Archaeology in local history studies


These notes are intended to give teachers some ideas of how to use the archaeological database on Buckinghamshire's Heritage Portal in a local history study. Click the link on each of the titles to get to a worksheet that can be used in the classroom to help your pupils use the website. Alternatively, you can use these notes to become familiar with the website yourself and then guide your pupils through a study of their local area.

National Curriculum Links

This package describes how you can use archaeology in a local history study. Archaeological skills also overlap with geographical skills.


History; Key Stages 2 and 3

  • A local history study

Geography; Key Stage 3

  • Place knowledge: understand through the use of detailed place-based exemplars at a variety of scales, the key processes in human geography.


Mapping findspots in your parish 

Prerequisites: How to read a map

Other relevant worksheets: What do archaeological artefacts tell us?

Findspot is the term archaeologists use to refer to the place where an artefact has been found, either on the surface, with a metal-detector or from deeper excavation. Click the title above to see a worksheet to help your pupils map findspots in their parish.


Mapping findspots can sometimes give clues as to the location and character of past human activity. An easy way to do this is on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal. Once your pupils have done their search for findspots in your parish they can choose to display the results on a map by clicking on the Map the results button at the bottom of the page.


You can change the map layer that shows under your findspots to be either a modern map, a historic map or a vertical aerial photograph. Features on an historic map may correlate with your findspots. It may also be useful to look at the vertical aerial photograph to see the lie of the land, although you must remember that the field system and vegetation cover will probably have been very different in the past. The pupil worksheet asks them to choose which layer they want to display their results on and print it out. If there are concentrations of findspots you may want to zoom in and look at these in more detail.


Once this is printed they can label the map. Your pupils will need to keep the map on the computer open so they can hover over each findspot, find out what it is and label the corresponding findspot on their printed map. The children will have to make decisions about where is best to put their labels as some of the findspots could be very close to each other.


If you have few findspots in your parish and there are clear concentrations of artefacts of a single period then all you may need to do is get your students to draw a circle or box around each concentration and label it with a date e.g. Roman. If you have lots of findspots it may be better if your pupils trace the base map and photocopy that several times and then label one map with the prehistoric finds, another with Roman and so on.


Once your students have identified concentrations of finds of a single period, they can look at what the artefacts actually are to give an idea of why they are there. Ploughing will have disturbed many sites and so artefacts might be spread over a field. The descriptions of each record may give a reason, such as the presence of a building, industrial site or burial, for instance. Otherwise you can ask your pupils to suggest some ideas. Here are some guidelines:



Settlement – this might include scatters of pottery sherds, animal bone and flint tools and flakes.


Industrial - (a flint-working site). A large number of flakes and cores would indicate an industrial site. Prehistoric pottery kilns are rare but a large number of pottery sherds and misfired sherds could suggest a kiln. Metal-working sites can be identified by the presence of slag, which is formed during the smelting process and looks like a metallic lump of stone.


Hunting site - may be suggested by arrowheads as well as some flakes, which could have been used to skin the animal after it had been shot.


Burial – burial practices changed during prehistory but generally may include pottery, items of personal decoration, such as beads and jewellery, and weapons, such as arrowheads and spearheads.


Ritual site – these can range from large sites such as causewayed enclosures to votive offerings in a river or bog. Often large stone or metal tools are deposited, such as axes or spearheads.



Settlement – this might include scatters of pottery sherds, oyster shell, animal bone and building material such as brick and tile and maybe a few coins.


Industrial – Roman pottery kilns can sometimes be identified by lots of pottery sherds, many misfired so their shapes are distorted, and items used in the kiln to separate pots from one another. Metal-working sites can be identified by the presence of slag, which is formed during the smelting process and looks like a metallic lump of stone.


Burial – Roman burials, whether inhumations or cremations, can include pottery, glass and metal vessels as well as brooches and beads.


