Visibility Options
West Yorkshire Joint Services
West Yorkshire Joint Services
Archaeology Advisory Service                                       West Yorkshire Joint Services



Archaeological finds and the classroom


Some cross-curricular activities for KS2


Dave Weldrake,
Education and Outreach Coordinator
West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service


Fieldwalking for Schools


Using archaeological finds is a stimulating way to engage children with the past. Here we explain on way in which schools can carry out their own archaeological fieldwork and generate their own finds.


National Curriculum Links
This activity provides a focus for cross-curricular work on several aspects of the National Curriculum programmes of study. These include.



H4      Historical Enquiry
H5      Organisation and communication


An archaeological project of this nature would also provide a suitable focus for work on Unit 18: What was it like to live here in the past? in the QCA scheme of work for history at KS2.


En 1/2 Group discussion and interaction

Work on finds generated by the process could be extended to include art, written work and data handling.



  • To provide children with an opportunity to work with sources of evidence other than books
  • To provide a practical way of investigating the history/archaeology of the local community


  • In the field
    • Plastic bags for collecting finds
  • In the classroom
    • Magnifying glasses
    • Pens paper pencils

Introduction Fieldwalking is what archaeologists call a non-intrusive method of looking at the past. This means that it is a way of gathering information without having to excavate. Excavation is a destructive activity which should only be undertaken with good reason or professional advice.

Fieldwalking is exactly what it says it is - walking across a field. It's not just a country walk though. It needs to be a ploughed field and the archaeological objective is to pick up material turned up by the plough as this will give you an idea of what might be underneath the ground.

Some teachers wonder if they are going to find anything by this method. What if there's nothing there? they ask. Don't worry there will be. You have to remember that before modern rubbish collection such material was spread out onto the fields as manure. The organic elements of the waste will decay but broken pottery will still remain in the soil for centuries. There is likely therefore to be a scatter of potsherds from a variety of dates over most cultivated fields in the country.





  • The first thing you will need to do is find a friendly farmer who is willing to let the class onto his land. An approach to a parent may be a possibility in rural areas or in the urban fringes.
  • Once permission has been obtained. You will need to liaise with the farmer as to when it will be possible to carry out the exercise. There is often only a small 'window of opportunity' between when the ploughing is done and the field is planted with a new crop.
  • Do your risk assessment. This will obviously vary to some extent depending on your own circumstances. Some suggestions for issues you need to cover when carrying out archaeological fieldwork are given in our risk assessment action plan.
  • Write letters to parents explaining what you are going to do.

In the classroom

  • Explain to the children how archaeologists use artefacts to understand the past. There are a number of activities which help develop children's descriptive skills in A Beginner's Guide looking at finds.
  • Explain that you will be carrying out a field walking exercise to make archaeological finds of your own. This will involve:
    • Dressing up warm/wearing sun hats
    • Walking across a ploughed field
    • Picking up finds from the surface of the ground (No digging!).
    • Putting the finds into bags.
    • Bringing the finds back to school to discuss.
  • Stress that you are only interested in objects which people made and used. You do not want to pick up rocks, sticks and other natural items.
  • If you have a computerised whiteboard you can carry out a simulated fieldwalking through the West Mucking Interactive Anglo-Saxon village which is part of the PAStexplorers website, produced by the Portable Antiquities scheme. After looking at the village, you will be able to demonstrate the principal in the classroom. However, you will need to stress that your finds are more likely to be broken potsherds than Anglo-Saxon jewellery featured in the web presentation.

In the field

  • Remind the children of the task which they have to carry out.
  • Go over the health and safety issues. For example:
    • Be careful where you walk.
    • No running.
    • Take care when picking objects up. Some may have sharp edges.
    • Make sure they wash their hands before they eat any food
  • Some teachers may want to issue children with plastic gloves of the type used in petrol stations to keep customers hands clean. It does ensure that the children's hands stay marginally cleaner but many children find them uncomfortable and this tends to spoil their experience of the activity.
  • Give each child a bag in which to put his/her finds.
  • Arrange the children in a row at one edge of the field and space them out so that their fingers just touch when their arms are fully outstretched sideways.
  • Have the children walk across the field in line, picking up things as they go.
  • If time allows repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.
  • Gather the children together and carry out a preliminary discussion of your finds. This is your opportunity to dispose of those items which you do not want to take back to school. No matter how much you have stressed that you don't want to pick up rocks the collection gags will be full of them. Some possible questions might include:
    • How do we know this is a stone or a piece of pot?
    • Do we think that the objects we found are old?
    • Why might they be in the field?
    • How might people have used them?

Back in the Classroom

  • Clean the mud off the finds so that that they can be seen properly. Archaeologists use a toothbrush and warm water for this purpose. Metal objects should not be washed, as this will increase the chance of corrosion. They should be left to dry and then gently brushed clean.
  • Stress the need to be careful: We don't want to damage our precious finds.
  • Lay the finds out on a sheet of newspaper in a warm place to dry out.

Your finds should be placed into plastic bags or containers, each of which should have its own label to show where it came from. Archaeologists call this the context. Finds from each context should be kept separate to enable you to make comparisons between different areas.

Working with finds The finds you have gathered can be used in a variety of ways to develop working in English, Art and Maths as well as History. Some suggestions are given below.



Younger children could carry out a molehill survey instead of a field survey. The principle is the same except that children are asked to examine the earth which moles bring to the surface.


Older children could carry out a more detailed survey than the one outlined above. In real life archaeologists would usually divide the field into 20 metre squares and have one bag for each square. This allows for statistical work to be carried out on the frequency of each type of find in each square. High densities of finds would indicate the possibility of buried archaeology in that area.

Teachers working with older children might therefore wish to consider this approach which would bring in measuring and data handling skills.

An alternative for those working with urban schools
Fieldwalking may be difficult to arrange for teachers working with urban schools. An alternative activity would be to organise a garden survey. The principle is similar to fieldwalking but children are asked to gather material which they find on the surface of their own gardens. For more information click here.



For other finds activities click here.

For more information about identifying your finds click here.

For more about WYAAS Education Services click here.


This page is in the Teacher section.
The other sections of our web site are aimed at:

A local researcher: Member of a local society or an Interested member of the public. A Historic Environment Professional. A Developer.



West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service (WYAAS).
Registry of Deeds, Newstead Road,
Wakefield, WF1 2DE

© West Yorkshire Joint Services
Tel. 01924 306797
Fax. 01924 306810
Email (General Enquiries):

Standard Visibility, click to change Visibility High, click to change