Category Archives: Education

VM_365 Day 228 Teaching Beaker era with tabletop excavation

VM 228The image for Day 228 of the VM_365 project is of a resource the Trust has created for teaching some of the themes of prehistory in primary school workshops, a table top Beaker burial  given its first trial recently at a primary school in Broadstairs.  The tabletop layout includes a skeleton in a crouched position, accompanied by a replica Beaker vessel and a contemporary barbed-and-tanged arrowhead.

One element of the workshop is a discussion of pre-history as an idea, drawing out the sense that it describes periods in the development of human societies where no stories told directly by the people themselves exist. Studying prehistoric periods requires a process of investigation, based on the observation of objects and the circumstances of discovery. To generate narratives from the evidence requires imagination to draw out associations and analogies with contemporary life experiences.

The burial and accompanying objects create a detailed scenario to provoke discussion and demonstrate how archaeologists have used the detailed investigation of the pottery, flintwork and the human remains separately to provide data. Revealing the burial from under its covering of grassy topsoil (top images) adds a sense of the theatre of discovery which is such a part of the archaeological investigation process.

The combination of the artefacts and the burial into a recognisable archaeological scenario gives the children an insight into the practical circumstances of investigation where archaeologists generate their data. They can take part themselves in creating and debating their own versions of the narrative of the burial.

For an archaeologist well versed in the complexities of theoretical approaches to prehistory and the interpretative models and debates that are generated from them, it is fascinating to see these same arguments arise among such young minds based on the first principles of observation and imagination provoked by a Beaker burial presented in their own classroom.

Beyond the educational aspects of the activity, there is the opportunity to create a great deal of fun, with much ooing and aahing as the bones are revealed followed by a flood of questions and a great deal of humour. Previous VM_365 posts on prehistoric pottery and human bone themed education activities were made way back on Day 11 and Day 12

VM_365 Day 216 Art and Anglo-Saxon archaeology

VM 216

The image for Day 216 of the VM_365 project is drawn from our slide collection, with reproductions of a series of sketches illustrating aspects of the archaeology of the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries that are such a significant part of Thanet’s archaeological landscape.

Thanet has been lucky to have had several talented illustrators among its archaeological community.  A drawing by the Trust’s first Director Dave Perkins featured on Day 111 of the VM_365 project. Today’s images were drawn by Len Jay, a founding member of the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Unit, the predecessor of the Trust for Thanet Archaeology and the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society. Len Jay was a trained artist and used his abilities to create imaginative illustrations of some of the significant aspects of the archaeology that the Thanet Unit became involved in.

The images in today’s post illustrate a common phenomenon encountered during the investigation of Early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries where archaeologists began to discover that they were not always the first to have dug into the graves furnished with valuable  goods such as weapons, items of jewellery, clothing and vessels in pottery and glass. It is now recognised that many early Anglo-Saxon graves that were were robbed not long after they had been created.

The upper part of the image in today’s post shows a section through a recently created grave, with its occupant dressed in typical costume and accompanied with a shield, sword and knife. In the distance the family are leaving the graveside. In the lower image, two grave robbers have excavated a pit into the centre of the mound that marks the site of the grave, piling the spoil in a heap. They too are seen making a hasty exit with the objects they have recovered.

Grave robbing at an early period has been recognised in many of the large early medieval cemeteries of northern Europe and the phenomenon extends to the cemeteries of East Kent. Although initially it may seem that the motives are relatively simple, recent study has started to consider whether the practise has more complex meanings, perhaps associated with the growth of Christianity and the ambiguous relationship of the converted population with the pagan graves of the pre-Christian era.

Len Jay used his talents as an artist to visualise the processes that were being observed in excavations and explored their meaning through his visual representation, which complemented the body of written material that was also being generated.


VM_365 Day 92. Promoting Pride in a Prehistoric Presence

Images of Prehistoric Thanet
Images from Prehistoric Thanet

Today’s image for Day 91 of VM_365 is a reminder that Thanet’s past extends long into the prehistoric period. Our archaeological record has some of the most interesting and important evidence of the earliest periods of human settlement.

There is evidence from Thanet from the period of the earliest of our human ancestors, and from the first hunter gatherers who ranged over the landscape after the last Ice Age hundreds of thousands of years later.

