I recently wrote this short blog post for a website promoting University of Glasgow School of Humanities schools activities and resources but misunderstood my brief, and what I wrote was condensed into one short paragraph. Oh well, never one to let writing (and several hours of my time) go to waste, here is a summary of schools activities around the Faifley Rocks! Project and the Cochno Stone. If any teachers would like to explore using cups and rings in the classroom please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 2015, I have been working with community members, organisations, and schools in Faifley and Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, to celebrate and tell the story of a series of prehistoric rock-art sites on their urban fringe. These are outcrops of sandstone that were carved with a range of circular markings in the Neolithic or early Bronze Age, probably between 5000 and 4000 years ago. These are known as cupmarks (hollows) and cup-and-ring marks (hollows with concentric circles carved around them).
Over a dozen such rocks are found in a park and woods near Faifley, the most famous being the Cochno Stone. This is one of the largest rock-art panels in Britain and is covered in hundreds of examples of prehistoric carved symbols and modern graffiti. As if this were not dramatic enough, in summer 1937 the Glasgow antiquarian Ludovic Mann covered much of the surface of the Cochno Stone in a painted grid of his own conception and he also painted all the prehistoric symbols. The Cochno Stone was finally buried in 1965 by the heritage authorities due to damage being done to the stone by visitors, including dozens of people carving their name into the rock’s surface.
My engagement with the community really began in earnest with the temporary uncovering of the Cochno Stone in 2016 for it to be digitally recorded for future research. This catalysed further work including workshops, public talks, exhibitions, walking tours, and several seasons of archaeological fieldwork. Right from the start I was keen to work with local schools, and this has led to some great classroom sessions and working with creative and engaged teachers at primary and secondary level. Much of this work has been improvised and most of it has not yet been tied into the curriculum. However, I hope this is a useful case-study of the range of activities that I and many helpers have been doing in the classroom and the playground around the topics of prehistoric rock-art and contested heritage.
Pop-up Rock-art Lab
During the excavation, lots of children visited the dig and came to see the Cochno Stone, and this allowed conversations about the stone and also the memories of the stone that their parents and grandparents had. Some kids even found out that a relative had carved their name onto the stone in the 1950s or 1960s! These official school visits and post-school wanders were encouraging, but I wanted to do something more formal and structured. So, we came up with what we called the Pop-up Rock-art Lab, where we provided groups of school pupils recording sheets, cameras, photographic scales, and blackboards, to allow them to work together to record the rock-art in the park at Faifley. This allowed children to spend time studying cup-and-ring marks, tracing their shape with their fingers, counting the number of cupmarks, describing the symbols in their own words, and thinking about the meaning of the symbols. This has been done with groups of children from primary and secondary levels, during my excavations, and on open days, and generally results in a lot of fun and some mixed quality photographs!
Soon after I started working at Faifley, I was invited to go into a primary school in Hamilton to talk to children about rock-art and told that I could do whatever I wanted to do. After a bit of head scratching, I came up with a concept that I now call the Chalkno Stone. To do this all one needs is some pavement chalk and a big measuring tape, a plan of the Cochno Stone, and a large flat paved or tarmac area e.g a playground. The children help me to draw out the outline of the Cochno Stone in the playground at 1:1 scale using the plan and some large 15m measuring tapes. This shows how big the stone actually is – it measured 15m by 8m and has a carved surface of some 100 square metres. The children are then let loose with chalk to decorate the playground within the boundaries of the stone with prehistoric symbols. Cup, cup-and-rings, spirals and other related symbols of all shapes and sizes and colours soon abound.
This opens up opportunities to discuss what the symbols might have meant in prehistory, and it is empowering to children of all ages to find out that archaeologists don’t know what the symbols meant. In other words, the question “what do you think the symbols might mean?” becomes one of opportunity and creativity for everyone I work with, teachers and pupils. Some of the theories that have emerged from this process have been as interesting and plausible as anything I have read in archaeology textbooks!
Beyond this we can then ask the kids to add their own symbols to the Chalkno Stone – school and house names and logos, names, initials, nicknames and so on are duly added to the stone, and then a discussion about identify can begin. What symbols do we use to describe ourselves and our culture?
I have found this an exciting and enjoyable activity that takes about an hour and works well with primary and secondary children although it does use up a lot of chalk!
