Community Outreach Project with North Edinburgh Arts.

The NG Archaeology Services team popped over to North Edinburgh Arts on the 14th and 16th October to show young children from the areas of Pilton, Muirhouse and Granton the adventures of archaeology. Snacks were also provided after the Monday workshop by the community staff.

We held two sessions for groups aged 5 to 8 and 9 to 12 respectively, each session lasting an hour. Over the introductory session we set up different tables; pottery, bones and recording, for the children to work around. These tables included a bone station, a pottery station, and a toolbox station. Each station had a unique game or activity.

At the bone table, we had different bones from the most common animals found on an archaeological site, as well as a few mystery bones. We also had a display of animals and a game of matching the bones to the animals. To show the complex relationship that humans have with animals, and show animal bones as a material not only for food, but also decoration, tools, and personal items we used flashcards.

The pottery table was laid out with pottery from various time periods that could be found in the local area. Children were given the opportunity to pick up the pieces and look at the colours, textures and forms of the pieces, and attempt to match up the sherds. We also had rim charts to help understand how, even though we might find some pieces that are quite small, the size of the pottery could have been much larger! We brought along 2 tile puzzles which we had reconstructed from a number of decorated fragments of 19thC tile. This emphasised how archaeologists piece together fragments and reconstruct from a few sherds.

From these two tables, the children were encouraged to pick their favourite artefact, make a little label, draw and make an interpretation of the find. Our final table, was the “ask the archaeologist". The children were given the opportunity to ask about archaeology, what archaeologists really do. There were also opportunities to handle real fieldwork tools (such as string line levels, tape measures, trowels, finds bags and permatrace) and high-vis to “dress up”, as well as photos of everyday working conditions.

After our first session we decided to get a bit more experimental! So we took a groundsheet, painted a ring ditch and decided to reconstruct an excavation onsite! Our second session focused on how we used the specialist skills that we learnt from the previous session and how to apply them in the field.

A photograph of 4 different shells taken by one of the 10 year old participants. From left to right is a whelk shell, a bivalve, a mussel shell and a limpet.

We coloured the features according to chronology, but let the children lead their way with own interpretation of the site, after we had a small site tour of course! We let them know that the site was a ring-ditch, with a palaeochannel and three burials, as well as a midden! We added some mystery finds, including metalwork, shells, flints and a few “ritual items”.

Walking around the feature, we made sure to give them time to think about the shapes, positions of the bodies and to ask why. We really wanted to push the concept of imagination and play that exists in archaeology and how it drives interpretation. Artefacts were covered by sand and, with brushes, the children carefully excavated the features and put their finds in their trays. After they completed their feature, we had a discussion about the artefacts.

It was amazing to see how excited some of the children were with the opportunity to excavate and they astounded us with their interpretation and intuition. At the end they wrote up a context sheet, photographed some of their finds. Lastly, there was a final site tour,where everyone joined in and reenacted the site story.

We think the workshops were a resounding success! We certainly had fun at North Edinburgh Arts and were pleased to hear from some of the adults that their children were absolutely mesmerised by the sessions and were keen to become archaeologists themselves!

Photograph of our painted tarp. A green tarp with a painted ring-ditch with four post-holes around interior perimeter, and a burial in the centre. To the top right of the tarp is a painted palaeochannel and top left some stakeholes. Bottom right is a midden shape. Artefacts are lain ontop of the tarp, and some buckets also to symbolise the post-hole positions.

Many thanks for Caroline Muirhead for helping co-ordinate the event, and we also extend our thanks to the staff and volunteers at North Edinburgh Arts for all their help and contribution. We certainly would love to collaborate again or develop a community archaeological project in tandem. Watch this space!