Make a Roman Shield

This Roman shield has been a long time coming. We have had many previous attempts when the boys were smaller but had problems keeping the curved shape of the shield. So when my daughter decided that she wanted to make one for a school topic we just had to come up with the new improved version..

make your own Roman Shield

The original Roman shields or Scutums were made of layers of wood, with a metal frame and boss (the sticky out bit). They were most commonly rectangular in shape and big enough to properly hide behind. The wood was enough to stop most missiles but still light enough to carry.

In battles ranks of Roman Legionaries could overlap their shields to form a wall, or even make a roof above their heads to form a testudo (which is latin for tortoise.)

Form testudo!

To make your very own shield you will need:

  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Red paint
  • Gold card
  • Silver paint
  • Plain card
  • Round plastic tub or the bottom of a plastic bottle
  • Silver duct tape

First cut out a large rectangle from the corrugated cardboard. Make sure that the corrugations run from top to bottom – this is essential so that the shield can curve around your body.

Next round off the corners – we used a bowl as a template.

Make your own Roman Scutum

Cut two long strips of cardboard and stick them across the back of the shield in the middle. Then stick the two ends together (you could also staple them for extra strength.) You want to make the strap short enough so that the whole shield curves.

make your own Roman shield

make your own Roman shieldNow make the metal boss. Cut a circle in the centre of a piece of card just smaller than your pot slip the pot through it. Either tape it or glue it in place. Once the glue is dry you can paint it silver or gold. We sprayed it with some metallic paint we had but acrylic paint would also work well.

make your own Roman shield

Paint the front of the shield, stick on the boss and then you can decorate it with the gold paper. Make sure you get your pets to help out.

To finish it off stick some of the duct tape round the edge of the shield.

Finished!

prepare to receive missiles

take cover!We had great fun using it to protect against hails of nerf bullets and a toy cross bow. Now we just need to make a few more so we can form a testudo…

 

Make a Roman oil lamp

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We recently went on a camping holiday which made me think about how different life must have been before there was electric light. It is very hard to do anything once the daylight goes, even with plenty of candles about. So what was it like before electricity was invented?

Oil lamps have been found in many Ancient civilizations and there are many examples of Roman oil lamps. Many of these were made from clay which was set in moulds and then fired. The lamps were often decorated with patterns or pictures like this one in the British Museum, which has a picture of gladiators fighting on it!

We thought it would be a good idea to have a go at making one. It turned out to be quite a difficult thing to do so children might need a bit of adult help at some points.

How to make your own Roman Lamp

You will need:

  • some air drying clay
  • a piece of kitchen towel
  • some olive oil

First make the base of the lamp – take a lump of the clay and roll it out until it about a cm thick. Keeping the bottom of the lamp circular, start pinching up the sides until it start to look like a small circular bowl. Then you can  pinch one side together to make the spout.

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Next tool out another circle to make the lid. Decorate it and make a hole to pour the oil into. We did this using a felt tip pen. Cut the circle to fit the size of the lamp then use plenty of water and stick the two pieces together.

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Attach a small piece of clay to the lamp to make the handle and let the lamp dry out for a couple of days.

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Once it is dry you can try it out! take a piece of kitchen roll the length of the lamp base – roll and twist it into a thin rope. This will be the lamp wick which draws the oil out of the lamp. In Ancient Rome rolled up linen was often used in a similar way.

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Pour some olive oil into the hole in the top of the lamp and wait a while until you can see it  soaking into the wick. You can now light the wick.

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Finished – this is the perfect light to use at a Roman feast.

The only slight problem with our one was the smell. It was slightly stinky when we blew it out , and gave off quite a sooty smoke. It might be worth experimenting with some different kinds of oils or wicks to see if some other vegetable oils are better, but is likely that olive oil was used in many of these lamps. Did the whole of Rome smell like this in the evenings? It would be lovely to know!

But actually I am pretty impressed with this lamp. It burns brightly and evenly and is easy to use. I can imagine slaves in Ancient Rome going round topping up the oil in them each day. It is also a very eco-friendly way of lighting the house – especially if you owned a few olive trees. Just the job if you have a power cut and have run out of candles.

Find out more about this kind of lamp here and see a cute lamp on the BBC’s Roman page here.

Make an American Indian Armband

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People have lived in North America for more than 15,000 years. When Christopher Columbus arrived in North America, he thought he had arrived in India which is why the indigenous people there were called Indians!

