Celebration event at Doncaster Museum
After 40 hours of archaeological engagement, Milton Court were able to celebrate their achievements with friends and family. The event was held at Doncaster Museum where we received a very warm welcome. The group enjoyed a look round the museum before the event commenced. As invited guests arrived, we took our seats. Sarah Holland, the tutor, gave a brief introduction outlining the project and introducing our guests. Then the new Deputy Mayor, Councillor Glyn Jones, presented the students with their certificates. The students were thrilled to receive their certificates and have all their hard work and achievements recognised. There were plenty of photo opportunities, with students pictured receiving their certificates and then as group at the end. Alan Hall, Education Officer at the museum, also congratulated the group on their achievements, and showed everyone some very old and interesting Egyptian artefacts.
In addition, there were a range of Roman artefacts on display, which the group had looked at on a previous visit to the museum. It was wonderful to hear them recall their experiences and share the knowledge they had acquired. Refreshments were then enjoyed as the group and guests enjoyed looking at the scrapbooks that the group had compiled during the course. It provided the opportunity for the students to talk with other people about the course.
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the event, and the students who have completed the course take with them many memories, much knowledge and multiple transferable skills. It is true to say that the WEA archaeology project enriches lives – as one student said, the course has had a positive effect on his health and well being as well as being very interesting. From the tutor’s point of view, this course has been interesting and rewarding to teach. There of course numerous acknowledgements that need to be made in relation to both the event and the course:- to the museum staff for making us welcome, especially Alan and his colleague Janice; to Glynn Jones (Deputy Mayor) and Councillor Joe Blackham for attending the event and for their genuine interest in the project and the work of the students; to representatives from the WEA – Sheila Smith (Organiser for Doncaster) who has supported the project in so many ways, participated in some of the field trips and was an active part of the celebration, Sharon Watson (Area Education Co-ordinator South) who attended the celebration with interest and enthusiasm, Victoria Beauchamp (project worker) who has supported us throughout and made many things possible, Nicola Thorpe (project worker) for making the Leeds dig truly inclusive and very enjoyable, Stuart Wheeldon (Chair of Doncaster Branch) who represented the Branch at the celebration event and has a special interest in archaeology himself, and of course the volunteers who have assisted in the classroom and on the field visits during this course; to the staff from Milton Court and of course to the students themselves – without them and their interest, enthusiasm, inquisitive minds and hard work there would be no such project.
Field Visit to Roche Abbey
On Thursday (2 May) we set off in glorious sunshine and enjoyed a fabulous day at Roche Abbey. None of the group had been before, which made it all the more exciting. After an introductory health and safety talk we started our quest to understand the ruins of this Cistercian Abbey. Everyone had a plan of the site to help them orientate themselves. The first thing that struck everyone was the location of the site – we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, and could hear the birds singing and running water. These were our first clues to why the abbey was located here – peaceful and secluded for the monks with the practical benefits of water and stone nearby.
The second thing to amaze everyone was the scale of the church. It was evident how important this building was to the monks, and how impressive it would have been in its heyday. When we stepped into a different part of the abbey, we noted it on our quest sheets – we recorded what it would have been used for, described it and drew a sketch picture of something that particularly interested us about it. We left the church and entered the chapter house, and worked our way through the buildings along one side of the cloister. Just outside the church, we noticed an empty stone coffin with the shape of a head carved out at the top that intrigued us. We visited the monks’ dormitory and then compared it to the spacious abbot’s lodgings. We also found where the sound of water had been coming from – Maltby Beck. We noticed which way it was flowing and where the toilets were located – we soon worked out why that made sense!
We spotted the infirmary and the lay brother’s quarters and discussed what those buildings were for. The idea of a warming house being the only place to go and get warm on an exposed site like this interested us. As did the refectory, as it was getting close to lunch time!
We sat on the benches around the abbey site to have our lunch and reflected on the interesting morning we had had.
After lunch we were split into two groups – the first became abbey detectives searching for visual clues around the abbey site and then working out which part of the abbey it was. The second group surveyed the site, measuring how big different parts were. When both groups had completed their tasks, they swapped over. Both groups of abbey detectives were eagled eyed at spotting where all the clues were and which part of the abbey they were in. It demonstrated that they had all been listening on the tour round the abbey in the morning. When measuring the groups worked well as a team to measure and record the length, width, diameter and even circumference of different parts of the site. We found it really interesting to compare the height of doorways compared to our own heights, and even the length of the stone coffin to see if we would fit in.
All too soon it was time to go home, but everyone agreed it had been a fantastic day.
Digging – Sarah recently posted on her blog the following report about the visit to Leeds.
The WEA archaeology group from Doncaster began the second half of the digability project today, and enjoyed a fantastic opportunity to partake in an archaeological dig in Leeds. 2013 is the Yorkshire Archaeological Society’s 150th anniversary and we were welcomed to their home at Claremont House in Leeds to find out more about the house, the estate and the secrets that lay beneath the ground.
When the group arrived, they were particularly impressed with the Georgian architecture of Claremont House. The house was built in the 1770s by John Elam, a Quaker merchant, on the site of an earlier house. However, alterations made by Dr John Deakin Heaton gave it many of its notable features, and are recorded in his diaries and papers. Once inside we admired the patterned floor tiles and decorative wallpaper. Within these impressive surroundings we learnt the history of the site and saw some old maps, photos and documents.