Ritual site – temples and shrines were often the focus of votive offerings in the Roman period, including coins, miniature tools such as axes or scythes and clay figurines.



Settlement – pottery, oyster shell, animal bone.


Industrial – early Saxon kilns are difficult to identify as they were more temporary and flimsy structures than Roman ones. Later Saxon kilns are also rare as pottery-making does not seem to have been very widespread. Metal-working sites are also rare, perhaps because they are difficult to date.


Burial – In early Saxon burials you may find pottery, glass and metal vessels, brooches, rings, beads, metal spearheads, shield bosses, strap ends (belt mounts). In later burials when the majority of the population were Christian it is rare to find any grave goods and so the only stray finds may be bits of human bone where they have been broken up by the plough.



Settlement – pottery, oyster shell, animal bone, building material such as stone and tile.


Industrial – medieval pottery kilns are much more common than Saxon ones. Pottery starts to be made on an industrial scale. Normal and misfired pottery sherds can suggest the site of a medieval kiln. These kilns also sometimes made brick and tile.


Burial – Like later Saxon burials medieval burials were Christian and so did not contain grave goods. Human bone is sometimes found on the surface if it has been churned up by ploughing or by recent grave digging in churchyards.



Settlement – pottery, animal bones, building material such as brick, stone and tile.


Industrial – Pottery kilns are still in action as well as brick and tile-kilns; these can be identified by normal and misfired pottery, brick and tile fragments. Cattle horn-cores suggest the working of horn for windows, vessels and lanterns amongst other things. Many other industrial sites such as mills or factories are still standing structures or ruins.


Burial – Human bone may be the only suggestion of burial as grave goods are very rare in this period too.


Mapping historic buildings in your parish

Prerequisites: How to read maps

Other relevant worksheets: How to date buildings


Churches are usually the oldest building in a village or town. Non-conformist chapels are also often historic. Usually most other historic buildings are secular and date from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Some secular buildings fall outside this date range. Although most of our towns and villages now have houses dating to the twentieth century, these will not appear on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal unless they are listed or important locally.


The pupil worksheet (link from title above) asks the children to search for the historic buildings in your parish on Buckinghamshire's Heritage Portal and display them on a map. Unlike with some archaeological sites, buildings usually have only one dot showing where they are. Historic buildings will often be very close to one another, as well. Sometimes whole streets are recorded individually. This might mean that your pupil’s maps have to be zoomed right in to distinguish between houses and for labelling purposes.


The children are then asked to work out what period most of the historic buildings are in your parish. Many of the buildings have a wide date range, mainly due to rebuilding and repair at later dates. Your pupils should be able to decide which is the main period of building by reading the descriptions. If there are a lot of historic buildings in the parish, divide the class into groups and get each group to look at a street or small number of the buildings. The children should then be able to create a bar chart displaying houses of different centuries.


Outside the classroom

Once this is done, you may like to use the How to date buildings worksheet to take the class out into your village/town and identify some of the buildings from the map and descriptions. You may want to decide which buildings to look at first from the ones that look most interesting. It would also be good to look at buildings from a range of different dates.


Your class should be able to pick out the dominant features of each century’s buildings, such as timber-framing in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, fanlights over doors in the eighteenth century and so on. Even if you are not able to take the class out to look at the buildings, many have images linked to them on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal and features specific to each century can be deduced from the description, for instance, cruck-built houses tend to date to the fifteenth century.


If you do go out, perhaps the children can take photographs with their phones or cameras or draw one of the historic buildings and stick the resulting pictures onto a large version of the map to create the display.



