On March 9th 2002, the Museum launched the Downpatrick Young Archaeologists Club for youngsters aged between 9 and 16. As a result of sending flyers to local schools, a total of 51 children have joined the Club, which is linked to a wider network of clubs based in York. The President of the Young Archaeologists Club network is Tony Robinson, so we hoped to attract some Time Team fans to join in our activities.
The Club's first event was an archaeological fieldwalk in a ploughed field near Ballynoe Stone Circle, when we got the opportunity to search for ancient artifacts turned up by the plough. With 47 children and some dedicated helpers and parents, we were able to search the entire field, using a grid system to collect artefacts, such as worked flints, clay pipes and pottery. In particular, we hoped that we might be able to find flint artefacts dating to the period of 8allynoe Stone Circle, that is the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Despite an initial hailstorm and a cold wind blowing across the landscape, we were lucky to find a number of worked flints, including a flint scraper. Plenty of pottery was also collected, which was cleaned and examined at our third event, a special cleaning session at the Museum on 11th May. Needless to say, old toothbrushes came in very useful! The Club is particularly grateful to landowner, Donal McEvoy, and farmer, Graham Furey, for allowing us access to the field, and giving us the chance to visit the Stone Circle and gather archaeological evidence relating to its local landscape as part of the same project.
Our second event, on 13th April, was a Viking-themed event based at the Museum. This is a popular subject for our school visits, and the Museum has plenty of replica artefacts for handling purposes. The 50 children who took part were able to dress up as Vikings, climb inside a special Viking boat, made for a forthcoming Viking event at Delamont Country Park, and find out how Vikings fought in battle. They also formed into teams to challenge each other to a game of `hnefatafl', a Viking game known to have been played in Downpatrick in the 12th century. A small stone gaming board with a hnefatafl game scratched on one side was found in excavations near Down Cathedral in 1986, and a large-size version of the game has been made by Jim Parrish, a Friend of the Museum.
Our fourth event took place at the St Patrick Visitor Centre, where Education Officer Philomena Jordan showed the youngsters replica artefacts and clothing from the time of St Patrick and got everyone involved in a mini-drama production about the life of St Patrick. There were no Oscars, but quite a few Patricks that day.
After a recess for summer holidays, we had a special Egyptian event in September, when we welcomed Winifred Glover, Curator of Ethnography at the Ulster Museum, who brought a selection of Egyptian artefacts, including a mummified hand, a carved scarab beetle, a canopic jar and many other fascinating items for the youngsters to investigate. They were also able to make miniature clay Shabti figures, like those found in Egyptian tombs, and try their hand at wrapping a friend like a mummy. Our thanks go to Winifred for bringing the Egyptians back to life for the afternoon.
Further events included an 'Animal Bones' day in October, when Finbar McCormick brought skulls and skeletons galore in to the Museum, to show the youngsters what evidence we have found from archaeological excavations for animal and bird species in the past. Events relating to the history of the Old Gaol, and the Norman presence in County Down, followed in November and December.
The Club has now been active for over four years, and we have undertaken 3 different fieldwalking projects. Find out more about some of these by following the link.
Club members recently met Tony Robinson at the re-opening of the Governor’s Residence at Down County Museum. The new exhibitions include archaeological items ranging from the Mesolithic to the Early Modern period, including flints and stone axes to touch, games to play, Viking costumes to try on, and a touchscreen database of sites to visit in the area.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about the Club, please contact Mike King at the Museum.
email@example.com,There is a small annual charge for membership of £10, in order to cover costs. The Club generally meets once a month, with the exception of July and August.