Outside the archaeology was underway and the group were assigned test pits. After a brief introduction to techniques and archaeological practice, the group were raring to go and soon finding bits of pot. Each budding archaeologist systematically excavated a small area and carefully placed their finds in trays. They also were able to work out the properties of the soil and other important information that could then be recorded accurately on forms. Later they were able to assist with finds washing and have a better look at some of the items they had discovered. Of particular interest to the group were some pieces of blue and white pottery, clay pipe and glassware. One group even found evidence of the footpath that they had seen marked on the old maps.
The end of the session came all too soon, but everyone agreed what a brilliant day it had been. Not only had the sun shone and lots been discovered, but the group had enjoyed working together and learning new skills. The digability project endeavours to provide archaeological opportunities to people under represented in archeology including mental health service users. Today’s session not only provided one such invaluable opportunity for engagement, but also demonstrated how shared interests can overcome other barriers. The group were integrated on the site, sharing a passion for the past and discovering more through archaeology. The group will continue their archaeological quest by visiting a range of archaeological sites in South Yorkshire, before concluding their archeological experience with a celebratory event at Doncaster Museum.
The budding archaeologists at Milton Court were looking at bones today. Experts from The University of Sheffield brought in a selection of real and replica bones to show the group and explain to us what bones can tell archaeologists about the past. Working in two smaller groups, we examined the skeleton of a sheep and a human skeleton. It was amazing how much we already knew from previous experiences – especially if we had broken any of our bones before. There was so much we learnt too – we discovered how many bones there are in the human body, where they all go and what they do, and the scientific names for some of the bones. There were some incredible similarities between the bones of the sheep and the human – which helped us put them all back together again. The group participated in a discussion about what the discovery of animal bones can tell archaeologists about the past, and completed a ‘guess the animal from the bones’ activity.
Milton Court’s encounter with the Romans
Having done a few activities about chronology and timelines in the first session, the Milton Court archaeology group were keen to find out more about Roman Doncaster. Their visit to Doncaster Museum did not disappoint. Education Officer, Alan Hall told us lots of fascinating facts about the Romans. Alan also showed us a range of real Roman artefacts. The group enjoyed handling them and finding out what they would have been used for. Amongst them were items from a Roman house (roof tiles, pieces of mosaic, hypocaust tiles), pottery, and luxury items (beads, clasps to fasten cloaks, money and even a glass perfume bottle).
There were even some coins that had been discovered on the racecourse at Doncaster – they were very badly corroded because of all the horse urine! The group then selected their favourite artefacts and had their photos taken with them.
There was even the opportunity to dress up as Romans – this was a lot of fun, but it was also an opportunity to talk about the weight of the armour and how it must have felt to march long distances in it.
We thanked Alan very much for the workshop, which had been fun and informative. Before we left the museum we had a look at the Roman displays including the remains of the real Doncaster Shield and the Pollington Lady. Finally, everyone chose a favourite item from the museum displays and again had their photos taken with them. It had been a thoroughly thought-provoking afternoon, with lots of things to follow up over the coming weeks.
Learner Comments on their visit
Here are just a few of the things the group said about their visit to Doncaster Museum:-
“I enjoyed the visit to Doncaster Museum. It was my first visit and I learnt and remembered a lot. In enjoyed being part of the group visit.”
“I liked the visit to the museum, we learnt about Roman history in Doncaster.”
“The visit to the museum was an enjoyable experience.”
“I really enjoyed the visit to the museum. There’s a lot of interesting things to see.”
“It was very nice”
Some of their highlights included:-
“I liked dressing up as a Celtic lady.”
“I dressed as a Roman soldier in Roman armour. It gave me a sense of what they would carry around and how heavy it was to wear.”
“I was impressed by the mortarium. It would have been used for crushing herbs and food.”
“I liked the coins.”
“I liked looking at the ornaments. I liked the perfume bottle best because it looks good.”
“I liked the old car for transport.”
“The displays on the railway and trains were very good.”
“I loved the Doncaster Rovers train sign and I adored the old memorabilia and signed Rovers shirt with the historic programmes/match day magazines.
“I liked the old shop window. I liked the magazine and the old toys.”
And will we be going back to the museum:-
Someone said “I would like to see more” and everyone agreed that it had been a good visit, so I am sure we will be making a return trip to the museum soon.
We also started to think about why some things last longer than others when buried in the ground. We were soon sorting banana peel and newspapers from plastic bottles and glass jars. It made us think how this affected archaeology and what we know about people from the past. We even learnt that different soil conditions affected the rate at which things rot in the ground.
Finally we divided things into material and human remains. This was in anticipation of next week’s session when we will be looking at bones! We had an interesting discussion about grave goods. We thought about why people buried things with people when they had died, and what sorts of things were buried. The group started to think about what objects were important to them and what it would tell archaeologists about them in the future – if of course the objects they selected survived in the ground.
In the meantime we would like to say a big thank you to Alan Hall, the Education Officer, who made us feel very welcome and showed us so many wonderful things.
12 new students started their course today in Doncaster. They looked at the course outline and then discussed what they thought archaeology was and what they hoped to get from the course. Sarah, the tutor was also able to tell the breaking news that Richard III bones had been identified.
Look out for blogs from the group and course tutor Sarah Holland coming soon.