Finally the children are asked to put everything together to create a poster. The finished poster should have:

  • Title
  • The main building period for your village
  • The main characteristic of that building period
  • The reason why the houses date to that century
  • Pictures of a few of the houses in the village taken either from Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal or taken or drawn by the children themselves
  • The historic building descriptions for the houses you have pictures of – you may need to help the children put these in their own words
  • Your bar chart showing the number of houses from each century
  • Your map created from Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal of the historic buildings in your parish


Mapping periods of archaeological activity in your parish

Prerequisites: How to read maps

Other relevant worksheets: Changes in the landscape

In order to find out what archaeology is in your parish you need to go to the Advanced Search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal and run a search using the parish name in the drop-down list. You can display the results on a map by clicking on the 'Map' button at the top of the results list. Different map layers can be displayed under the archaeological sites, such as historic maps and aerial photographs. Features on an historic map may correlate with your archaeological sites. It may also be useful to look at the vertical aerial photograph to see the lie of the land, although you must remember that the field system and vegetation cover will probably have been very different in the past. The pupil worksheet asks them to choose which layer they want to display their results on and print it out.


The pupil worksheet (link from title above) then takes the children through drawing copies of the map and displaying each period’s sites on separate maps and labelling them. This helps the children get to grips with maps and understand the spatial patterning in the parish. Alternatively you can do searches and print out a map for each period, especially if your area has lots of overlapping sites. If there are a few concentrations of sites, you can zoom in and look at those in more detail.


If there are any types of site where you are not quite sure about the function, take the link from the monument type to its glossary term.


A number of generic questions have been devised for the pupil’s worksheet but if after doing your search you come across a well-researched site or something unusual you may want to concentrate on those areas.


From this point your pupils will have a number of maps and could be asked to do some more work, such as

  • Comparing the archaeological sites to the findspots of the same period – do they correspond or do the findspots suggest further sites to be discovered? (See the Mapping findspots in your parish worksheet)
  • Drawing reconstructions of the sites they have come across (see the Draw a reconstruction worksheet)
  • Looking at the aerial photographs of the sites and plotting the cropmarks onto maps (see the Interpreting aerial photographs and How to plot from aerial photographs onto maps worksheets)
  • Doing period-based worksheets to compare what is in your parish to the rest of Buckinghamshire
  • Visiting and recording some of the sites, especially if there are upstanding earthworks (see the Lumps and bumps in the ground worksheet). 


Case Study - Waddesdon local history study

This study was undertaken with Waddesdon School in order to work out how to incorporate archaeological information into local history studies at Key Stage 2. Example results and real work are both available for other teachers to use as examples for them to create their own local history study and/or to show pupils so they know what to aim for. There are several maps that we cannot display online. Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for access to these.


The children were first asked to look at the findspots for the village and print off their results on a map, all of which could be done on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal. You can look at the results on the Waddesdon findspots page.


They were then asked to identify different periods of archaeological remains. From counting up the number of sites per period they could determine which were the main periods of activity. You may want to concentrate on a certain period or would prefer to look in less detail at a wider range of periods. In Waddesdon the Roman and medieval periods were chosen. You can see the results by looking at the Waddesdon in the Roman period and Waddesdon in the medieval period pages.


Finally the children were asked to look at the historic buildings in the parish. Some of these overlapped with the medieval period but most of them were later in date. Because of the presence of Waddesdon Manor house in the parish it was considered appropriate to look at that house and all the historic garden features and statues. Most of these structures date to the nineteenth century and you can see the results on the Waddesdon in the Victorian period page.


All in all the children learned about a good range of periods from the Roman to the nineteenth century, and also from a range of types of archaeological evidence, findspots, sites and buildings. Many of the latter were visible and Waddesdon Manor itself was usually part of a visit when learning about local history. After using Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal this visit could be much more rewarding as the teachers and pupils knew in advance the date and subject of each of the garden structures. Because of this the children could work out what the Rothschild family were trying to say about themselves through their garden architecture.


Interactive Timepod

Buckinghamshire's Heritage Portal has a timepod incorporating an interactive map of Buckinghamshire's archaeology. There is more information and images, both photographs and reconstructions, on selected sites within the interactive map. The Timepod gives a chronological overview of the changing landscape of Buckinghamshire from the Neolithic to the wars of the twentieth century.


Go back to find more education packages.