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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.

Categories
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.

*

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.