Rainy walks, barrow building and the Peak District Award

The last week saw my continued work with the Park Rangers, Rose and Steve, at FitzHerbert Primary School in Fenny Bentley, culminating on Thursday 19th with the presentation of the 1st part of the Peak District Award to the KS2 children who had taken part.

On Thursday 12th we began to dig in the school field.  After a lesson in stratigraphy, the children were set to work, under the watchful eye of Steve Bell, de-turfing the patch that is to become a wild flower meadow.  They also practised their drawing skills, ready for planning should we find any archaeology.  What a fantastic job they did removing the turf! We began trowelling and sure enough began to find artefacts straight away.  Most of these were 20th century including a more recent crushed can.  There was also quite a bit of charcoal.  Luckily the afternoon was dry and, if I remember correctly, the sun actually shone!

We were not so lucky on Monday for a field trip to Tissington, when it rained and rained and rained.  Not to be put off and being hardy country folk, we walked along the Tissington Trail, where we stopped to look at wild flowers at the Fenny Bentley Cutting.  Here Rose and Steve helped the children identify different species.  The rain was incessant, but the children continued with good humour.  Luckily for us, instead of having to brave the weather and have lunch outdoors at Tissington Station, we are able to shelter in the house of one of the pupils – I think we will be forever grateful!  After lunch, still in the rain, the children collected wild flower seeds to plant in their own hay meadow and then came the archaeology…

We investigated the siege works opposite Tissington Hall and thought a little bit about the Civil War and what it might have been like for the soldiers – especially if the weather had been like it was this day!  There were some good ideas about the position of the works from which were good views of the village and Tissington Hall.  With not much time to spare we headed back to Fenny Bentley, stopping off at Bassett Wood Barrow.  With the rain still coming down we thought about the differences in the landscape between now and the Bronze Age, closed our eyes to think about the sounds we could and would not have been able to hear, then worked together to measure the barrow.  I was very impressed with the lack of complaints from the children who had indeed spent most of the day in the rain and who were engaged with the tasks in hand until the very end.

Thursday 19th was the last day of this part of the Peak District Award.  We set back to work on excavating the trench in the field and tidied up what we had done the previous week.  After taking off a 10cm spit we planned what we had so far, plotting the spread of charcoal and the find spots – including one bit of flint (not yet dated!).  We also drew a plan to locate the trench in relation to the school and other fixed points.  Luckily we had Ian Cooper with us, who, as well as being the Chair of Governors, is also the local policeman – apparently they use similar techniques to locate the position of road traffic accidents: a lovely example of transferable skills that can be learned through archaeology (or vice versa!).

As we removed soil from the trench, it was used to build up the barrow.  In the middle Steve built a cist out of limestone slabs ready to receive a time capsule created by the children – this was a large pottery vessel.  Towards the end of the day we stopped digging to consider what may have happened at Bronze Age funerals and what they would like to happen when we placed their time capsule in the cist.  After a short time considering this, the children decided what they wanted and so our ceremony began:

One boy and one girl from each year group placed an item they had collected into the vessel.  After doing so they joined the rest of the the children to create an arched corridor with their arms outstretched, leading the way to the entrance of the barrow.  All but the Year 6s joined in – with only one day left at school, they had been given the special honour of carrying the time capsule to the barrow through the archway of arms.  Helped by Steve, the vessel was placed in the cist and the children spread themselves out around the outside of the barrow and began chanting a Haka, just like the New Zealand Rugby team.  The whole things created a sense of ceremony which was fitting for the end of this first stage of the project.

The day ended with the children presenting what they they had learnt – I cannot begin to describe the length and breadth of what they had covered – well I could but I would be here for a long time!  I think both the Rangers and I were quite taken aback at the high standard of the work they had produced.  All credit goes to them and their teachers Mrs Froggat and Miss MacBain (and others whose names I cannot quite remember – apologies!).  Finally the children and staff were rewarded with certificates presented by Sarah Wilks, the coordinator of the Award.

What a wonderful few weeks I have had with FitzHerbert Primary School, but with a trench to finish digging and a barrow still to be completed I will be back in September. Watch this space!

Any schools who are interested in taking part in the Peak District Award see http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/news/current-news/new-award-for-peak-district-knowledge-helps-keep-the-national-park-special for details or contact the Award Team on 01433 620373 orlearning.discovery@peakdistrict.gov.uk.

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