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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Digging the past
Museum of London
Lara, aged six, uncovers a Roman mosaic
By BBC News Online's Sean Coughlan

The mosaic appeared slowly, with the sand being cleared away with careful brush strokes.

Lara, aged six, was taking part in her first archaeological dig, uncovering pieces of pottery and bone and adding them to a growing collection of finds.

This introduction to archaeology was taking place at the Museum of London, where children are being invited to discover how evidence of the past is excavated and analysed.

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards remains fascinated by finding objects that have remained unseen for thousands of years
"The Dig" is a project which allows youngsters to look for real objects in a reconstructed set of trenches, under the guidance of professional archaeologists.

Trowels, hard hats and record sheets are on hand - and archaeologist Catherine Edwards shows them how to use the trowel and how to brush away the waste.

There is something deeply intriguing about digging down into history, with no certain idea about what is going to emerge, says Catherine Edwards.

And what are her first thoughts when she finds something?

"The first thought is that no-one has seen or held this object for a thousand or two thousand years. It's a totally unique experience," she says.

Medieval boots
Evidence such as these medieval boots from Tower Hamlets suggest how Londoners once lived

After graduating two years ago, she has been working recently on Roman sites in London. And working in London, she says, means sites which have rich layers of archaeological evidence, with some places continuously occupied for thousands of years.

Fellow archaeologist, Jim Marsh, takes the children through the process of finding and then interpreting any objects in their section of the dig.

Along with Victorian brickwork, there are also Roman and medieval walls, and the children uncover real Roman objects buried in this simulated dig.

Fragments of different types of pottery and the inside of a cow horn are collected, which the children have to match with objects in the museum's collection.

This allows the children to begin estimating the age of the find and to begin dating the mosaic at the bottom of the trench - which it's concluded, must be around 1,800 years old.

Once the shapes of the walls and the finds are detailed, the record sheets are collected and assembled and the children can see the bigger picture of the building emerging.

This was a Roman house, with a mosaic and evidence of a kitchen, buried beneath a Victorian basement and a medieval cloister.

Project manager Frazer Swift says that the exhibition will help to show children the processes that ultimately lead to objects being put on display in a museum - how they are uncovered and how archaeologists record what they find.

The Dig will be open until the end of the next half-term on 26th October.

See also:

14 Mar 01 | Education
Museums 'bring history alive'
11 Jan 00 | Education
24-hour museum for schools
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