These original Americans lived in tribes, some which you might have heard of  like the Apaches, Cherokees and Sioux. They made useful items like bags, belts and shoes that were decorated with beautiful beadwork. Originally the  beads were carved from natural materials like shells, coral, stone, teeth and bone, but later after the Europeans arrived, they used glass beads that they bought.

Each tribe made different patterns, some floral and some geometric. Most of the patterns are symmetrical. We thought we would have a go at making our own version of a beaded armband.

Make your own American Indian Armband

You will need:

  • some Hama beads in a variety of colours
  • a Hama bead board
  • a jar or glass which is the same size as you want your armband to be
  • an iron
  • a piece of greaseproof paper (or the paper that come with Hama beads when you buy them)

First make your pattern with the Hama beads. It is easiest to keep the pattern symmetrical if you make the armband in 3, 5 or 7 rows. Have a look at some of these original Sioux bands for inspiration:

362px-Collection_of_6_pieces_of_Sioux_Indian_bead_work_(belts?)_on_display,_ca.1900_(CHS-4055)

When you are happy with your design you are ready to iron it.

bracelet6 Ask a grown up to help with this bit. Get the jar ready. Once the beads have started to melt, take them quickly and wrap the band round the jar and leave it to cool. It should cool into its round shape.

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There, your armband is finished. You can try making different patterns and colour combinations. It can become quite addictive!

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Why not make a Tomahawk to go with your new armbands?

The mystery of the Neolithic stone balls.

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One of the things I love about the Neolithic is the number of totally weird things that have been found. And for most of these we have absolutely  no idea at all what they were used for. Like stone circles, man made hills, deer skulls that might have been worn as masks, and knobbly stone balls. Yes, knobbly stone balls. Look at  this beautiful example from 3200 – 2500BC which was found in Aberdeenshire.

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You can also see some real ones at the British Museum.

Almost 400 of these balls have been found, most of them in Scotland, including five from Skara Brae. Most of them are around 7cm in diameter and almost half of them have six knobs, though some have less and some have more. The are all symmetrical and some were decorated with spirals and other patterns.

No-one really has any clue as to what these balls are all about, but here are some of the ideas that archaeologists have had:

  1. they were used as weapons – maybe swung round in a leather strap then flung
  2. they were used as balls in a game
  3. they were weights
  4. they were used to help in the construction of stone circles somehow
  5. they were used in rituals of some sort

They must have taken a very long time to make, and some were incredibly beautiful, which makes me think they must have been precious objects. Very few of them are damaged or chipped which makes it less likely that they were chucked about. We thought we would try and made some of our own to see if that would give us any ideas.

Make your own Neolithic stone balls

Take a lump of air drying clay about the size of a tennis ball and roll in into a sphere.

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Next, work out where your knobs will be. If you are making a six knob one, you will need three pairs of knobs, with one knob on either side of the sphere, like sides of a dice. Now you can carve out the knobs using a modelling tool (or your fingers).

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Once your knobs have been carved you can smooth them out bit with a finger dipped in water and then decorate them.  You could make spirals, or use something else to make a pattern. My daughter rolled hers around on a cheese grater (as you do.)

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There, your balls are finished. They are lovely to hold in your hand, and it is very tempting to roll them along the ground or play bowls with them. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas? You never know – maybe you could be right!

 

 

 

 

Make an Egyptian Sistrum

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Have you ever noticed that Egyptian Goddesses sometimes hold this funny looking object? It turns out that it is something called a sistrum, which not only looks beautiful, but makes a sound too. It was first used in Ancient Egypt and could be made of wood, pottery or bronze. The loop at the end has thin metal rods strung across it from which beads or metal strips were threaded. These would slide against each other when the sistrum was shaken to make a sound just like a rattle.

It is thought to have been used in religious ceremonies and was associated with the Goddess Hathor. Perhaps it played a rhythm to accompany a sacred chant, or made a noise to scare away evil spirits. In some Ethiopian churches, sistrum’s are still used by priests today.

We have made our own version here. It might require a bit of pre-planning or rummaging through the recycling to find some things to make the jangles.

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You will need:

  • some stiff cardboard
  • some flexible thin cardboard (an old cereal box is ideal)
  • glue, scissors
  • gold paint
  • pipecleaners or thin metal wire
  • jangly things – we used some bells from the craft shop and some buttons.
  • sistrum4

Cut out two handles from the thick cardboard and stick them together to make the handle stronger.