There have been archaeological finds from all the periods recognised by prehistorians, from those Mesolithic hunters thorough the Neolithic, Beaker, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

Six thousand years of our human story are represented only by archaeological finds and sites and some of the most important have been discovered on the Isle of Thanet. Prehistory is now part of the school curriculum and it should be in the mind of anyone interested in the long story of the Isle of Thanet.


VM_365 Day 71. Results of the Workshop flotation.

VM 71

Following on from Saturday’s Environmental Archaeology Workshop, where we processed some samples from a Roman cremation burial, today’s image shows the cremation vessel under excavation alongside an image of the human bone that was extracted from the heavy residue.

The cremation vessel is a large copy of a globular amphora vessel in a local, pink, sandy fabric dating between c. 170-200 AD. The tiny slivers of burnt  human bone shown in the right hand side of the image are all that remain of this heavily truncated cremation. The fragments measure between 2 and 10 mm in length and were painstakingly picked out from the heavy residue by hand by the team who took part in the workshop.



VM_365 Day 70. Can’t take a class to a site? Take the site to the class!

Learning to record a site with our mini-excavation in a box
Learning to record a site with our mini-excavation in a box

On VM_365 Day 70 we have an image of aother of our resources for teaching the principles of archaeological recording. Understanding the recording process is essential for grasping how archaeologists build up the story of the past from finds and paperwork. Another dimension is added to the finds and images from our Virtual Museum when the archaeological excavation process behind the discoveries is familiar to the audience.

It can be useful to take people to an excavation so they can spend time learning how an archive is built up for a site by planning, drawing sections and recording contexts. But, many of the excavations that archaeologists carry out now are in locations like building sites that are not easily accessible, especially to very young, elderly or disabled people.  When we want to explain the processes of recording, it is not always possible to take a class on to a site or hold an extended workshop on a busy excavation.

So the Trust solved the problem by creating a Site in a Box which can be used indoors to teach archaeological methods with plenty of time to practise. Using our experience of the archaeology of the area, and a certain creative flair, we have reproduced an authentic slice of prehistoric Thanet  to work on at our leisure

While our Dig and Discover activities that featured in VM_365 Day 68 are useful for teaching the principles of finds recovery and the materials that are commonly investigated by archaeologists, the Site in a Box can be used more effectively to gain an understanding of how the recording of archaeological excavations creates the information that is needed to understand the context of the material that is recovered.

We hope that our Site in Box will help as many people of possible understand the background to the finds and images that we post in the VM_365 project.

VM_365 Day 69 Environmental Archaeology Workshop Day – September 6th 2014

A medley of images from our environmental archaeology workshop with IOTAS
A medley of images from our environmental archaeology workshop with IOTAS

Following a successful community archaeological excavation at Lord of the Manor Ramsgate in 2013, the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society have been keen to learn more about the post excavation process so that they can progress with writing up and publishing their results.

The Trust has been able to help out with planning a series of workshops, sharing our professional expertise and our resources to introduce the next steps that follow beyond the field work of an archaeological dig.

Today we organised a workshop on environmental archaeology with a practical session in processing samples using our flotation tank. We took the opportunity to run through some stored samples from some interesting contexts from earlier sites which had been put into storage.

One sample processed was the contents of a 3rd century cremation vessel found at a site in Westgate where fine slivers of burnt bone were recovered from the residue, proving that at least a small amount of the cremated remains had survived the heavy disturbance that the site had suffered in later years. More will be learnt form the fine organic material that was floated from the sample, which was hung up to dry in the September sun and will be processed in a few days time.

The day proved to be both educational and sociable with the unexpected provision of cakes and snacks to supplement the flow of tea and conversation on archaeology and the environment.

VM_365 Day 68. Dig Boxes!

VM 68

Our Dig and Discover boxes went on a journey to Lympne, near Hythe today. They will be used on Sunday 7th September by the newly formed Studying History and Archaeology in Lympne group, SHAL for short, at their stall at the Lympne Village Fair and Dog Show to interest people in archaeology and, hopefully, gain new members for their group.

We took the opportunity of being able to set up the Dig and Discover resources to record the process of setting it out and listing the equipment that we use, with a view to producing a How to Guide for other people who may want to borrow the equipment, or set up their own Dig and Discover package.

Archaeology for You 2014, celebrating the National Festival of Archaeology

Although Saturday 12th of July, the day of our fourth annual Archaeology for You event, was preceded by some impressive storms and rain, the wet weather held off for the day.

