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Blog Pathways and resources

Creating a teaching resource with the Avebury archive

[Editor’s note: Kiri completed a student placement with the Avebury Papers as part of her masters’ programme at University of Southampton. The team are so happy to publish one of the key outcomes of the placement here. You can more about Kiri’s experience in her first blog post. The downloadable teaching materials may be found at the bottom of this post.]

I am almost at the end of my placement at Avebury Papers this term. During my placement, I worked on a very interesting project: creating a teaching resource for high school students based on the Avebury archives and excavated artefacts. The main objective is to take them on an exploration of how 20th century archaeologists worked on Avebury.

My key inspiration for the teaching resource was this illustration:

A pen illustration by Stuart Piggott, 1935. Alexander Keiller Museum Accession Number 20004597-001.

This drawing was a gift from Stuart Piggott to a friend in 1935. Many of the elements in the image are related to archaeology, such as the skull, pottery, books, maps and working tools. It reveals to some extent the daily work of archaeologists: maps represent archaeological field surveys, working tools signify archaeological excavations, skeletons and pottery are finds from excavations, and books indicate records of archaeological discoveries.

In my previous placement tasks (which I discuss in this blog), while checking photographs and creating catalogue information, I explored hundred of items in the Alexander Keiller museum collection. I observed that many of the items relate to archaeological work carried out by archaeologists at Avebury. They thoroughly documented the survey and excavation of Avebury, producing beautiful maps and plans, and drawings of the artefacts, as well as interpretive drawings.

Inspired by this exquisite drawing by Stuart Piggott, I decided that the key question for the teaching resource would be how 20th century archaeologists worked on Avebury. Using the digitised archives from the Avebury Papers as a starting point, I created a teachers’ introduction, presentation script, and powerpoint slides to introduce a range of archaeological activities by 20th-century archaeologists at Avebury including fieldwork, mapping, archaeological excavation and artefact analysis. 

“How 20th Century Archaeologists Worked on Avebury”, a resource for teachers and students

In my design, the pedagogy of this resource is divided into four main parts.

The aim of the first section is to help students understand what archaeologists do. This section covers the process and purpose of fieldwork, the purpose and elements of mapping, the main stages of archaeological excavation, and the recording and drawing of artefacts.

Secondly, after students understand the basic steps of archaeological work and the methods of drawing artefacts, they are encouraged to choose artefacts that interest them and then try to draw them. Hands-on practice can give students a deeper understanding of how archaeologists observe and record artefacts.

Thirdly, after the indoor activities, students could be taken on a tour of Avebury to explain the archaeological features, historical significance and cultural background of Avebury. Previously learnt theoretical knowledge can be translated from this step into practical experience. With a site visit, students would be able to see the megaliths for themselves and interact with the landscape, touch the stones, listen to the sounds of nature, and observe the changes in light and shadow on the monuments. Students would be able to gain a fuller appreciation of Avebury from an archaeologist’s perspective.

Finally, at the end of the research and investigation of Avebury, a seminar could be organised to allow students to reflect on what aspects of the site interested them most. Students would be guided to use the Avebury archive and other resources to explore a wider range of Avebury-related topics and then freely present their findings.

Avebury artefacts

As the main teaching element involves artefact drawing, photographs of artefacts excavated at Avebury are essential. Ben Chan has provided some very clear and useful photos of the artefacts for this purpose. 

A pottery bowl from Avebury.

For example this pottery bowl comes from the burials at the foot of stones of the Avebury complex. It can be observed to have a relatively curved line with outwardly sloping edges, a slightly inwardly tapering neck, widest at the shoulder, and then an inwardly sloping belly. It also has a hand-carved geometric pattern on its surface. These rich details provide very helpful examples for practicing artefact drawing. 

Reflecting on the placement

The process of producing this teaching resource has also been a rewarding experience for me. My understanding of the archaeological process and the importance of the Avebury site has been enhanced through in-depth study of the Avebury archive. The designing of teaching resources has also honed my skills in educational pedagogy and curriculum development. The design of engaging and informative lesson plans requires careful consideration of the target audience (high school students), their learning needs, and the best ways to effectively communicate complex archaeological concepts.

I have become more acutely aware of the value of experiential learning and hands-on activities to attract students and develop deeper understanding. Although time was short and there was no opportunity to put this teaching resource to use, I hope that in the future it will help more young people to learn about archaeology, inspire interest in archaeology, and develop a sense of stewardship, preservation, and appreciation of archaeological sites among students and the wider community. I hope that teachers will use this resource in history or even arts classes, as archaeology as a subject is no longer available as a qualification in secondary schools. This experience not only broadened my knowledge, but also inspired me to learn more about my profession and apply it in practice. 


