Matthew Moss: What is Archaeology?

Recently, Bryan Sitch, our wonderful Curator of Archaeology visited Matthew Moss High School as part of an ‘Archaeology Day’ they had planned. He provided some of their Year 8 students with a talk on ‘What is Archaeology’ in order to inspire and inform them on this fascinating subject. He took along some basic finds from our collection and engaged the students in exploring what they thing archaeology is and how it is a destructive, but potentially very informative, process. According to the teachers, this really helped in increasing students’ understanding of the subject.

We;re really lucky that we have great curators who work with us in the Learning Team to make our programme successful and although we  don’t currently offer Outreach Curator talks on a regular basis, sometimes we can organise the occasional visit here and there on special request. If this is something you might be interested in, please contact me:

You mean Archaeology isn’t about cavemen and dinosaurs?!

We’re very lucky at The Manchester Museum to have some really enthusiastic curators who enjoy working with the public and teaching young people about their specialist subjects. In light of that, here is a special ‘guest’ blog post by Bryan, our Curator of Archaeology, and his experience of working with a Primary school gorup.

People often think that collections curators spend all their time in the store looking at objects. In fact there are opportunities to go out and visit schools as I found earlier this week when I was invited back to Flixton Junior School to talk to some Year 3 children about archaeology. Janice East is one of the teachers there and she has asked me to talk to the children several times over the last couple of years.

Pupil from Flixton examining an archaeological flint tool

So it was that last Monday morning I found myself in the school hall standing in front of two classes of 7-8 year olds. We talked about what archaeology is and after fending off the common misunderstanding that archaeology is in some way related to dinosaurs we looked at some prehistoric flint tools from The Manchester Museum collection. We divided the children into smaller groups and asked them to come up with a story to account for the flint artefacts I had put out on the tables for them.  

I encouraged the children to think of themselves as detectives looking at clues and to try and come up with a story to account for the finds that they had before them. The children quickly grasped the idea that the flint arrowhead and the flint axehead were all that remained of a bow-and-arrow and an axe and that the organic materials had rotted away in the ground.  

It was interesting that the children thought the flint scrapers were buttons even though they didn’t have holes in the middle. What was even more fascinating was the way the children talked about the artefacts as having been used by cavemen. It just shows how pervasive is the association between prehistoric stone tools and caves amongst the public even in the minds of quite young schoolchildren. It’s always great to work with the school because the children’s enthusiasm is infectious.   

I believe Janice brought in some broken pottery from home and seeded the school flower beds before asking the children to search for ‘archaeology’.  This turned the soil over a treat ready for the autumn. Now I wonder if I could try that in my own garden at home?

Bryan Sitch, Curator of Archaeology

Calling all Eco Schools….

We are delighted to be able to offer four primary schools the unique opportunity to be part of an exciting and innovative partnership project beginning in autumn 2010 involving The Manchester Museum, the BBC 21st Century Classroom and the University of Salford.

Taking inspiration from the Manchester Museum’s forthcoming Living Planet gallery the ‘On My Doorstep’ project will encourage Year 5 pupils to engage with their local environment, and to consider issues related to biodiversity, ecology and sustainability.  The project aims to provide pupils with the knowledge, skills and inspiration required to produce a short film about nature on their doorsteps.  All four films will be shown on the BBC 21CC website and will provide a comparative resource for exploration of local environments in four contrasting areas of the North West.

The project not only supports the Eco Schools Framework (particularly the Biodiversity topic) and also offers an array of cross curricular learning opportunities in Science, History, Citizenship, Geography and ICT. Groups will get to grips with multi-media and learn a broad range of film making skills.  Under the guidance of BBC staff and professional camera crew they will have the opportunity to use industry standard equipment and software.

The project will last for three weeks and each participating class will complete four activity days during this time.

