Digital resource lets young people come face-to-face with Iron Age predecessors


A pioneering new digital educational resource will allow young people to engage with fictional characters from the nation’s Iron Age and Roman past in hopes of challenging entrenched ideas about ethnicity, culture and the race.

The Chatterpast resource aims to tackle some of the story’s stubborn myths and misconceptions by allowing children to directly interact with the avatars and learn about the multi-faceted lifestyle and identities.

The project, led by Dr Chiara Bonacchi, a senior lecturer in the University of Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology, is not just seen as a way to provide children with an understanding more complete than the past.

The original team points out that by promoting the concept of tolerance, the resource can help inform their views on important contemporary social and political issues.

Chatterpast draws on the resources of leading museums and heritage venues, including the National Museums of Scotland and The Hunterian in Glasgow, to present depictions of young people from bygone eras.

One of the characters featured in the teaching tool is Enica, a young girl based on the communities of crannog dwellers who lived on Loch Tay around 2,500 years ago.

Teachers and students can converse with her using a series of predefined questions, with the virtual conversation varying depending on what is being asked.

Some of the characters featured in the Chatterpast resource

One branch of conservation, for example, sees Enica explaining the architecture behind its crannog – usually wooden rotundas, supported by wooden stakes driven into the loch bed.

She then touches on issues such as languages, borders, and identity, which are part of a range of themes covered by Chatterpast, which include religion, slavery, and gender equality.

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Other imaginary characters that come to life in the resource include Catia, a young girl born into a family of slaves owned by the pro-Roman leader, Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus.

Dr. Chiara Bonacchi said the Chatterpast resource is designed to promote tolerance.

Choosing a character from Scotland’s Iron Age past was no accident. In fact, it was at the heart of the project’s objectives. Dr Bonacchi and his team – including Dr Kate Sharpe of Durham University, who led the co-production of the teaching resources and advice – found that depictions of this era in museums, books and films often reinforced the stereotypes of a “barbarian”. people.

Dr. Bonacchi’s research has shown that perceptions of the distant past can be distorted by an overemphasis on conflict and reliance on caricatures. Such impressions, often acquired in childhood, can end up fostering antagonism towards particular ethnic groups later in life.

“Chatterpast is intended to help teachers and educators discuss tolerance through presentations that challenge entrenched binary ideas about Iron Age and Roman pasts,” Dr. Bonacchi explained.

“We hope to encourage discussion about how our experience and understanding of the past influences how we view ourselves and others in the present.”

Dr. Bonacchi said that although Chatterpast was designed for teachers and educators, its web-based scenarios can be used directly in school with children. The team is currently working with Archeology Scotland to identify classrooms that would like to test the resource.

Chatterpast is part of a larger project called Co-Producing Tolerant Futures through Ancient Identities, which is funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council.


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