In 2017 I secured funding from the Being Human festival to commission a comic book by Hannah Sackett that tells the story of the Cochno Stone and in particular the interactions of Ludovic Mann. Mann’s painting of the Cochno Stone in 1937 was an act that captured the imagination of school kids when I had spoken to them about this previously, probably because of the idea of a multi-coloured large rock surface and maybe also the inherent naughtiness in this act! Mann had a theory that the cup-and-ring marks told the story of how prehistoric people explained eclipses – that a monster ate the sun then spat it back up again – and this became the basis for comic book workshops that I have been running in schools in central Scotland ever since.
The workshops allow the pupils to learn about the story of the Cochno Stone and its problematic heritage but they are also able to get creative, drawing their own ‘eclipse monsters’ and comics telling stories that revolved around rock-art symbols and monsters. This mythmaking very much reflects the kinds of stories people have probably always told to explain cup-and-ring marks. At the end of each session, the pupils are allowed to keep their own copy of the comic book thanks to funding by Being Human and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
This session has been run in several schools and seems to work best with primary 3-7, although using the comic in secondary setting does allow discussion about the heritage management of the Cochno Stone and its burial. Teachers I have worked have been very positive about this session. One told me the “lower ability class … really do benefit from more visual learning”. Another informed me that, “the open-ended nature of the [workshop] tasks proved very effective in engaging a wide range of abilities …for those at the lower end this meant that they remained engaged and part of the lesson without being singled out with differentiated material. For those at the upper end … the comic book / graphic novel nature of the task allowed for them to make more nuanced, higher order, links between the text and images”. You can find out more about the comic book in a chapter Hannah and I wrote about it for a book which you can download here.
People and Society
The story of the Cochno Stone has become more integrated into the secondary curriculum through the People and Society course. This has been driven by a teacher based in Falkirk and I have spent a few years helping to develop this with her and colleagues. People and Society is aimed at National 3 and 4 levels. This is a course that provides opportunities for lower achieving students to study a range of social subjects together, instead of focusing on only one discipline. There are three units within People and Society, one of which is ‘making decisions’, a suitable theme for Cochno because we wanted to challenge the pupils to reach a considered decision regarding the fate of the Cochno Stone going into the future. Should it stay buried or should it be uncovered permanently?
To do this, a series of lessons were developed which included topics such as the story of the Cochno Stone, how archaeologists have studied British prehistoric abstract rock-art, and the social context of rock-art around Faifley. Where possible we have done fieldtrips and I have led a few teaching sessions, in person and more recently on Teams. This has led to really good levels of engagement and creativity with the pupils who have produced clay rock-art, posters, stories, cartoons and reports on the theme of rock-art and the social value of the Cochno Stone. Resources around this coursework are available for all secondary teachers on Scotland via Glow.
Having worked with a lot of schools and teachers over the past few years, one of the most exciting things I have found is that some of the information and resources have taken on a life of their own thanks to the creativity and enthusiasm of teachers I have worked with. In one school in Edinburgh, children have been creating Cochno Stone board games, while in a primary school where I have been running comic book workshops this led to children doing creative writing around the subject. I am constantly in awe of how teachers can take the archaeological bits and pieces I tell them about and then turn them into classroom sessions and activities. This has also led to other activities, such as getting pupils involved in survey and excavation work in and around the rock-art sites.
For this reason, I would love to work with more teachers and more schools with some or all of these resources and sessions, and where this can be connected to local archaeology so much the better. In Falkirk I have been working with teachers to develop resources around a local rock-art site that builds on teaching around Faifley’s rock-art but celebrates a place that some of the pupils I worked with were familiar with. This process is captured in an earlier blog post of mine.
There is massive potential for cup and rings to work really well in the classroom, and hopefully I can get back into schools post-pandemic with some new ideas!
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank all of the teachers I have worked with so far from schools in Faifley, Clydebank, Falkirk, Hamilton and Edinburgh. So many thanks to Jan Brophy, Michelle McMullan, Sam McKeand, Catriona Morrison, Lynne Allison, and Christine Emmett. Without your enthusiam and creativity none of this would have been possible!
I also want to thank Cochno Stone team members who helped to deliver various sessions with kids especially Alison Douglas, Lauren Welsh, Mar Roige Oliver, and Fionnuala Reilly.