children from Bury Grammar check out the latest education session using archaeology objects
Recently I’ve been doing some work with Hannah-Lee Chalk in the engagement team to develop a session for school children using objects from the archaeology collection. Here you can see children from Bury Grammar School puzzling over stone objects. It was a year 1 class, 17 pupils, and they were piloting a new session (name still to be confirmed) for Key Stage 1 classes that we hope to offer next school year.
Some of the objects are natural; some are natural but were thought to be the earliest stone tools worked by human hand, called eoliths; others may look like artefacts but are not; others are Palaeolithic stone tools perhaps hundreds of thousands of years old.
The idea was to encourage the children to look at the objects and to work out whether they were natural or whether they were man-made. These were the kinds of questions asked by William Boyd Dawkins and Wilfrid Jackson at the Manchester Museum in the first half of the 20th century. They built up collections of stone objects as reference material and for teaching purposes. Some of the objects given to the children had holes in them, but some were natural holes and some had been made deliberately by human hand.
What might they have been used for? In some cases one might speculate the perforated stones were net sinkers used in fishing or perhaps to weight down roofing materials. Some can be identified with some confidence as perforated stone mace heads or counter weights for digging sticks. Some stones looked like knives or spearheads but the bedding planes of the rock showed that they wouldn’t have made very effective tools or weapons. We have three boxes of such material. Perhaps there’s a case for disposal?
Class Teacher, Rachel Hankinson, said that the children had a wonderful time, seeing and being able to touch objects associated with prehistoric man rather than looking at powerpoints in the classroom. She said the children were absolutely enthralled and could not stop talking about the trip all the way home. Even today in school they are looking for axe head shapes!
Which bodes well for the future as we develop this pilot into a fully-fledged offer for schools.
Thanks to Hannah and Rachel for this feedback.
Eolith in the shape of a bear
In the Fakes and Forgeries section of the Ancient Worlds displays opening this October we are going to show some eoliths from the archaeology collection. A student researcher came to look at them just before Christmas. Eoliths are stones that were thought to have been made by the earliest inhabitants of Britain, at ‘the dawn of time’, hence their name eoliths or ‘dawnstones’.
Some enthusiasts argued the stones had been made as tools or representations of animals. They claimed that the shapes they saw in the stones were evidence of deliberate human intent. People like William Boyd Dawkins of the Manchester Museum were in no doubt that the eoliths were ‘accidents of nature’ and questioned whether they were evidence of early man in the UK. In a letter sent to one of the Museum’s curators, one donor wrote that he saw human faces and representations of animals in the eoliths but that the reader should excuse him because he was in his 80s and almost blind… Benjamin Harrison, one of the leading champions of eoliths as humanly-worked artefacts, was once challenged about how suitable one particular eolith really was because it seemed not to fit in his hand very well. Harrison took the eolith in his left hand which did fit better and said: “There, you see, that explains it, it must have been made for a left-handed person!”
The student concerned, David Matzliach, sent me some photos of eoliths. He describes them as a bear, a human face, a bird, etc. I’m sure he doesn’t think for one second they were deliberately-shaped. The stones only resemble those creatures by coincidence. The interpretation of the eoliths as animals or faces or anything is very subjective. This is a very interesting area. Ultimately it revolves around the question of whether how we see things today is the way people in the past saw them and vice-versa. We can’t assume they’re the same. Have a look at them dear reader and see what you think….
Eolith in the shape of a bird’s head