Archaeology and History for Welsh Primary Classes

By Mytum, Harold | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Archaeology and History for Welsh Primary Classes


Mytum, Harold, Antiquity


Key-words: Wales, Celt, schools, primary curriculum, Castell Henllys National Museum of Wales

The history curriculum for Wales is a distinctive and politically sensitive document that has attempted to highlight features which will be of cultural relevance to those in the Principality. Unlike the English curriculum, there is a clear opportunity to consider some elements of prehistory, and this has been seized with enthusiasm by schools at Key Stage 2, for children aged between 7 and 11 (Welsh Office 1991; Howell 1994). Study Unit 1, the Earliest Peoples, runs up to the Bronze Age, but it is provision for Study Unit 2, The Celts, which is of particular interest here.

The Welsh History curriculum gives three themes related to the Iron Age which should be taught, and to be successful in obtaining bookings and providing relevant educational support, archaeologists have to tailor their support to those subjects. The themes are: tribes, hillforts and chieftains (of England and Wales); farming and daily life; and Celtic religion: the Druids, myths and legends. The idea of Celtic resistance to, and difference from, the Romans is also important. The desire to define an intrinsically Celtic (and photo-Welsh) identity is here.

Two centres within the public sector have been developed within south Wales to cater for school visits with particular regard to the Celtic origins of the Welsh. Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, is an Iron Age hillfort under seasonal research excavation whilst also being used as a site for experimental reconstruction and public interpretation (Mytum 1991; 1999a; 1999b). The property passed into the hands of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park which recognized considerable opportunities for utilizing the site and its reconstructions for educational use. The other facility is run by the National Museum of Wales, with a small Iron Age style farmstead (termed the `Celtic village') constructed at the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan's, Cardiff, southeast Wales. This is used in conjunction with the Nalional Museum and Gallery at Cathay's Park in the centre of Cardiff to provide a range of educational facilities.

Both Castell Henllys and the National Museum have a mixture of on-site activities and experiences (including full size buildings and other features) and literature which can help teachers in their preparation and follow-up work. They also recognize that visits need to allow for opportunities to integrate other curriculum subjects to enhance the value of the experience for the pupils. Teaching and literature is available in English or Welsh, the latter being a significant minority choice by schools at both institutions. There are, however, distinct differences in emphasis between the two centres, and some common problems in the practical implementation of a coherent programme which meets both the schools' educational requirements and the state of modern scholarship.

Resources are necessary to help teachers prepare for visits. The National Museum has preliminary printed information, but there is also a series of Inset courses for teachers which last a half or full day (Thomas 1999). These allow for presentation of evidence and adult discussion of issues; here the historiography and current debates about the Celts can be aired. Academics may now be concerned about the existence of the Celts (most recently James 1999), but the Welsh people generally are not. They follow a widespread academic acceptance of the term (Cunliffe 1991; Green 1995), and the National Museum educators now can challenge this and consider how the past is relevant to the present. How much this has any impact on the children is hard to assess; it is easy for the teacher to rely on the familiar stereotypes, and particular support needs to be given to encourage multiple yet academically credible interpretations.

At Castell Henllys, a video and resource pack is available, which includes a wide range of activity sheets (DCCED 1993).

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