Downloads

You may freely view, download, reuse, and remix the teaching resource below. This introduction is designed with History teachers in mind, however, it can be used by anyone. We’d love to know if you do use it, please leave comments below.

Part One: an introduction

This introduction explains how the resource was designed, and how you might use it to learn more about archaeology.

Part Two: presentation script

This script accompanies the presentation slides, linked below. It may be used by teachers, or read by anyone with any interest in archaeology or history.

Part Three: presentation slides

These slides accompany the presentation script, linked above. It may be used by teachers, or read by anyone with any interest in archaeology or history.

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Blog Pathways and resources

A Pathway into the archive: with Denis Grant King

[Editor’s note: Matt completed a student placement with the Avebury Papers as part of his masters’ programme at University of York. The team are so happy to publish one of the key outcomes of the placement here. You can more about his experience in his first blog post. Huge thanks to our volunteers who participated in the Focus Group and whose feedback will directly impact future development of Pathways. A link to Matt’s Pathway may be found at the bottom of this post]

Introduction: A Pathway into the Avebury Papers

The Avebury Papers archive houses thousands of digital items that cover the range of occupation of Avebury, as well as the history of the Avebury excavation. One of my roles as a placement student was to create a Pathway which would serve as an engaging and entertaining entry into the archive for those not familiar with Avebury and its past. In the creation of this pathway I hoped to create a concise, interesting, and accessible entryway into the Avebury Papers for those that are interested in the history of the Avebury excavation. 

Denis Grant King in the drawing office at Avebury, Accession Number 20000606.

The photographs that I chose directly correlate to diary entries from Denis Grant King, who was an archaeological draughtsman working at the 1930s excavations, and the Pathway aims to tell a human story of adventure. By making these stylistic choices, both textually and through artefacts, ultimately showing one man’s trip to Avebury – from the moment he leaves home to the moment he leaves – not only gives insight into the work and life at Avebury in the 1930s, but also parallels the adventure a tourist may experience today.  

The pathway was created as a ‘Prezi’ experience because Prezi offers an engaging user-experience with a variety of design choices for the author to choose from. Moreover it allows for a free-scrolling form of exploration if the user prefers to explore at their own pace, or follow the more structured slide-show. 

I invited volunteers from the National Trust Avebury team to attend a focus group to give feedback on the Pathway. I ran the focus group when the Prezi was in a ‘beta’ form, ready to use but with the expectation of changes. The focus group was intended to discuss how effectively the Pathway facilitates a user’s further exploration into the Avebury Papers archive. By organising a focus group of self-selecting Avebury Papers volunteers, we were able to benefit from the knowledge of individuals who have intimate knowledge of the archives, and who are also experienced in speaking with visitors to the site.

Focus Group: Guiding Questions

Using the knowledge of Avebury Papers volunteers, I hoped to elucidate how effectively the pathway functioned. Using guiding questions, the focus group aims were to discern whether the pathway should be narrowed down and focus on particular themes in the archive; broadened to include more themes; whether more pathways should be created separate from one another; whether the pathway should function as a storytelling tool or be strictly informative; and ultimately if the pathway was deemed engaging and entertaining. 

These aims were important to explore as they encompass the overall ideas of how one might explore the archive, and be motivated to explore it further. In order to explore these aims throughout the focus group, a series of guiding questions were created. These questions were: 

1.       What did you find most compelling or interesting about the pathway?

2.       In what way Does the pathway inspire you to learn more?

a.       What is working well, and what could be improved upon in this regard?

b.       Did you find that the pathway kept you engaged, or were you bored by it?

3.       How is the pathway representative of the archive as a whole?

a.       Do you think that it is important that the pathway represents the archive as a whole, or should it be representative of only one group of artefacts?

b.       Would you like to see more groupings of artefacts in this pathway, or fewer?

c. Should the pathway be longer?

4.       Should the pathways act as a creative storytelling tool, or be more strictly informative? Why would one option be more effective than the other, in your opinion?

Each question was posed to explore a certain aspect of the pathway. Question one acted as an easy and thought-provoking exploration of what a volunteer felt when exploring the archive, and gave the focus group leaders a chance to see what worked for the pathway from the beginning. Question two, as well as sub point a and b, explored the idea of ‘inspiration’, and was the most lucrative of the questions that resulted in the most conversation, which will be discussed later in this report. Moreover, it helped elucidate on whether the archive was engaging, keeping the attention of the user. Question three helped shed light on the scope of the pathway and what may work best moving forward regarding how much should be in a single pathway and their functionality; this question was heavily touched upon in question 2 during open discussion with the group. Finally, question four opened the floor to the function and tone of the pathway and how that might alter how a user experiences it. 

