The Midden Project: An experiment in archaeology

This is a Guest Post by Lauren Martin: an intern working in the Museum’s conservation department who has been involved in one of our Secondary education projects. 

Recently the Manchester Museum has been working with eight Year 8 pupils from Matthew Moss High School in Rochdale on an experiment to demonstrate the decay and survival of everyday objects. The children were asked to bring a range of objects into school. These included coins, old shoes, ceramics, a golf ball and even a half-eaten doughnut in its paper bag! Over the course of two sessions at the school, the pupils were first encouraged to discuss what they thought happened to different materials after they were buried and how they might look if they were excavated by archaeologists many years later. They were then shown how to photograph, draw and record their own objects accurately as well as having the opportunity to examine them under higher magnification.

A third session took place at the Museum itself where the children buried their objects in a compost heap or ‘midden’ in the Museum Allotment. The objects had each been cut into three by the workshop: two pieces for burial and one piece to remain out as a control. Much fun then ensued (despite the cold!) as the compost bin was filled with alternate layers of compost and objects.

The project was great fun for all involved and the response from the Matthew Moss pupils has been really positive:

“I think this project was a superb idea and is just plain awesome, because it shows us how different materials can degrade as well as some materials which can’t degrade. I enjoyed looking at the artefacts and burying our objects, because not only did we learn a lot of things but we also did some physical activity which is something we don’t do in the classroom.”

“I think the project was fun and I have found out a lot about history. I really enjoyed working with the museum staff…”

 The aim is that the same students will return in September 2012 to excavate the objects which will then be used in the creation of a display in the Museum’s new archaeology gallery: Ancient Worlds.

[With many thanks to Velson Horie, Samantha Sportun, Cat Lumb, Lauren Martin, Anna Bunney and Tracy Martin.]

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5 thoughts on “The Midden Project: An experiment in archaeology

  1. The Project gave our pupils an excellent introduction into Archaelogy. The Midden Project superbly enhanced the skills that our students recently aquired during their field archaeology project at Healey Dell Nature Reserve in Rochdale, where they uncovered the foundations of Broadely Mill.
    The Midden Project gave a wonderful insight into preservation and conservation of materials and greatly enhanced their learning experiences.
    Working with the Museum staff truly inspired our pupils!

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