Spotlight on ... Nick Overton

Dr Nick Overton, Lecturer in Archaeological Practice in the CAHAE Department of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, talks about the importance of introducing children to archaeology and what he is looking forward to in the field.

Q: You are one of the leaders of the ‘Prehistory to Primary Schools’ outreach project. Can you tell us more about the project, and why it is so important for the children that it reaches?

A: Prehistory to Primary Schools is a project based in the Department of Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology and Egyptology, led by myself and fellow archaeologists Drs John Piprani, Hannah Cobb and Elizabeth Healey. Prehistory was recently added to the Key Stage 2 national curriculum, but from conversations with primary school teachers, we realised teaching resources were lacking, and teachers did not have a detailed knowledge of Prehistoric Britain. So our aim was to turn the world-leading archaeological research our department does, into teaching resources, putting our knowledge in the hands of the people that are experts at teaching children.

Our resources were designed in consultation with local teachers, to ensure they met their needs and provided a practical and engaging way to learn. Each pack contains booklets covering four prehistoric periods for the teachers, practical activities, graphic novelettes by graphic novelist Tony Pickering, and lots of simplified information for children, so they can fall in love with researching prehistory, just like we have. And it wouldn’t be archaeology without artefacts, so we laser-scanned real archaeological artefacts and added 3D printed models to the packs. These include Neolithic and Bronze Age arrowheads, an Iron Age mirror, and amazing footprints made by humans and animals over 8,000 years ago, when people were still hunter-gatherers!

Q: How are you sharing your resources with schools, and what impact do you hope it will have?

A: We are especially excited to see our finished packs being delivered into local schools by our undergraduate students, who have volunteered to be our wonderful Prehistory ambassadors. They are leading fun introductory sessions in schools, so the children get an understanding of what Prehistory is.

The aim of these packs is to open children’s eyes to the amazing Prehistory of Britain, so they understand and love archaeology as much as we do. We want to dispel ideas of ‘cavemen’ in leopard loincloths, and instead show how exciting and fascinating Prehistoric Britain is. Lots of children grow up with History as a subject, and this stimulates and develops their love of the past: we wanted to build on this and show children that archaeology is another great avenue to study the past. But there is also more than just an interest in the past: learning about prehistory means thinking about changing climates, shifting sea levels, dramatic changes in the way people lived and large-scale movement of people and ideas. These are some of the big themes we are grappling with today, and hopefully by getting children to think about these, and understand how they are bound into our own past, it will help younger generations think about contemporary issues in new ways.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your role over the coming year?

A: We are most looking forward to seeing the resources in local primary schools; with an eager team of ambassadors, and 70 packs to deliver, it’s going to be a busy year! We are also currently collaborating with ‘Manchester Classics for All’ to produce a new resource pack for Roman Britain; artefacts have already been 3D scanned, and the graphic novelette is in the final stages, so we are really hopeful it will finish soon. We also have ambitions to make more resource packs – the joy of working in our department is the huge range of expertise we can tap into. Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and even Britain’s first Palaeolithic occupants are all possibilities, so watch this space!

I’m also looking forward to continuing my fieldwork research: over summer I had a fantastic excavation season investigating Early Neolithic monuments in Herefordshire, and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers living in Yorkshire over 10,000 years ago. Although the excavations have finished, there is lots of analysis and interpretation to do over the coming months. Hopefully the new understandings of prehistoric life we get from these excavations will make it into our schools' resources in the future.

Q: What is the last book you read, did you enjoy it and would you recommend it?

A: I recently finished a collection of H.P. Lovecraft short stories, which was absolutely fantastic. Lovecraft was keen to present a world where otherworldly creatures or extra-terrestrial beings were more powerful than humans. But they are also about mysterious discoveries in caves, subterranean tunnels or remote places, and include fantastical objects, enigmatic aeons-old artefacts and ancient books of forgotten wisdom. Dark and foreboding, they also very much appeal to my Archaeologist’s sense of discovery and adventure!


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