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Cut out a long thin strip from the flexible card. Make a slit at both ends so that it will slot onto the sticking out bits on the handle. Check that it will make a loop. Carefully make a couple of small holes in the both sides of the strip.  Thread a pipe cleaner or a piece of wire through a hole on one side and fix it in place with some sticky tape. Thread your jangly things onto the wire and then  put it through the holes on the other side. Tape them in place too.

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You can spray the whole thing gold if you fancy or just get playing. Ours sounded very different – one jingly and one sort of clackety. I love the idea that we could recreate the sounds that once played in Ancient Egypt. I would love to hear what the original ones sounded like, wouldn’t you?

 

Make an Egyptian Circlet

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Have you ever noticed that in lots of Egyptian paintings people are wearing bands round their heads? Some seem to look like they are made of gold, some of the ones worn by royalty have snakes or animals at the front. Others have patterns similar to the collars they wear. So what are they? This needed some further investigation.

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It turns out that these things are known as circlets, and were popular in ancient Egypt. They were worn by both men and women, and by rich and poor. At first they were simple bands made of woven reeds used to keep long hair in place. Plain linen circlets that were knotted at the back were also popular, and it was fashionable to tuck some lotus blossoms or other flowers into them.

circlet ladies

Of course, the rich started to make their circlets more elaborate, and started using gold wire instead or reeds or linen, and gems and beads instead of flowers. Kings and Queens would wear gold circlets  mounted with a vulture or a cobra which were symbols of royalty. Have a look at this beautiful one which was found in the tomb of  Princess Sit-Hathor Yunet, a sister of the Pharaoh.

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                                                     (photo: Hanns Ollerman, from Wikimedia Commons)
 

So inspired by this we decided to make our own version. Here is how we did it:

Make your own Egyptian circlet

You will need:

  • some thin card ( a cereal box is ideal)
  • gold paint – spray paint in quickest, but other paint will work too.
  • small amounts of acrylic paint in other colours
  • glue

Cut some long strips of the card about 3cm wide and glue them together so they fit snugly round your head.

Cut out a snake shape and bend it round a pencil to make the curves of the cobra. Stick the base of the cobra to the bottom of the circlet. Use a small piece of card to attach the top to the top of the circlet.

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Cut out some round circles out of card – a 10p is a good template, but some golden chocolate coin wrappers would be even better if you happen to have any.

Spray all of the card gold, then decorate with the acrylic paint.

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Finished!

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Make a pterodactyl

OK, so this is maybe a little off subject, but I suppose you could argue that history extends as far back as you want it to, and if you can time travel to ancient egypt, well, why not back to the Jurassic too? My daughter has to give a talk on dinosaurs at school and she has chosen pterodactyls as her specialist subject (although we have just discovered that they aren’t actually called pterodactyls , and are not really dinosaurs after all – do you think her teacher will mind?) Anyway, to make her talk a bit more exciting we made….

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This was a super easy project. Here is how to do it.

Make your own pterodactyl!

Cut out the shapes for the wings and the head from a piece of cardboard. You can do this freehand for a really big pterodactyl or you could use our template for a small one. Score down the centre of the wings very gently with a sharp knife to allow it to bend.

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Cut a thin slit in the head and slot it onto the wings. If it doesn’t fit all that snugly put a blob of glue between the two.

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Now you can paint it or colour it in. We used some pastels which were fun to smudge the colours together. No-one really knows what colour they really were so you can go to town and use your imagination.

You can now put it on a stand or attach some string to the wings.They would make a fantastic mobile too I think.

Done!

Here are some of the things we found out about pterodactyls:

  • there is no such thing really as a pterodactyl – they are pterosaurs!
  • there are lots of different kinds of pterosaurs, from small ones the size of birds today to huge ones the size of a small plane.
  • they were not really dinosaurs, but winged lizards and they did not have feathers.
  • some of them had huge crests on their heads, but no-one knows why.
  • fossilised footprints suggest they walked on 4 legs when they were not flying.
  • birds evolved from small dinosaurs, not from pterosaurs.

Make a Greek Scytale Cipher

Happy New Year! Are you like me with  a house full of wrapping paper for recycling? We have lots and also a few of these great cardboard cylinders that were in the middle of some rolls of Christmas wrapping paper. What could be better for a spot of Ancient Greek code breaking?

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The scytale is a coding device that was first used by the ancient Greeks and Spartans back  the 5th Century BC. It consists of  two identical wooden cylinders around which you wrap a strip of leather or parchment and write your message. When you unwrap the strip the message is scrambled and can only be read if someone with an identical cylinder uses it to read the message.

