Islay Primary Schools Project

Islay Heritage has been delighted to support the teachers from primary schools on Islay in a project which gives the children first-hand experience of archaeological sites on their island, as well as fieldwork methods.

The second stage of the project took place in March 2017. Each of the Schools adopted a nearby archaeological monument and worked with Islay Heritage archaeologists to undertake a topographic and geophysical survey. That was followed by work in their classrooms preparing the computer images from the survey, and then writing, drawing and painting what they thought the monuments might have once looked like and what activities might have happened in the past.

Port Ellen primary school chose Kilbride Chapel while Port Charlotte School went to the prehistoric monument of Carnduncan Bronze Age Cairn. Keills School teamed up with the Small Isles School from Jura and surveyed the crannog at Loch nan Deala, while Bowmore School surveyed the probably chapel at Cill a’Bhulg. In May 2017 the Gaelic College (ICCI) in Bowmore hosted a magnificent exhibition of the children’s work that received many visitors and huge admiration for the quality of the work.

A report describing the survey’s and showing some of the children’s work can be found here ‘Islay and Jura Primary Schools Project’, and a published report of the surveys here ‘ISAPNews 50’.

Professor Steven Mithen describes the experience:

‘At the start of each day, I met one of the school parties at Neraabolls Chapel, with the teachers and children kitted out for an hour and a half walk. This took us through Nerabus Farm and then along the rides in Balimony Forest to reach the dig. The walk winded up through the pasture, across a brook and then into the forest, climbing the hill towards the clearing in which the Giant’s Grave Neolithic cairn is found today.
‘At the dig the children had a well-earned rest, a snack and a drink – with the wonderful weather in August it was a hot and thirsty walk. We then all gathered around the trench and had a talk about what was being found and how archaeologists work: what was this stone structure being dig out from the peat? How many years ago had the first Neolithic farmers come to Islay? Why did their build such monuments? Whose bones were placed within the stone chambers? What happened to the Neolithic people? They were all excellent questions coming from the children, with too few definitive answers from the archaeologists.
“Having learnt a little about the Neolithic and how archaeologists work, it was time for the children to get their hands dirty. So they split up into pairs and joined one of the archaeologists in whatever they were doing: troweling, planning, photographing, surveying. The children had a chance to try out a couple of tasks before breaking for a well-earned lunch and then the walk back down the hill.’

Maggie McLellan from Port Charlotte Primary School:

‘This project has been a fantastic opportunity for the children to really get their teeth into some local history. They thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the dig, especially the opportunity to get hands on with all the activities. It is inspiring for them to meet real experts with such an enthusiasm for their subject and they have returned to school with a far better understanding of the work of archaeologists and a real appetite for prehistory. Many thanks to all involved!’

Quotes from the children:

‘I enjoyed doing all the activities with the archaeologists’
Melody aged 9
‘I enjoyed talking to the archaeologists because they had a lot of interesting things to say’
Tilly aged 11
‘I liked walking up the big hill’
Grace aged 9
‘We had fun building’
Erin aged 8
‘It was interesting to learn how to become an archaeologist’
Tom aged 11
‘I enjoyed taking photos with Sarah’s camera’
Euan aged 11
‘I had fun learning about the geophysics’
Heather aged 9
‘I was interested to see how the machine worked’
Catriona aged 10
‘I liked digging for evidence’
Harry aged 10
‘I was relieved when I got to the top of the hill’
Katie aged 10