A Viking dragon plaque

Teaching ideas

You may wish to introduce the Scar dragon plaque to your students as a mystery object. Begin by showing students an image of the object, and gradually introduce further information such as the dimensions, the material, other objects it was found with, that it was found in a grave, the location of the grave, other examples of similar plaques. Before you introduce new information, ask students to note or discuss what they know about the object for certain (their observations) and what they think about the object based on this information (their interpretations).

Discuss all of the other grave goods from the Scar burial – you will find photos of some of the objects buried with the woman and a full list of contents of the burial in For the classroom. Divide your class in half; with some students researching the goods buried with the woman and the others researching those buried with the man. Ask students to list or draw the activities they think the man or the woman would have done while using the objects and where they might have used them. Ask your students to share their ideas with each other, presenting their ideas and the evidence that supports their ideas.

To understand a little more about Viking burials and the grave goods they contained, show your students the BBC class clips video about a Viking grave in For the classroom. Discuss the objects your students would choose to have buried with themselves or what they would choose for each other and what this would tell future archaeologists about them.

Focusing on the whalebone plaque, ask students what they think it was used for. The two leading theories from archaeologists are that it was used like an ironing board to smooth clothes or that it was used as a feasting platter. Your students may agree with one of these theories or have a new theory of their own. They must present their arguments with evidence to support them.

You may wish to build on the contents of the burial by asking students to find out more about the roles of Viking men and women. What other activities and jobs did Scandinavian men and women do? Did men and women do the same things, or did the have separate roles? How can we find out more?

Ask students to compare the discovery of the Viking Scar burial to the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo. Ask students which was the more surprising find, and why. Read the article about the discover of the Scar burial in For the classroom. Ask students why the Scar burial had to be excavated quickly, and which words in the article convey urgency. Students could write newspaper articles or script and film or storyboard TV news reports about the discoveries.

If your class is also learning about Viking trade, ask students to use what they have learned about Viking travel and trade and about domestic Viking life to write and illustrate two diary entries, one from the point of view of a Viking sailor travelling far from home to trade, the other from the point of view of somebody waiting back home in Viking Orkney. The objects in A bigger picture and links in For the classroom will be useful

Here are three possibilities for wider enquiries.

What materials did the Vikings use?

Ask students to use the objects in A bigger picture and the links in For the classroom to find out about the materials Vikings used and the craft processes they carried out. Ask students to think about why the Vikings might have used these materials. What are their properties? How could they obtain them? Students could use their discoveries to create a shopping channel segment or catalogue about an object that Vikings might have used at home or taken abroad to trade.

What do we know about Viking children?

Discuss the lack of objects associated with the child skeleton. Discuss why this may be and students’ ideas about why we do not know as much about ordinary Viking children as we do about adults. Ask students to conduct their own research to find out what life was like for Viking children. The websites in For the classroom provide a starting point. Ask students to look carefully at the evidence used on these sites.

How do we know about Viking women?

Show students some examples of representations of Viking women in the videos and reconstruction pictures on the BBC Primary History website – the link is in For the classroom. Compare the women in these images to the woman from the Scar burial. Ask students to think about what they know about the Scar woman from the objects she was buried with. Is she represented among these images? What are the similarities and differences? Do students think these representations are realistic? Why or why not? What do we know about Viking women and what do we have to guess?

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A Viking dragon plaque