Community Journalism: hands-on history with the Young Archaeologists’ Club

This month, RVA welcomes new Community Journalist, Catherine Martindale. Catherine’s first article for RVA News is a profile of an activity for young people in Reading that you may not have heard about before: the Young Archaeologists’ Club

 

The Reading branch of the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) is open to anyone aged 8 to 16, and is based at the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. I visited with one of my younger relatives, H, who enjoys a museum trip, but usually spends Saturdays bombing around a sports hall.

Access to the University facilities allows the club to offer a wide range of activities. One day YAC members could be in a laboratory, taking DNA samples from their (hopefully clean) fingernails. The next they may be digging up the grounds, sampling ancient Greek recipes or being taught in a Roman classroom. In the summer, thanks to the University’s links with the Roman archaeological site at Silchester, YAC members and their families visited the dig, talked to the archaeologists and even did some excavating. Claudina Romero, the museum’s Education Officer and one of the leaders of the club, said that when the site closed for the day, she had trouble getting the children to down tools and go home!

Claudina says that they prefer to use a ‘holistic approach’, cultivating enthusiasm in their members rather than teaching formally. ‘We try to emphasise hands-on archaeology, rather than just talking at them or getting them to copy things down’.

The session we attended, part of this year’s Heritage Open Days, focused on Allen W. Seaby (1867–1953), a Professor of Fine Art at the University and a writer and illustrator of several children’s books on archaeology. Claudina began the session with a short presentation, after which the children could ask questions, talk about some of the museum objects, and handle several of Seaby’s rare and out-of-print books.

The aim was to encourage them to produce their own pamphlet, preferably using information from the museum exhibits. However, Claudina tries to be flexible if the children have a specific interest. One wanted to write about dinosaurs. Another, who was interested in the early medieval period, was guided towards a collection of Egyptian textiles from between the fifth and tenth centuries.

Some parents remained for the session (although it isn’t a club requirement), so I asked for their feedback. One member, who had a learning difficulty, asked to join after watching YAC members on a Time Team repeat. The club was able to accommodate the child’s needs and the parents felt that their confidence at school, particularly with history, had improved as a result.

Several adults said how much their children enjoyed the club and were surprised that it was not more widely publicised. One commented on how well the activities complemented Key Stage 2 coverage of ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, as well as science, geography and nutrition.  Claudina said that Reading YAC supports learning for Key Stage 3 and 4 curriculum, too.

Despite a wide range of ages and abilities, everyone worked well together and seemed absorbed, enthusiastic and relatively quiet. The session even had an effect on H, who despite a pathological aversion to the sound of silence, left the session as a fully paid-up member.

Claudina said that ‘some of our former members enjoy the club so much, they ask to come back after they are sixteen, as part of their work experience and help the younger children with activities’. There have even been some postgraduate students, who are themselves former YAC members, returning as guest speakers.

Further information
  • YAC is open to anyone aged 8 to 16, and costs £30 per year or £12 per term.
  • The sessions are run one Saturday each month (with the exception of August) between 10.30am and 12.30pm.
  • Please contact ure.education@reading.ac.uk for further information.
  • If you fancy volunteering at the museum, Claudina and the team will also be very happy to hear from you.
  • The University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology was founded by the University’s first Classics professor, Percy Ure (1879-1950) and his wife, Annie Ure (1893 -1976), who was its first curator. The club has guest speakers from a variety of disciplines including archaeologists, historians, scientists and conservators, who discuss a diverse range of cultures such as Iron Age, ancient Greek, Roman, ancient Egyptian, Etruscan and medieval civilisations.