Discussion

These questions allowed for a free-flowing discussion on the nature of the pathway and their utility in the larger context of the archive.The volunteers listed are as follows: Dai Davies, volunteer 1; Andrew Snowden, volunteer 2; RP, volunteer 3; Bruce Chinery, volunteer 4; Martin, volunteer 5; Volunteer 6.

 Here, I summarise the responses to each question:

  • Question one: This question helped elucidate what works with the Pathway. There was a consensus amongst the volunteers that the pathway was intriguing and enjoyable, and offered insight into what was held in the archive. All volunteers noted that they enjoyed the adventure-like theme of Denis Grant King and the human touch it gave to the pathway. Dai and Andrew noted that they felt they did not get a good sense of what the archive held as a whole, however. They also noted they’d have liked a way to access other topics at a click of a button – for example, hyperlinks that lead to other objects from the collection.
  • Question two: Andrew noted that they enjoyed the post-it style of writing, but did touch on accessibility in terms of whether the user would be using a phone, PC, tablet, etc and how that may alter how they experience the pathway. Volunteer 6 felt that it was a ‘page turner’, also commenting that they would have liked to be able to branch off into new topics similar to a ‘Wikipedia rabbit hole’. This sentiment was shared by Dai. Andrew made note that the audience should be kept in mind when creating a pathway, and Bruce and RP elaborated further that they do not think the pathway would be valuable to a researcher. In the case of this pathway, the volunteers did not specify what the ideal audience of this Pathway was. 
  • Question 3: There were consistent comments throughout the focus group pertaining to the portion of question 3 discussing whether the pathway should be representative of the archive. A sentiment shared by all volunteers was that the Pathway does not paint the whole picture of the Avebury archive. For example, Andrew noted that Denis Grant King’s arrival to Avebury does not occur until later into the excavation, removing the beginning phases of the excavation. Martin echoed this, agreeing that artefacts that predate Denis Grant King would help add to the Pathway. Dai commented that too many pathways would raise an issue of scope, and questioned how many pathways would be feasible to address the entirety of the archive. Volunteer 6 thought that the pathway was an ideal size, a notion that Dai agreed with, and that a high-level summary at the beginning of the Pathway would have served them well to get a quick idea of what the Pathway would entail. 
  • Question 4: Dai, Martin, and Volunteer 6 agreed that the Pathway should be a storytelling tool for the casual visitor. RP said that the Pathway should be factual and straightforward, but still engaging. Andrew noted that while some want storytelling, others want straightforward writing; all participants also noted earlier that the audience should be kept in mind (e.g. academics vs. tourists), raising the notion that there should be different ‘pathways’ for both casual visitors and academic researchers. Volunteer 6 also suggested that she would have liked to see an image of Denis Grant King, the subject of the Pathway, which volunteers agreed with.

Key Findings and Recommendations

Overall, the Pathway met most of its aims based on the focus group results.  Volunteers generally agreed that the Pathway was engaging and informative, and left them wanting to explore further. The Pathway necessarily paints only a small picture of life at Avebury. With time constraints kept in mind regarding the allotted placement hours, the only changes that will be made to this particular placement will be adding the accession numbers to each photograph (a recommendation from the Project Team), as well as adding in a picture of Denis Grant King to more fully introduce him in the pathway.

Further Pathway recommendations

Volunteers shared ideas that were beyond the scope of this Pathway. This is perhaps indicative of the fact that they are very familiar with the archive as a whole. Their responses clearly indicate that further Pathways are desirable. The following are key recommendations for other Pathways that might be developed in the future:

  • Events such as the onset of World War 2 and its effects on the excavation 
  • The start of investigations of Avebury (before the arrival of Denis Grant King). 

By having multiple pathways based around different stories to be told and themes to be explored, visitors would have access to multiple accessible and easily digestible avenues of information, facilitating more active exploration. Moreover, while keeping scope, accessibility, and website management in mind, including hyperlinks to other related information or pathways would allow for a more seamless exploratory experience.

Explore the Pathway

You may explore the beta version of the Pathway via this link to Prezi: https://prezi.com/p/vavra2zu-8dw/?present=1

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Blog Pathways and resources

Young archaeologists and time-travelling diaries

By Georgia (BA Archaeology, University of York)

I’m Georgia, an undergraduate student at the University of York, currently completing my dissertation on communicating archaeological techniques to children.

