Saturday, November 21

Artifact Handling

This fall our school program has been piloting a "multiple visit" curriculum, in which we work with one class of sixth graders over the course of two classroom visits and three visits to the museum, each session focusing on a different type of ancient art (frescoes, mosaics, and marble). Last Wednesday was the culmination of the program, and we returned to the school in order to facilitate an artifact handling session. Yes, that's right--we let sixth graders handle two thousand year old objects. With an introductory lecture on how to handle fragile objects, why it's so important to wear gloves, and the strategic placement of pillows, it's actually not as insane or nerve-wracking an experience as it sounds.

While some museums have what are called "study collections" that are kept for scholars and students to study and examine, we did not bring artifacts from the museum. It turns out the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) has what they call an "Art and Artifact Collection" that they were willing to make available to the students in our program. They provided a selection of artifacts (mostly Roman terracotta oil lamps, strigils, and styli) and we facilitated the handling and talked to the students about the objects and how they were made and used in the ancient world. It was really a pretty neat experience. I know the kids were jazzed about it, although I don't think they understood just how special it was that they had this opportunity to handle real artifacts.
A student and I examine an ancient Roman oil lamp. 
Below is a picture of the oil lamp my group of kids worked with--they were given a worksheet of questions to answer, which prompted them to try and figure out on their own what it was made of, what it might have been used for, and who might have used it. The kids in my group were very sharp. They eventually figured out our object was a lamp made of clay. Not too bad for three sixth graders who just started studying ancient history this year! The credit goes to their teacher, of course, but I'd like to think all of the time they spent in the galleries with educators over the course of their three visits at the Villa made a difference too.

Roman terracotta oil lamp with an image of the goddess Minerva. 

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