I was recently asked if I would do a Zoom session about archaeology with some 8 – 9 year old children at an international school in France. According to their teacher, they were studying the topic of ‘Exploring’, a subject in to which archaeology would fit very well. Before the session, the students came up with some questions (in fact lots of questions!); sadly there were too many to answer all of them in the 40 minutes or so we had been allotted, but some of the best were picked. I had also sent some photos of sites, artefacts and tools used by archaeologists in advance of the session, all of which came in useful in our discussion.
So, what sort of questions did we look at? Well, I was impressed by some of the things they had thought to ask. For example, how do archaeologists know where to dig? And what type of sites do they work on? I had to explain that I would talk about how it works in Britain, about how the development of sites leads to the destruction of archaeological levels, so archaeologists can come in, before the new road/buildings etc are built, to see – in other words ‘explore’ – what had been there in the past. I also highlighted the importance of recording all that the archaeologists did, as archaeology itself is destructive. They also wanted to know what different types of archaeologist there are, and ‘had I ever met another archaeologist and worked with them as a team?’ This enabled me to talk about the different disciplines involved in an excavation, and how it absolutely is about teamwork. One very interesting question was ‘Has anyone ever got there before you made the discovery?’. In fact, on many sites, people have been there before, often in the distant past – perhaps robbing the stone from upstanding walls to take away and use for new buildings, or opening up mounds or tombs to see if there were goodies to steal from burials. These people were doing their own ‘exploring’! Also very relevant to the theme of exploring was a question about using maps, which I used to explain how important it is on an excavation that comprehensive plans of what is found are made, as once the archaeological layers have been removed, they cannot be physically recovered.
Finally, some of my favourite questions included:
If you find something with writing on it from a long time ago, can you understand it? Answer: usually.
If you were going on a dig, what would you put in your backpack? Answer: My lunch would be very important! Also my trowel, and waterproofs/sun cream depending upon the time of year!
I really enjoyed the session, and I am sure they found it useful too. I would be thrilled if in years to come, it transpired that maybe one (or more?) of the 20 or 30 students on that zoom decided to do their own exploring as an archaeologist.