Figure of an Anglo-Saxon man

Teaching ideas

Use the picture from For the classroom and ask the students to work out what the object is. Is it intact? What do they think it is made out of? Is it a statue? Or was it part of something else? Why does it have a little stand and then a wider flat circular platform? Could it have fitted in something else? Eventually you can reveal that it was the lid of a pottery vessel.

Explain that the vessel was used to contain the cremated remains of a person and was buried in the ground in a cemetery. Ask why a little figure might be made to fit on top of a burial urn. List the reasons students come up with and then discuss in more detail.

Get students to make replica versions out of air-drying clay. Before they start, examine Spong Man. Was he carved out of one lump of clay, or made of bits stuck together? Is the lid made from the same piece of clay? Why do they think the arms are too long and the head is at a funny angle? Compare the students’ versions with the original.

Students could make a pot to go with their lids. Look at the decorated funeral urns in For the classroom and notice the colour, size, shape and how they are decorated. Anglo-Saxon potters used a slow-wheel, turned by hand, to make pots. The students could try with any sort of manual turntable or a slow potter’s wheel.

The objects buried in graves at Spong Hill contained different types of object depending on whether the dead person was male or female. Use the link about Anglo-Saxon burials in For the classroom to explore what men, women and children tended to be buried with. Make an illustrated guide to men’s, women’s and children’s burials. Who did what jobs? What did men do that women did not? Could only men be rich? What did men and women wear? Compare the students’ answers with the Sutton Hoo burial – see The Sutton Hoo helmet.

Start by finding out about the religion and burial practices of the Romano-British. Find out more about Norse paganism and its gods and symbols – you could start by suggesting that perhaps Spong Man represents the god Woden. Then use Spong Hill to identify how burial practices changed and what this suggests about the Anglo-Saxons. Use the objects in A bigger picture and identify which are definitely pagan, which are Christian and which are ambiguous – what does this suggest about religious diversity among the Anglo-Saxons? Use the object file Anglo-Saxon stained glass to start an investigation into the growth of Christianity.

A lot of what we know about the early Anglo-Saxons comes from burials, but there were settlements around the Spong Hill cemetery. Use the links in For the classroom to start an investigation into Anglo-Saxon villages and houses. What shape were Anglo-Saxon houses? What were they made of? How big were they? How many were in a village? How many people lived in each house? Were there different uses for each of the buildings? Were the same artefacts found in villages as were put into burials?

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Figure of an Anglo-Saxon man