Activity days include:

  1. Initial Museum visit – pupils will discover more about the project and take part in a number of special workshops to develop their skills as naturalists.
  2. Museum Comes to School – the Museum will visit school to help the class develop their ideas for creating their film.
  3. BBC 21st Century Classroom visits School –   working with BBC 21st CC staff, professional cameramen and student mentors from the MA in Wildlife Documentary Production course at the University of Salford, groups will learn how to storyboard their ideas and film on location.
  4. Visit to the 21st Century Classroom – the class will work with 21CC staff to edit their films.

The project will end in April 2011 with a sharing event in which all participants will be invited to a film launch at the Museum.

Only four places available.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!

For further information contact:

School Outreach – The Manchester Museum

Tel: 0161 306 1779


Primary Outreach 2009-10

Vicky on an Outreach session at a school

One of the most popular outreach sessions we deliver is ancient Egypt and in the past academic year we have delivered over 20 sessions in schools across Greater Manchester and had the pleasure of working with some very insightful and imaginative children.

Thanks to all those schools which have sent us pupils’ feedback and comments! We have selected a couple to share with you.

We always enjoy seeing what further work the pupils have produced after our visit. Above are also images of some of the ancient Egyptian artefacts we bring into school and you can spot them in the pictures the children have drawn in the feedback shown.

 We are always striving to develop our sessions to support teachers in delivering the curriculum and appreciate your comments.

 In September 2010 we will be launching our ‘newly’ developed ancient Egypt session in response to your comments and suggestions and there will be more artefacts to see and explore.

 Watch this space for more info…

We take you further…

Image, Children in the Museum intrigued by a tree frog!

The Amazon outreach session has been very popular with primary schools for over 2 years and our Big Saturdays in the Museum with live animals are always a favourite.  Pupils get to handle some great objects including a jaguar skull, Brazilian Indian fishing arrows, a parakeet and Amazon insects.  During the sessions we often get asked questions about what life is like for children living in the Amazon and we thought it would be a good idea for pupils to find out themselves.  A great opportunity arose a few weeks ago when Johan Oldekop from the University’s department of Life Sciences offered to help out.

Johan is a PHD student who has visited Ecuador a number of times and spent time with communities in the Payamino area.  The Payamino Project is a community conservation and development project. Situated in the foothills of the Andes, east of Quito, the indigenous community of San Jose de Payamino entered into an agreement with Aalborg Zoo in 2002 to protect their forest and way of life from the increasing pressures of oil, logging and mining.

Johan left on his final PHD visit to Ecuador on 9th July and he very kindly took a gift pack from the Learning Team to give to the children in the community.  We sent pens, pencils, rubbers and furry bugs, photos of Manchester school children enjoying our Amazon outreach session and lots of questions for the children in the community from Year 2 of St Augustine’s Primary in Manchester.  Johan is translating the questions into Spanish and we are looking forward to him returning with lots of interesting answers, as well as questions for the children of Manchester.

Image, Willah and his sister from San Jose de Paymino on the banks of the Payamino river

We also sent out a couple of footballs and we hope to post some photographs of the children having a kick about when Johan returns at the end of the summer!

We are hoping that this is the start of a valuable relationship between children in Manchester and the Amazon and an excellent opportunity for them to share and learn about all aspects of each others lives.

If you would like to find out more about Johan’s work you can visit

For more information about the Payamino project go to

And to find out about the new Living Planet gallery opening in 2011 visit

Primary Outreach Search the Stores

Image, Earthenware roof tile in the form of Guan Yu riding his horse. Made in north China, between 1490 and 1620. © The Trustees of the British Museum

‘China: Journey to the East’ a touring exhibition from the British Museum will be opening at The Manchester Museum on September 25th.

In Primary Outreach we have been busy delving through the Museum’s collections to find fascinating and intriguing artefacts for our forthcoming outreach workshop that will be launched in the Autumn.

We aim to have handling artefacts to support the exhibition’s themes of play and performance, technology, belief and festivals, food and drink, and language and writing.

