The past has long been a source of fascination for the human race. Centuries of archaeological discoveries have told the story of life on earth and have helped people to discover both who they are and where they came from.
The dissemination of knowledge has become an integral part of modern–day archaeology. The media is full of reports of new and exciting discoveries, and television series such as The Time Team, The History Detectives and Meet the Ancestors have only increased the thirst for knowledge, especially among children and young adults.
In Northern Ireland, at present, opportunities for the study of archaeology at school are limited. At primary level, usually in Years Four to Seven (Key Stage 2), children are able to learn about the major time periods and how they relate to their local environment. Most schools offer trips to museums and archaeological sites, however, such occasions are often restricted by time and money. At secondary level the opportunity to study archaeology relies on the choice of an individual school to include it on its curriculum. As a result, there is great potential for the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) to provide more hands–on opportunities for young people to become involved in the study of their shared heritage.
Forming a Club
The growing interest in the Young Archaeologists’ Club, and the fact that people are prepared to travel long distances to attend, further highlights the strong desire for young people to learn about their past. Two of the Belfast Branch members have won prizes in recent months for their archaeological endeavours. Alan Ferguson was Highly Commended for the Blair Mayne Trail that he devised as part of the 2007 UK–wide Young Archaeologist of the Year competition. Jack Kelly won a prize for his drawing of Carrickfergus Castle as part of the European Heritage Open Days Initiative coordinated by NIEA. These successes are a real testament to the genuine interest that many young people in Northern Ireland have for archaeology and their heritage.
It would be fantastic if others working in the heritage sector within the province, or simply with an enthusiasm for the past, were willing to step forward as new YAC leaders and to create new branches, so that a regional network could be created, similar to that which exists in Scotland. The creation of such a network would provide a real opportunity to bring together children (and adults) from all communities throughout Northern Ireland. It is an opportunity for archaeologists, historians and others with an interest in the past to share their knowledge and to help local communities discover their heritage. We would be interested to hear from other groups throughout Ireland carrying out similar activities for children and young people.