Posted by: archaccess | January 21, 2013

Students Discover Archaeology at Cambridge

DSCF7019 On the 19th December eight year 9 students from Stowmarket High School came to a Discovery Day with a difference. This special course was a collaboration between the Cavendish Laboratory and the Department of Archaeology. The aim was to show how physics is relevant to archaeology. In an engaging presentation by Bartomeu Monserrat from the Cavendish Laboratory the students were shown how the scientific techniques of dendrochronology, radiocarbon dating and thermoluminescence are used to date archaeological finds and detect art forgeries.

Relative dating methods used by archaeologists were explained by Sue Poll from the Department of Archaeology using stratagraphic data from recent archaeological excavations. The students went on to have a go at drawing the stratigraphy of a test pit and dating pottery for themselves, using finds from excavations in East Anglia.

The feedback shows that learning about the work of archaeoloists through the application of physics really engaged these gifted science students, with comments which included “I learnt a lot of new things and really enjoyed this course” and “It was very fun and informative, I got a lot out of it.”

Freezing fog did not deter 27 students and staff from All Saints Middle School from attending Time Travel for Beginners yesterday. Dr Carenza Lewis kicked the day off with a quick fun quiz to test the general history knowledge of the students from years 6,7 and 8.

Working in mixed age groups, the students then got stuck-in to investigating issues such as “How much will be left of my bedroom in 2000 years?” and “What can you tell about a person from their rubbish?” in order to get a feel for the kinds of problems that archaeologists face when they are interpreting an excavated site. The students enjoyed a quick visit to the Museum of Zoology during their lunch break and came back eager to start on the afternoon practical sessions, when they worked out as much as they could about people who live in East Anglia hundreds of years ago, from real archaeological finds unearthed from test pits in the region.

The staff felt that the students gained historical enquiry skills and problem solving investigational skills while learning how to build a picture of past and present lives from the evidence presented to them. The students evidently enjoyed the team working aspects, “You can work in a team, build confidence and learn a lot”; gaining new knowledge, “I feel like I found new ideas and learned a lot”; and having the opportunity to visit the University of Cambridge, “It really gives you a feel of what it’s like on a site. It also gives you a feel of the University.”

Discovery Days are learning courses introduce new knowledge, ideas and approaches from the multi-disciplinary subject of archaeology in practical hands-on activities that contribute to studies and project work in a variety of curriculum subjects. This account of recent Discovery Days was written by Sue Poll, Access Cambridge Archaeology’s Assistant Outreach Coordinator.

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