My first proper foray into learning more about Celtic Studies for teaching purposes was around 1998 when I was teaching a Primary 5 class and doing my very first whole term project on Celts and Romans.
I can remember the excitement!
At last, I was able without guilt to justify spending a lot of time reading about Celts. I bought as many books as I could afford—admittedly many of them for children and for use in the classroom, many of which I still own. I adored teaching the topic and was fortunate to be sited in an ageing mobile classroom which stood at the edge of the playground with a field area around it. Being set apart from the main school building meant immediate access to the outside. There were better opportunities to try our hand at making our own roundhouse models out in the fresh air with no time lost in transporting kids and materials to an appropriate place.
We collected willow sticks and other pliable twigs and made small wattled panels, which we were afterwards able to bind together with muddy daub during our art and craft lessons. Mosses and dried grasses were ‘thatched’ onto the roof. Our roundhouses were tiny but were fantastic.
We carded sheep’s wool and spun it into rough strands which we hand wove into cloth on small wooden looms. We then dyed the cloth with grasses and lichens to make into small Celtic garments and decorative wall hangings. We cooked ‘fat hen’ soup from nettles and herbs. I believe most of the kids thought it as much fun as I did and they loved the mess!
We didn’t neglect the Roman side. We made helmets, gladii and shields from cardboard—Celtic ones too. (Half the were kids nominated as Roman and half Celts) We had a Roman banquet and ate lying on our sides out on the grassy field. (No puking allowed, though, to make room for more!) The whole term focus was on Celts and Romans in a very general way; other curricular areas were never neglected but incorporated where possible. Celtic artwork adorned the classrooms walls along with story writing, poetry and descriptive pieces of writing about the topic.
What I wasn’t really aware of in 1988 was that our activities on the field—our Roman marching to ‘Sin/ Dex/ Sin/ Dex…’ was over ground that literally had been occupied by ten thousand Roman soldiers! The playing field was part of the Deer’s Den Roman Marching Camp!
By 2002-2004, that field area became an enclosed archaeological dig because the area was designated for a brand new school building. All such development sites across Aberdeenshire needed to be investigated by a team of archaeologists. What they found at Deer’s Den—the site having been identified in Victorian times as a Roman Marching Camp—was staggering. From the Victorian era right through to the 1970s there had been an estimate of roughly under a legion, some 4000 soldiers. The dig of 2002-2004 identified sufficient ‘Roman Bread Ovens’ and outside perimeter turf wall traces to increase that estimate to around 10000 men.
During one school session (approximately 2004), the whole school was involved in Celtic/ Roman studies. I was delighted to have the third opportunity in my teaching career to teach a Celt/Roman project. That year I was with the oldest age group in the primary school. My Primary 7s were 11 going on 12 years old and could really get their teeth into the study.
Many of the activites I'd done with younger kids were 'scaled up' and the results were impressive. The end of term 'round up' short stories of a local Celtic settlement being attacked by Romans were so good I joked with my pupils that some day I'd write a full length companion novel to be used in conjunction with a Celt/Roman project- a novel that could be used as a class reader.
A first draft of that novel was started and over the ensuing years it was lifted, worked on and archived but it has now eventually become The Taexali Game, Book 1 of my Rubidium Time Travel Series of Adventures.
A second Celtic/Roman novel for the adult market was started which eventually became The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of The Celtic Fervour Series.
More on that coming soon.