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According to Simon Singh in his excellent book ‘The Code Book’, the messenger could sometimes disguise the strip by wearing it as a belt! In 404 BC a Spartan Admiral called Lysander was confronted by a messenger, bloody and battered, only one in five to have survived the arduous journey from Persia. The messenger handed his belt to Lysander, who wound it around his scytale to learn that the Persians were planning to attack him. Thanks to the scytale, Lysander was prepared for the attack and beat them off.

How to make a Spartan scytale

  • 1 long cardboard cylinder
  • a strip of paper (we divided a piece of A4 paper int0 6 long strips then taped them together but if you have a long bit of wrapping paper that would be great)

Cut 2 equal length pieces of cylinder. Wrap the strip of paper round the cylinder. Write your message on it. Fold up the paper and pass it to your messenger. They can take it to your general who will be able to read your message using the other half of the cylinder.

scytale3

We had great fun with this. Why not set up a treasure hunt round the house and the kids can use the scytale to decode the clues? Or divide them into groups – two groups will have to send messages via a messenger without being intercepted by the third group who will have to try to decode the message if it falls into their hands!

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Make a Roman Wax Tablet

wax tablet woman

Writing tablets have been used for thousands of years, long before paper was readily available. In ancient Greece and Rome, wax tablets were very popular. These were small, book sized wooden tablets that were hollowed out on one side and covered with a thin layer of wax. You could write on the wax with a stylus – a pointy tool made of metal, wood or bone. If you wanted to change your message you could either smooth the wax out again or heat it up to melt it. Two tablets were often tied together so they could be open and shut like a book, protecting your writing.

wax tablet

The pictures above were found on walls in Pompeii. Real wax tablets have been found in many places and were used for lots of different things including lessons, letters, lists and birth certificates. A few were found in Vindolanda, a Roman fort on Hadrian’s wall.

Here is how to make one of your own.

You will need:

  • cardboard
  • glue
  • scissors
  • black and brown poster paint
  • wax – melt some old candle stubs, or buy some wax from a craft shop
  • saucepan and an old bowl or tin

Note: If you do not want to use wax I’m sure some non-drying modelling clay would also work well.

First cut out four pieces of cardboard – you could use a paperback book for a template. Using a ruler draw a line 2cm in from the edge of two of the pieces. Cut out the centre from these two pieces. Stick them on to the rectangles.

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Paint the cardboard with a mixture of the brown and black paints to make it look like wood.

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Make some holes on the edges so you can tie some string through the two tablets. You will have to be careful – get an adult to help.

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Once the paint has dried you can prepare your wax. You will need an adult to do this part. It needs to be melted in a double boiler – put the wax in the bowl or tin, and place it in the saucepan quarter filled with hot water. The pan can now be gently placed on the stove and the wax will slowly melt.

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Once it is all melted, brush or pour a thin layer into the space in your tablets. Don’t pour in too much or it will just leak out. Once that has set you can pour another layer on top.

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Leave the wax to cool down and harden before trying it out.

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Have fun!

Make a Celtic Mirror

This weeks project is inspired by this beautiful Celtic mirror that is now in the British Museum. It was found in Northamptonshire in England and was made in the Iron Age, between 50BC and 50AD. Several mirrors like this have been found in Iron Age burials in Britain. They are made from iron or bronze and one side is highly polished to act like a mirror. The other side is usually engraved with a beautiful celtic design.

Romano-Celtic_mirror_(Desborough)

How to Make a Celtic Mirror

You will need:

  • cardboard
  • one piece of shiny metallic card
  • glue
  • scissors
  • gold or bronze paint
  • PVA glue
  • string

Start by cutting out your shape – you can download our celtic mirror template. We used two layers of cardboard to make the mirror a bit stronger and then glued them together.

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Next you can add your Celtic pattern. Have a look at the mirror above for inspiration. The patterns are made with lines flowing in curves and swirls. They are symmetrical so that both sides of the pattern are mirror images. We made a simple pattern using some string coated in a some watered down glue.

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Once you are happy with your pattern you can leave the glue to dry. Once dry paint the whole mirror gold or bronze. Then we marked out some areas with a pencil and coloured them in to look like some of the cross hatched areas in the original mirror.

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Stick the metallic card or foil on the other side to be the mirror. We also stuck a tiny piece of red paper to decorate the handle as some mirrors have been found with small areas of red enamel.

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Your mirror is now finished! You can use it to get yourself  dressed for the next festival, or just show it off to your friends!

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