Surfing Roman Internet Highway

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Byline: By Graeme Whitfield

Education projects that began in the North-East are now bringing the region's Roman past to national attention.

The Reticulum and Flavius projects at Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities have been shortlisted for the 2004 Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year and will find out in two weeks time if they have won.

The projects see museum staff teaching youngsters from Northumberland about the Romans using IT and artifacts from the museum's collection.

But now schools around the country are contacting the museum to take up the materials for use with their children.

Yesterday, judges in the pounds 100,000 Gulbenkian competition - including the BBC's arts correspondent Rosie Millard and fellow broadcaster Joan Bakewell - made their last visit to the museum before a final decision is made.

They saw children from Swarland First School, in Northumberland, working with museum staff to design a head for a headless Roman statue of Hercules - a project that is typical of Reticulum's innovative approach to engaging children.

Swarland headteacher Janet Dyson said: "It's been a fantastic project for the children.

"They've come into a small museum and the displays have been made really interesting to them.

"Staff from the museum have also come into school and done things like letting the children touch Roman pottery. The culture of museums is often `don't touch' so this is really refreshing and brings things to life.

"Museums can be a very dry experience that are very adult orientated.

"This is much more children-led and let's the kids feel that they're part of the whole thing."

Jo Catling, education officer at the museum, said: "We've always gone into schools rather than just have them come to us. …