Mammoths of the Ice Age: Poo detectives!

During autumn the Learning and Programmes team brought the Ice Age to family learning groups around Edinburgh. We have visited six groups so far, including the Circle Haven group at Craigroyston Primary, a group of childminders in Sighthill and a family craft group at the Goodtrees Centre in Gilmerton. We told Ice Age tales about Mungo the mammoth and his friends, gave children the chance to touch real fossil teeth and replica sabre tooth skulls, before creating their own cave paintings.

One highlight was our Poo Detectives activity. Looking through mammoth dung is an important way that scientists can find out about their diet and habitat. Anything scatological is universally popular with children so we designed an activity around this important science. Poo Detectives and other Ice Age activities will be running at National Museum of Scotland to accompany our new exhibition Mammoths of the Ice Age, which runs from 24 January – 20 April 2014.

A workshop was set up to teach a group of children, aged between two and 10 years old, all about mammoths and mastodon. The children had some ideas about these animals, mainly through watching the Ice Age movies.

To start the session, a visual representation of time was created. Some children stood up in front of the class and held a long piece of string and attached pictures representing humans, dinosaurs and mammoths. The space in between the pictures represented time. The children were amazed to learn that the mammoths lived millions of years after dinosaurs.

From here the children were shown bits of a mammoth and had to guess which part it was. There were a lot of guesses and with a little help from his dad one child got one of them right. The larger of the two parts proved to be a bit more difficult for all parties, but finally we were told it was a mammoth’s tooth. All were amazed at how big it was!

Everyone was amazed at the size of the mammoth tooth
Everyone was amazed at the size of the mammoth tooth.

The group were also shown skulls of a cave bear and sabre tooth cat.

Then, everyone prepared themselves for the next session. Some of the children had heard about what was coming and could not wait to get started.

The items were all laid out: straw, different types of flower seeds, bits of stockings, lemon juice and tomato ketchup. A talk was given by Conor around what mammoths ate, after which the children were given a piece of paper with certain ingredients listed on it, and all the ingredients were placed around the room. With help from their fathers the children had to find and put the ingredients into the piece of stocking they were given, add some water and squeeze and mix all the ingredients up. After draining the water the stockings were cut open to reveal the mess that popped out, much to the delight, laughter and squeals of “it’s disgusting” from the children.

Who made this mess?
Who made this mess? Everyone enjoyed making mammoth poo.

After swapping the trays around, having a good look and sniffing the ingredients, guesses were made of which type of elephant or mammoth had made the mess.

After a short break it was back into the room, aprons on, to do some cave paintings onto cloth bags. The children had the use of some stencils, which included prehistoric animals and cavemen. Both children and fathers had fun stenciling away.

Making cave paintings
Making cave paintings.

A short walk around the museum whilst the bags dried out, then once all the tidying up had been done it was time to head home.

All the children had a great time learning about mammoths, handling the skulls of the cave bear and the sabre tooth cat, and even more fun making the poo: “Next time can I make brown poo?”  said one child. The fathers enjoyed the session as well; they know their children like dinosaurs so the chance to take part in such a workshop was a joy to all. All look forward to returning in the New Year to see the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition and hopefully the children will remember to bring their painted bags along.

Cave bear skull
Cave bear skull.

On behalf of all the children and fathers, a big thank you to all who helped make this an enjoyable session.

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