Mr Rory Green of the History department led the recent Year 8 Scholars session on a fascinating journey exploring the way in which societies, past and present, deal with death: specifically in terms of rituals. Drawing on a wide range of examples from different culture, times and places, the students were invited to think about what the rituals and the closely associated symbols suggested about the beliefs that lay behind the practices.

Given that there was discussion of the Sutton Hoo ship burial and the famous Birka grave in Sweden, there was a valuable and necessary digression into the field of archaeology. The body in the Birka grave, for example, had originally been incorrectly identified as male owing to the weapons found near the body. This led into the issue of the extent to which historians, and archaeologists in particular, may look for evidence that fits their preexisting ideas, or, in other words, “confirmation bias.”

This was followed by a short interlude on the modern field of bioarchaeology, where students were familiarised with how science, archaeology and history intersect and have transformed recent approaches to studying the past. A discussion about the Day of the Dead Festivals in modern-day Mexico also invited discussion about the changing impact of imagery, the doom-laden skull of a medieval European image to the colourful celebratory masks on display today. A helpful booklet with advice on further reading gave the Scholars much to think about.  

Whilst talking about skulls, how many people are aware of the one hidden in one of Holbein’s paintings in the National Gallery? You need to be standing at the correct angle to the painting to see it, but as the Scholars have been learning about many areas of study, perspective is crucial.