Spotting the BC-AD Forgery
This activity provides a way in to the conceptually difficult issue of BC and AD. The image below was created by Arthur Chapman of St. Martin’s College, Lancaster and used by Jenny Thornton of Wellington School, Timperley.
Here’s Jenny’s description of the activity:
I used this coin with all three of my new Yr 7 groups – a top set, a middle set and a middle/lower set. It was used as a starter activity in their first history lesson, which was on chronology. I set up the ‘mystery’ by telling the story of an Italian farmer who had bought a new field and found this coin. The farmer had got very excited, thinking the coin would be incredibly valuable, but when he took the coin to his ‘local historian’, it was immediately declared a fake. I then showed the picture of the coin and asked: How did the historian know immediately that this wasn’t the real deal? I gave the pupils around a minute to look at the coin and then took answers. Many of them were distracted by the red herrings – the photo quality of the picture, for example. We explored the ‘wrong’ ideas briefly, and with all three classes someone eventually spotted the date issue – obviously quicker with some groups than others. This proved a really useful way of introducing the use of BC and AD for pupils who had not come across it before, or perhaps not fully understood it. The use of the coin in a story context also engaged the pupils and provided access to an essential historical skill, the use of time conventions, which can seem sometimes rather dry. With the top set, there was a definite sense of dawning realisation amongst the class when the answer was revealed; with the lower ability group, many of the pupils were still confused at the end of the starter activity, but showed much greater understanding when we revisited the coin at the end of the lesson, having done a few basic chronology activities.
Another way into the same activity would be to amend the approach described in another Short and Simple activity, [ Digging Up a Mystery ]
Instead of you being the reporter of a find, put yourself in the role of finder, perhaps creating a more immediate and involving scenario – and one in which you end up being put right by your class! Your script could go like this:
Last weekend you were helping an archaeologist friend at a dig. It was a Roman site and you had an interesting day but very hard work. You were just packing away your trowels and brushes when the sun glinted on the ground – it had caught the edge of a coin that was just sticking up out of the ground. You carefully scraped away the soil and lifted the coin out – it was really exciting, the best thing you’d found all day. You can’t show your class because it’s had to go off to be tested at a lab but you did take a photograph before it went – and here it is. Do you, the class, think it could be valuable? Have I found something important?
Hopefully someone will spot the problem of the date but, if not, then start asking questions that lead towards the date as an issue. If anyone wonders why there was a fake coin in the ground you can recall a TimeTeam programme of a few years ago when they uncovered a whole cache of Roman fakes that had been built up by someone who I think was trying to recreate a villa - or blame your friend who played a trick on you to see how bright you are!
You could also do a comparative activity using the coin provided on the attached PowerPoint slides. This time the coin has an AD date but the challenge is still for the students to suggest why this might be a real coin or a fake. Why has this one got a stronger reason to be real?
To follow this up, use the coin or coins in conjunction with the Making Sense of BC and AD activity which uses pupils as centuries on a timeline. Placing the first coin on the timeline 200 years before Christ may help consolidate the idea.