Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2014
Many years ago a young boy noticed a small, scrappy piece of paper on the school noticeboard, asking for volunteers to help excavate a Roman villa being threatened by a new road. He dismissed the plea, sure (despite never having studied them) in the knowledge that we knew enough about the Romans; safe within his fascination of 17th century England and utterly incredulous that anyone might consider giving time on a Saturday afternoon to anything other than rugby. Some years later a recent graduate, fresh from studying modern history at university and just about to embark on a career teaching history, was walking, with his girlfriend, along a street in York called Coppergate. They noticed a long roadside hoarding, upon which was a sign encouraging passers-by to pay to visit the archaeological excavations hidden behind. ‘Pay?!’ they commented … and walked on.
The young teacher was soon confronted by class upon class of pupils who did not share his total and unquestioning fascination with history. The curriculum demanded that he teach periods totally new to him including prehistory and ancient civilisations; all utterly captivating … to him … but surprisingly — impossibly? — not to the children. As he struggled to interest them he began to read around how we knew about these distant periods and came into contact, really for the first time, with archaeology.
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