Georgia welcoming the young archaeologists to Avebury.

Back in December 2023 I welcomed a branch of the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) to Avebury, to explore the henge, discover how the Avebury Papers team goes about transcribing diary entries, and explore the ways that archaeologists have historically made records. 

Walking around the South West sector at Avebury.

The session began with a short walk through the henge, where we talked about Keiller’s method of excavation and restoration at Avebury.

There were two activities, separated by a ten-minute break where the children had a snack and a drink. The first activity was based on transcription, where the children were given a range of extracts to try to detangle. The diary pages that were used in the session were taken from Denis Grant King’s 1938 account of his time at the site, as well as the 1934 excavation log written mostly by Alexander Keiller himself, with some entries penned by Stuart Piggott when he was absent.

These diaries represent a range from most complex handwriting (Keiller) to least difficult (Piggott). While I was researching and planning this session in August 2023, I visited the Avebury Papers volunteer team who were in the process of transcribing the excavation logs, which prompted conversation surrounding Alexander Keiller’s slightly illegible penmanship and inspired this activity. 

Young archaeologists have a go at transcribing handwriting from copies of archival materials.

As they had a go with transcription, a few of the kids asked about what the “answers” were for unfamiliar or indiscernible words. This began a discussion about what the Avebury Papers volunteers do when a word is unidentifiable, such as leaving a blank space or inserting their best guess between square brackets to show their uncertainty. Some of the children incorporated this methodology successfully into their own transcriptions.

The second activity asked the children to attempt to write their own diary entries, imagining that they had spent a day excavating on site. 

The influence of the sources from the previous task was evident in some of the children’s diary entries. An example of this is in the picture below, in which it is clear that the child noticed and incorporated some of the style of Keiller’s excavation log, such as the abbreviation of names (e.g. Alexander Keiller becomes AK), the description of the weather, and his brief sentences. Although I’m glad they didn’t incorporate his indecipherable handwriting! 

An entry for ‘July 1924’ by one of the young archaeologists.

To end, I want to give a big thank you to the YAC members for being so enthusiastic, and to the YAC leaders for all their help throughout the planning process and the session itself.


You may freely view, download, and reuse the diary extracts (images and transcriptions) below. Right click to save images.

West Kennet Avenue 1934 excavation diary,
accession number 78510467

78510467: 19-20 April, written by Alexander Keiller, spread 71a-71b

78510467: 19-20 April, written by Alexander Keiller, spread 71a-71b.

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78510467: 5-6 May, written by Alexander Keiller, spread 79a-79b

78510467: 5-6 May, written by Alexander Keiller, spread 79a-79b.

*

78510467: 2-3 August, written by Stuart Piggott, spreads 123-124

*

Denis Grant King, ‘Journal of my visit to Avebury:
Book Two’, accession number 1732623-002

Extract from 15 November 1938, spread 28

1732623-002: ‘Journal of my visit to Avebury: Book Two’, extracts from 15 November 1938, by Denis Grant King, spread 28.
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Blog Pathways and resources

An Avebury Story

By Dushyant Naresh (MSc Digital Archaeology, University of York)

I’ve never really believed in magic, or the supernatural, or a higher power. But I have to admit that there is something undoubtedly magical about Avebury and the prehistoric landscape it is nestled in.

Maybe it’s the size of the stones, or how large the circles are, or the fact that you can walk right up to them and touch them knowing that thousands of years ago, another human being was probably doing the exact same thing, thinking the same thoughts, and feeling this same sense of wonderment. It’s this blurred line between archaeology and emotion that gets the hairs on the back of my neck tingling.

Coincidentally, one core exercise of The Avebury Papers project is to translate some of these emotions into another medium – a “creative intervention” – be it poetry, prose, or something else. I guess you’d call that “art”.

I am the worst artist of all time.

However, I know how to make videos, and I like experimentation. So, for my Master’s dissertation, I went to Avebury with a dodgy microphone and a 360° camera to try and capture a mixture of both archaeology and emotion. I then created a “choose your own adventure” style immersive story using the videos I shot, allowing viewers to pick what kind of anecdote or theme they were interested in experiencing. This was all programmed and downloaded onto a VR headset for a full immersive experience, and tested with dozens of participants.

Some people liked the project, and many others didn’t. That’s the nature of any creative endeavour, and is what makes the whole process exciting. I hope to go back to Avebury soon to reignite that sense of curiosity and create something new, and hopefully, divisive.

If you haven’t visited Avebury, I highly recommend it. In the meantime, if you’d like to experience it virtually, you can watch/play An Avebury Story on YouTube.