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How to be an artefact detective!

April 3rd, 2012 · No Comments · For pupils, Top tips

The most important tool in learning about History is the investigation of items (called ‘artefacts‘) or documents from the period we are studying. The reason for this is that they are almost like eye-witnesses to a particular date in time and as a result they often contain a lot of information about what was happening when they were being used.

If I have been to your school already for either a WW2 workshop or Victorian Inventions workshop, you will know that I bring along lots of artefacts with me and I like pupils who ask me lots of questions about them in order to find out what they are.

The most common one is usually “What is it?” and it is normally as soon as a pupil has picked up an item. When this happens I know it is going to be a good workshop because it means that the pupil is hungry to find out an answer!

Now if you already know me, then you will also know that the answer I normally give is “Can you find out yourself by looking for clues in the object?” and this usually leads to lots more learning as the pupil plays detective and takes a much closer look to find out what the object was and what it was used for, and the really good news is that the pupil will often guess the right answer!

So what do you need to do when you investigate an artefact and how do you need to prepare your investigation? Well first of all, let’s think about how a detective would go about the job of solving a crime, and it is normally by using as many of their senses as they can. Let me show you what I mean: firstly, they would LOOK for the most obvious clues, and you can do this by examining the object’s shape, size and also by looking for any markings that might tell you about its use. Secondly, they would use their sense of TOUCH to feel the texture of the object and to decide on what it is made from. Thirdly, if the object made a noise, they would LISTEN to the sound it made (great if it is a gas rattle!) and lastly, they would SMELL the object for further clues. In fact, we can normally use all our senses apart from TASTE when looking at Historical artefacts (unless you are researching WW2 rations that is!).

It also helps a great deal if you can then try to put yourself in the mind of the person who might have used the object, which is also what a detective tries to do, and is a key part of learning about History.

Finally, when you have the clues from your senses, together with an idea of what it felt like to use it, comes the most important part and that is to come up with what is called an ‘educated guess’, which is your very best idea about what the item is. Oh, and one more thing too – it is even better if you can do all this with a friend with whom you can share your ideas, which is why detectives never work alone!

So, to recap, here are three rules to use when investigating artefacts in History:
1) Use as many of your senses as you can to explore the object
2) Imagine what it must have felt like to use it
3) Come up with an ‘educated guess’

Happy investigating and let me know how you get on in your Historical investigations (and if you catch any Victorian or WW2 robbers remember to tell the police!)

Mr B

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