Farnham Museum

Back to the prehistoric future

It’s so nice to be doing archaeology again. My training was in archaeology (specifically the prehistory of north-western Europe) but after graduation I drifted into museum education, which turned out to be perfect for me in every way except one: there was very little archaeology. I ended up teaching and writing about the Tudors, Victorians and World Wars a lot. What archaeology there was in these topics was shunted aside by the overwhelming pile of historical documents and images.

But now (oh happy day!), archaeology is going to be taught in English museums in a big way. Not just as a fun add-on to a school’s day out, but as central to understanding the newest school topic in town: Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age.

Today I spent the afternoon at an event held by the Surrey Museums Engagement Officer Haidee Thomas at Brooklands Museum. Teachers and senior school leaders were asked along to find out how to embed the contribution of museums and cultural organisations into their planning in history, geography and the arts. I sought out the museums offering prehistoric resources, as did many teachers who are currently baffled by the requirement to teach 800,000 more years of history.


Extract of the National Curriculum for England

The museums with prehistoric collections were creating handling boxes of real and replica Palaeolithic handaxes, Neolithic axes and arrowheads, Bronze Age palstaves, and Iron Age coins. It’s going to be amazing for kids to feel real ground stone axes, an original from Farnham Museum had been set in a new handle so kids could get an idea of how it was used. Elmbridge Museum had a real lava stone grinder in their handling box, which was clearly well used. Surrey Heritage’s box explores the production of a flint tool from the nodule to core, to flake and finished hafted tool. Chertsey Museum already runs archaeological digs in the museum and out at schools, and aims to create an Iron Age walk around Queen Anne’s Hill, which has a hillfort on it.

Comparing a broken original handaxe with a complete replica

Comparing a broken original handaxe with a complete replica

In a most interesting discussion with Farnham Museum, we tied learning about hunter-gatherers with the Forest School movement that is taking off in UK schools. Learning how to make fire, know what resources the natural world can provide, and what skills prehistoric people had as well as their rich cultural world can all be delivered alongside a Forest School programme.


The best thing about the day was hearing from teachers and museums that teaching local prehistory was going to be high on everyone’s list. The wonderful thing about prehistory is because it was such a long period, there’s something found near everyone. Whether it’s a stray arrowhead that was found down the road, or the round barrow that’s up on the hill nearby, it ties archaeology in with children’s lived experiences. I can’t wait for the new academic year!