In the stores we were surrounded by examples of intricate craftsmanship and samples of exquisite silk.  Amongst the artefacts which we may include in the workshop are an abacus, a bronze mirror and metal zodiac calendar.

Darwin’s Beagle Voyage – Pupil’s Pictures & Comments

Hello All and Happy New Year!

In November and  December 09, the outreach team delivered 10 interactive Darwin outreach sessions to 272 Key Stage 2 pupils at 7 schools.

Thanks to all those we visited, for asking such interesting questions! And for sharing your follow up work with us.

Here are some of your pictures and comments below.

Thank You and Well Done!

Posted by Vicky Grant

Darwin’s Beagle Voyage – Outreach Workshop

Image, Vicky at our recent Darwin Educator Preview Evening

Hello all, this term has seen the launch of our new primary outreach session, ‘Darwin’s Beagle Voyage’. The interactive museum staff led session has been developed as part of The Manchester Museum’s celebration of our Darwin Extravaganza.

The 90 minute cross curricular session involves a variety of activities including specimen observation and analysis, group discussion and visualisation.  Pupils have the opportunity to develop thinking and key skills.

The session provides pupils with an introduction to Darwin, and focuses on his HMS Beagle Voyage of the world.  Pupils have the chance to see specimens (from the Museum’s collection) of some of the animals Darwin may have seen on his voyage.

They have the opportunity to observe and explore animals from a variety of habitats and to develop ideas of how they are adapted to their environment.

The session is linked to key areas of the National Curriculum particularly Science, Geography and History and provides pupils with a unique insight into aspects of the Museum’s collection. The sessions are targeted for Key Stage 2 pupils.

We have enjoyed taking this out to schools!  Pupils have relished the opportunity to get up close to animals they might never have seen before such as the Kiwi and the Platypus!

One teacher commented:
“The session really engaged the curious minds of our pupils.  Great session with friendly and engaging presenters.  Thank you.”

We will be taking the session out to 4 more schools before Christmas.

Primary Outreach Film

Why not check out this short film all about our Primary Outreach sessions and the wonderful objects we can bring to your school.

Clippy Crazy at Manchester Science Festival

Tuesday 20 and Wednesday 21 October saw the Manchester Science Festival 2009 Schools Event take place with Year 8 pupils from all over Greater Manchester packing into Pure Nightclub in the Printworks for a day filled with engaging and educational workshops, shows and activities exploring science, engineering and maths.

Image, Clippy Island in action at the Manchester Science Festival

I went out with our Clippy Island: An Investigation into Natural Selection activity to deliver a 45 minute workshop to the students. In Clippy Island, the students become a population of bird called ‘Springbeaks’ where they experience first hand how adaptions created by natural variations within a species allow a population to change over time.

We ran the workshop for about 180 students from 5 different schools over the course of the 2 days who all seemed to really enjoy being springbeaks and experiencing natural selection in action. The competitive edge of the students was certainly clear to see!

Pure nightclub was a bit of a bizarre location, particularly as my session was allocated the ‘Lounge Bar’ complete with sofas and comfy chairs and a long bar along one side.  I have to say it is the oddest place I have ever taught in, but it was a great space and the students were clearly excited by the environment.

It was nice also to be able to work with friends such as Lauren Furness from MOSI and scientists from Faculty of Life Science at The University of Manchester and take part in a day that I hope will enthuse the students about how fun and interesting science can be and see some of the direct applications of science in the real world.

Image, Manchester Science Festival Logo

I’d just like to say thank you to a few of the volunteers from Manchester Science Festival who helped me out during the sessions, especially on the fist day when I was on my own as unfortunately Louise was ill and couldn’t make it.

It was a fun but exhausting few days and I hope the students took away a new found enthusiasm for science and consequently made the most of other exciting science related events that took place during half term as part of the Manchester Science Festival 2009.