Carved stone ball from Skara Brae

Teaching ideas

The mystery surrounding the use of these balls and their distinctive appearance make very good starting points for investigation.

Put the image of the carved balls on the whiteboard and ask students what they think they are. Are they natural or man-made? What are they made of? Can students come up with different possible uses for them based on their own experiences?

Print out hard copies of the carved balls in For the classroom and give them out to small groups. How many different types can they identify? How damaged are they? Does looking more closely at the balls change any of their ideas about what they could have been used for?

Do some experimental archaeology. Ask students to make replicas of a range of different patterns of ball using air-drying clay or carved out of chalk. Ask students to design safe experiments to test out the following hypotheses for what the balls may be for. How will they measure the success or failure of each test?

a ball game e.g. boules

a bola - two tied on to opposite ends of a string and thrown to catch animals

a slingshot

a mace - tied on to a handle and used as a weapon or in ceremonies

a dice

The next three activities make use of the excellent online collections database of National Museums Scotland. Follow this link and enter Skara Brae in the search option: http://www.nms.ac.uk/explore/search-our-collections

Print out a selection of about sixteen objects from the search results above or use the objects in A bigger picture. Ask students to consider what the modern equivalent of each object would be and to find pictures of these to compare. They could then create a Neolithic shopping catalogue or website. Ask students to decide what they think a modern equivalent of the stone ball would be.

How like us were the people of Skara Brae? Print out as many as possible of the objects in the search results above. Ask the students to create a picture of all the aspects of life in the settlement based on these objects, for example, the different crafts and jobs, what they ate, what natural resources they had access to, dress and personal adornment, pastimes and artistic tastes. Compare the students’ findings with the interests and priorities of people today.

How did people show they were important at Skara Brae? Were there any special features in the houses for one family member, or the whole family to show their importance? Were there any special objects, other than the carved balls, that people could have used or worn to show they were important?

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Carved stone ball from Skara Brae