As in previous years we set up our eight Archaeology for You activity areas on the lawn in the gardens at the front of Quex House. With only some areas under shelters, our fingers were tightly crossed that the weather would stay calm over the day for the activities that were set up in the open air. The upper windows of Quex House provided a convenient vantage point for a photograph to be taken of our team of Trust Staff and volunteers setting up for the event.

Setting up for Archaeology for you 2014
Set up for Archaeology for you 2014, viewed from Quex House

Iron Age and Early Roman re-enactment group De Bello Canzio joined us again this year bringing a sense of the real lives behind the objects from that era that we had on display and our activities were arranged in the form a large circle so that people could progress from experiencing the methods of investigation in the field, toward the interpretation of objects and their use in the Re-living Ancient Life activity area.

Romans from De Bello Canzio with a new recruit to the Legions
Romans from De Bello Canzio with a new recruit to the Legions

The new Archaeology for You logo we launched for the event this year was used on our display boards to guide people to each of the activities.

Our Logo in action on the activity signs
Our Logo in action on the activity signs

This year, each of the areas where methods of practical archaeological investigation were demonstrated was linked by the four corner posts of a 10 metre square, fitted with strings and tapes to demonstrate how grids form the backbone of archaeological research. This formed the arena for the demonstration of site surveying using Geophysical and Aerial Survey in Seeing Beneath the Soil and the hands on Dig and Discover boxes, in their new green livery. The grid took centre stage as the framework for Pictures, Plans and Paperwork, where people could learn about the recording process and for Evidence from Objects where finds could be processed and examined for clues about the past.

Our aim for Archaeology for You is to build a complete experience of the processes that archaeologists use to digs and the methods used to make records and understand the evidence of the past, which anyone can take part in. Many people took part in our Give it a Swirl

Giving an environmental sample a swirl
Giving an environmental sample a swirl

introduction to processing samples taken for environmental evidence and busy potters made pre-historic style vessels at Inspired by the Past. Great imagination was also used to create mosaics that reflected favourite themes from mythology and the modern world.

Every year we try to introduce a new element to the activities at Archaeology for You and in our Bones and Burials area this year we recreated a burial, which had to be carefully excavated and recorded over the day.

With the aid of our other teaching skeleton and books people taking part in activity can get a feel for the complicated digging and recording that is needed to get the most information from each burial that is investigated by archaeologists.

Excavating in the Trust for Thanet Archaeology new skeleton activity
Excavating in the new skeleton activity

Archaeology for You is one of the education activities of the Trust for Thanet Archaeology that is supported by a grant from the Education Committee of the Kent Archaeological Society. The Powell-Cotton Museum is generous in allowing us access to their gardens for the event each year and the Director and staff of the Museum give a great deal of support to the event.

We would like to thank everyone who came along on the day and took part, we learn as much each year from the people who take part in Archaeology for You as they do taking part in our archaeological activities for all ages.

Logo for Archaeology for You

VM_365 Day 14 History from things

Artefacts of conflict, display of weapons from World War One, Ellington Park Ramsgate
Artefacts of conflict, display of weapons from World War One, Ellington Park, Ramsgate

Our image today is of a display of World War One weapons and equipment at a day of commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the war, held at Ellington Park, Ramsgate.

Archaeology is all about using material remains  to understand cultures and societies of the past, including the recent past. By collecting and curating examples of the objects that contributed to major periods of history, the  scale of the events and the technologies involved become easier to appreciate.

From model trains to classic cars, curated collections are a form of archaeological research, creating ordered series of objects to demonstrate the form, function and change over time of objects that have been significant to the development of our ways of life.

In this centenary of such a momentous event in the lives of so many Europeans, the curation and display of objects associated with World War One provide a way to demonstrate ‘history from things’, which is really a form of archaeology.

VM_365 Day 13 Archaeology for You

Excavating in the Trust for Thanet Archaeology new skeleton activity
Excavating in the new skeleton activity

Today’s image comes from Archaeology for You, our annual event for the National Festival of Archaeology, held in the gardens of the Powell-Cotton Museum.

It has been a long day for the Trust and our volunteers, with many people taking part in our archaeological activities.

This image is of the new skeleton excavation for our Bones and Burials area. Good fun and some very good and careful excavation carried out by our archaeologists of the future.

If you weren’t there you missed interesting, educational and entertaining day!