site formation processes, the past environment, biological relationships between people on the basis of shared DNA and the mobility of humans and animals based on chemical signatures in their bones. Keeping track of these developments will be key for all concerned with teaching prehistory. One of our information booklets has got a general overview of scientific techniques used in archaeology.

This is a start on principles, but the content of what could be taught could also be agreed. Please add or critique to your heart’s content.

Advice for Historic Environment Records and the new curriculum

After the meeting at The Hive a couple of weeks ago we started thinking about what Historic Environment Records (HERs) could easily do, with little resourcing, to engage with the new curriculum.

Our director, Kim Biddulph, worked for four years in Buckinghamshire HER during a project to get it online with images digitised and attached and associated articles and resources for teachers and the community to more easily use it. You can see the results at http://ubp.buckscc.gov.uk. The teacher information is out of date, now, as teachers will be after Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age information.

ubpFor HERs that aren’t online, or don’t have associated resources for public accessibility, here are a few ideas that could be done pretty quickly and cheaply.

1. Does your region have a research framework? If so, you should have county/district resources assessments that you could share as PDFs on your website. Ideally do a precis of the resource assessment and label them with “Stone Age”, “Bronze Age” and “Iron Age” terms. These are the terms used in the curriculum, these are the terms teachers will be searching for.

2. Teachers and pupils love images. You have amazing collections, particularly of excavations and aerial photographs. Nick an explanation of aerial photography from somewhere, e.g. this one from Cornwall, and add in your own images. Create a quick image gallery on your website of relevant excavations or sites. Label them with captions that give the bare essentials that a teacher would need to use them in the classroom.

3. If you use HBSMR, and it’s online, buy the Themes module and add some of the above detail directly into the database. This allows you to link these articles directly back to the raw data on a site. Obviously, there are some costs to this option!

Any more great ideas, do post in the comments below.

Busy minds come together in The Hive

The Hive in Worcester hosted a meeting of archaeologists and heritage educators today to talk about how we can all help teachers with the new curriculum. Attendees included Worcester museum educators (Kate Philippson), community archaeologists (Rob Hedge), and Archive and Historic Environment Record (HER) staff (Paul Hudson, Sheena Payne-Lunn) as well as Saray May of Heritage for Transformation, James Dilley of Ancient Craft, Catherine Parker Heath of Enrichment Through Archaeology, Deborah Jarman of The Inspiration Exchange and Giles Carey of Warwickshire HER. We were from Portsmouth, Buxton, Aylesbury, Warwick, Leominster and Worcester.

The first half of the meeting was about sharing ideas for engaging activities for teachers and students, including setting up simulated excavations of different types, object handling and image banks. We also talked about how engaged teachers were with this change, and it seemed as if most of the feedback we were all getting was that not many have though about it yet, what with all the other changes happening in the curriculum and assessment, to name just two areas in flux. We shared the results of our survey.

Matthew Pope of UCL couldn’t make it but sent some questions that galvanised the conversation, which was further energised by the arrival of Sarah May. The main idea is to create a possible framework of content and ways of teaching prehistory that can be shared with teachers. I’m sure this was said after we had to leave, but this should be developed in partnership with teachers learning how to do this in the classroom, many for the first time.

Thanks to Sarah May for being the driving force behind this meeting, The Hive for hosting and Rob Hedge for leading the meeting. Here’s to working together!