Active Learning on

Using New Discoveries to Keep History Bubbling

History hits the headlines when archaeologists and others uncover new finds – and the idea of objects coming to light after being buried for hundreds of thousands of years is very exciting. This happens more often than many people imagine so can we share that sense of excitement and discovery with primary and secondary students and how can this fit into the normal run of lessons – and what can be learned from it?


A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser or a WORD version of this activity can be downloaded [ click here ]

Useful archaeological examples from 2014 are shown below.

Using Archaeological Discoveries

Who is this for?

I originally had KS2 in mind as the 2014 National Curriculum introduces periods of history not studied there before – but this could be also used at KS3, GCSE and A level.

See below for brief suggestions.

What do you do?

Show children a picture of an object, place, excavation that’s new – more than one picture if you wish. Then you can enthuse about how wonderful it is in history that new discoveries keep being made and ask ‘what do you think this is?’ and then ‘what questions do you want to ask about this?’ List the questions and discuss possible answers – maybe just picking out one or two to dwell on. You don’t need to know lots yourself – that’s not the point. Rely on what’s on a website or in the paper – even though on most things (like education) such sources of information are notoriously unreliable!

It’s about the excitement of the discovery.

How long will it take?

Maybe as little as 5 or 10 minutes, half an hour at most – it all depends on the class and it’ll take less time if they recognize what you’re doing from previous occasions. You’re definitely not trying to make this into an enquiry or detailed study.

Of course this means escaping from the tyranny of the scheme of work and being willing to make up lost ground in your scheme of work on later occasions – but maybe the reward of creating moments of real intrigue are worthwhile?

Why do this?

Here are several answers – we might even call them objectives!

1. Practice in asking questions and suggesting answers

These are key historical skills that often don’t get enough time. For example:

• Who used this? [rich or poor, men, women or children, etc]

• Where was it found?

• Why was it lost/buried?

• What was it used for?

• How old was it? Which period is it from?

• How was it found?

• What does it tell us about the people who used it?

• Etc etc – just get children used to the idea that being good at history includes asking questions and suggesting possible answers.

If you want to give children practice at asking questions, suggesting answers and generally puzzling out what can be learned from objects you can find a range of images and discussion at the British Museum’s Teaching History with 100 objects project at

2. Developing historical vocabulary

All those ‘what, why, when?’ words above – plus all the tentative language ‘possibly’ ‘could be’ ‘hypothesise’ etc plus chronological terms – see below.

3. Reinforcing chronological understanding

When you’ve revealed what the item is move onto where it fits into the big sweep of time – it’s Roman so where does that place it on a timeline? This could be about dates but at KS2 it’s as much about which periods came before and after. Children build their chronological knowledge very effectively from this kind of regular, quick reinforcement.

At KS3 spending a few minutes on a find or finds from pre-1066 periods will help embed and retain chronological understanding of such periods.

4. Understanding that history isn’t all done and dusted

Children tend to assume that our knowledge of the past is complete so this is a good way of getting across the fact that it isn’t – new discoveries are often being made. With older students, maybe at KS3 and especially at GCSE and A level the focus could be on new interpretations by historians as well as archaeological discoveries.

KS2 classes could set up a noticeboard for reports, articles, photos etc on discoveries as they come in and be encouraged to write blogs etc.

5. Thinking about dilemmas

Ask children to think about what would do if they found something that seemed valuable – what happens in these cases?

See the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at

Example of Some Discoveries Made in 2014

Neolithic axe found in Denmark

Stone Age axe with its wooden handle intact – other wooden objects found and 5000 year-old footprints.


Bronze Age ceremonial dagger c.3500 years old

Beautiful artefact, found in 2002 and used as a doorstop until recently!


Iron Age site found near Newcastle

Traces of four roundhouses, artefacts and a cemetery


Vindolanda Roman fort

Top finds from Vindolanda in 2014 include gold coin and brooch, sword, writing tablets and a toilet seat!


Viking settlement in Denmark

7 minute digital reconstruction of settlement at Tisso plus images of finds


Viking treasure hoard found in Dumfries

Film and still images and details of a range of finds


The medieval city of Old Sarum

The discovery of the medieval city through scanning rather than digging


20,000 Roman coins found in Devon

The Portable Antiquities Scheme provides lots of examples and information about finds – see and their news page


New structures at Stonehenge

Apparently a range of discoveries worth their own hour on BBC2


Boy finds 3000 year-old Chinese sword

This activity has an extra edge if children have made the discovery as in this example:


Jewellery in Roman Colchester

Finds of jewellery buried at time of Boudicca’s rebellion. The picture on the BBC site shows the jewellery alone. The image in the Telegraph has labels identifying individual items.


Wax writing tablet at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall

One of 12 found so far this year (and many more in the past) – Vindolanda is a wonderful site – see below for wooden toilet seat found in August and gold coin in June but there’ll be many more in due course.   [writing tablet]   [toilet seat]  [gold coin]


70 skeletons found at Peterborough

These maybe Roman, maybe medieval – good for seeing if children can suggest what can be learned from skeletons – age at death, sex, height of people, quality of teeth, even some medical information.


Iron Age and Roman coins found in Derbyshire

Finds of Iron Age coins are very rare and this find of Iron Age and Roman coins together is extremely unusual – but great for helping develop chronological understanding!


Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

This Page



Using Recent Finds

Some Finds from 2014