Lifelong Learning in Lockdown

The pandemic had a huge impact on many of us but for those in vulnerable groups, no longer able to meet face to face, it was particularly difficult. How could archaeology be used to bring people together during these difficult times and help combat the isolating effects of lockdown and its impact on wellbeing?

Archaeology Scotland’s Learning Team tackled this issue by delivering a series of multi-sensory online workshops for people living with dementia, their families and carers, thanks to funding from Falkirk Health and Social Care Partnership and support from Alzheimer Scotland.

Our approach didn’t rely on reminiscence, rather learning together about new archaeological discoveries. A useful resource in the initial planning of this project was the Dementia Toolkit from Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery. This ‘new learning’, however, often inspired the sharing of personal stories connected to the theme or place being explored.

To ensure that our online workshops were an engaging and multi-sensory experience, packs of objects were posted out to participants before each workshop. Objects in the packs engaged three key senses: touch, sight and smell while the online presentations stimulated hearing and sight. For example smelly, untreated sheep’s wool and the sound of a sheep bleating, brought the Viking spinning process to life while the tactile experience of holding a Neolithic polished stone axehead was shared by encouraging participants to feel the polished surface of a small pebble.

Items for one of the multi-sensory packs.

Workshops included an initial Introduction to Archaeology, a virtual summer trip to Ardnamurchan and three workshops looking at the archaeology of a local place. All workshops also considered a key archaeological concept or technique, from stratigraphy to stable isotope analysis..

Each workshop focused on a different archaeological site recently excavated by the Archaeology Scotland team.

Sites included:

The lock keeper’s cottage and Rosebank Distillery, Falkirk

The Pineapple, Airth

Viking boat burial, Swordle Bay

The Antonine Wall, section from Falkirk to Bo’ness

This picture shows objects used in a workshop about The Pineapple, a National Trust for Scotland site near Airth. The items on the left of the photo were those sent out to participants and include a pottery sherd, quiz cards, a pad scented with pineapple essence and modelling clay. Artefacts found on the Pineapple excavation, and shared during the online workshop, can be seen on the right.

A number of activities were planned for each workshop, including a regular modelling spot – it was felt that the familiarity of a set format would help participants engage and feel less anxious about the sessions. Activities were inspired by artefacts from local excavations. Our first modelling activity saw the group recreate the faces found on Stenhouse Pottery jugs.

Face from Stenhouse Pottery jug ©Falkirk Community Trust.

Around 25 people living with dementia and their carers regularly attend the monthly Archaeology Club and according to Alzheimer Scotland’s activity organiser Anne, it has had a positive impact on participants.

“As a community activity organiser, I find great pleasure seeing all our members get so involved while being totally engaged listening to interesting facts and discussing the visual content. The activity packs are a great tool for involving each member and are the cause of much laughter and hilarity. An interesting, informative, fun group which promotes many skills and a feel good factor for those involved.”

Screenshot of an online Dementia Café workshop – making Iron Age beads

Two new Artefact Investigation Kits have been created for people living with dementia, their families and carers. If you would like to borrow one of the kits please contact the Archaeology Scotland Learning Team:

We’d like to thank Alzheimer Scotland for their support and Falkirk Health and Social Care Partnership for funding this project.

Jane Miller, Learning Officer, Archaeology Scotland

Post Author: r.boyde