Whitle Times: Peeling Back the Layers

What an appropriate name Peeling Back the Layers turned out to be – with so many layers of archaeology and history uncovered at Whitle Farm.
One of the great joys of my role as a heritage interpreter is the invitation to visit schools to witness and support young people’s enthusiasm for archaeology and heritage. For Peeling Back the Layers, we facilitated 7 sessions over 5 days for 10 schools. Lively packed sessions in which children recalled their archaeological experiences enthusiastically – their detailed memories a testimony to the positive impact their experience made.
Children recalled the site, the tools they used, the tasks they did, then handled finds from the site, whose dates spanned 6 centuries. We discussed how the artefacts might have got into the ground, the similarities between the interrupted narratives of archaeology and of sequential narrative art (comic strip formats), and the children drew mini comics of their own.
We discussed the activity-content of young people’s comics and the children brainstormed the many various activities and puzzles they love – wordsearches and spot the difference always clear winners!
The project leaders were keen to reference a wide spread of time periods and characters within the 8-page activity mag, and for this reason we decided to offer an activities-based publication rather than a single story. Creating the content is then an ongoing negotiation between the needs of the target readership and the desires of the project owners – how to choose the focus(es) from among the many possible themes, characters and periods we could communicate? Which themes and facts make the final cut? What is informative, engaging and fun for the readers?
First, I proposed activities, themes and content. We talked, we tweaked. And once we had consensus, I briefed artist Sally Jane Thompson to begin working her magic through the several artistic stages of creating a comic, while I coordinated rounds of comments and amends at each stage to keep the interpretive content on-track.
Let’s leave the final word to Sally:
I was struck with the way evidence of so many different time periods has layered up in one place. I particularly enjoyed learning a bit about the range of cottage industries that one piece of land could offer to those who lived on it (although, despite all the lovely history, the anachronisms on page 8 may have been the most fun to draw!).

Excavating words, making books

The beginning of November saw Georgia with poet Matt Black  in Athersley, Barnsley, for 3 schools workshops.
Our sessions were the culmination of a 4-part series of visits in each school. To introduce archaeology, dig testpits, discuss the analysed finds and what they might reveal about each school site’s past, and finally to engage the children in interpreting their archaeological experiences and finds.

 “I learnt that archaeology isn’t only digging!”

 The children worked in groups. Each group excavated nouns from a themed shoebox of stratified tissue. The themes related to their finds, for example a Blacksmith box, a Coalmine box… The children added their own adjectives and verbs, then jumbled and played with their word ‘artefacts’, creating new juxtapositions and finding phrases that satisfied and fit, others that didn’t so well.
New words and blank word-cards were seized as eagerly as new finds, opening new possibilities for meaning.
Along the way we created a Palaeolithic dictionary in charcoal on a log, and navigated forests of hands reaching for a chance to perform the Ug haiku to classmates.
Eventually, each child created a layered book, with a phrase on each layer and hidden-away secret facts, images or riddles.
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 “I loved making my book!”

They were packed and fast-paced sessions, with the children hugely enthusiastic about their books. Matt shared poems and writing tips throughout each session, often involving call and response or other active participation. The grand finale saw 15 young grannies lined up for the Granny Power Rap at Athersley South!