This project seeks to help students develop critical thinking skills by practicing how they can make sense of the raw materials of the past. It is inspired by the 2007 discovery of a Viking hoard near York, England, by two metal detectorists on a Sunday afternoon stroll. First known as the Harrogate Hoard, the find was acquired by the York Museums Trust (York) and the British Museum (London) and is now known as the Vale of York Hoard.
The treasure was contained in a silver vessel from the time of Charlemagne and included over 600 coins, jewelry, silver and gold arm-rings and ingots of silver. Many of the coins, pieces of jewelry and ingots had been severed into pieces, evidence of the Viking practice of trading metals by weight rather than stamps of legitimacy. These items are known as hacksilver. Most of the items in the collection come from the area around the North Sea; however, some items come from as far as central Russia and Afghanistan. The territorial extent of the collection represents the vast trade network available to the Vikings as they were able to travel both over vast oceans and down shallow rivers deep into the European continent.
Using guided practice to help make thinking historically a “visible” process, students will act as virtual interns for the museum that has been charged with making sense of the collection. To begin the unit, students will watch a short clip from the BBC series Detectorists to set the hook for the project. Students will visually analyze individual objects alone and in groups using thinking strategies outlined by Harvard’s Project Zero Thinking Palette and record their findings in an Investigative Journal. These objects have been collected in a digital archive under a Creative Commons license from the British Musueum. They will corroborate their findings by looking at a curated selection of similar items from around the world in the Object Case File and consult secondary sources that will help them to make sense of the objects. Finally, students will map the location of major groups of objects and learn about Viking ship building technology in order to develop a hypothesis for how the items came together.
Next, each student will employ Maker skills (digitally and/or manually) using 3D printers, a GlowForge or modeling clay and paint to form physical representations of a single object. These objects will eventually come together to form a simulated hoard at the end of the project.
Students will read accounts of Viking history either from a class text or online resources that discuss how Vikings are classified as raiders or traders and discuss how objects in the hoard either confirm or challenge this understanding of Viking history.
Finally, using another clip from Detectorists as inspiration, students will write a short narrative story about their own individual object, detailing how it became part of the hoard using the evidence from their Investigative Journal as supporting details.
For Futher Reading
Daley, Jason. “This 13 Year Old Helped Find Viking Treasure In Germany.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 18 Apr. 2018.
“A History of the World in 100 Objects, Pilgrims, Raiders and Traders (900 – 1300 AD), Vale of York Hoard.” Edited by Neil MacGregor, The British Museum BBC, BBC Radio 4, 22 June 2010.
“Teaching History with 100 Objects – Viking Treasure.” Teaching History with 100 Objects – Viking Treasure.
Williams, Gareth, and Barry Ager. The Vale of York Hoard. London: British Museum Press, 2010. Print. Available