As we write this, many parts of the UK are in different stages of lockdown, and it is uncertain how COVID-19 restrictions will affect the opening of museums and heritage sites in the coming weeks. Whatever happens, though, there are still many ways to get involved in heritage, history, and archaeology-related activities from home. Amy Brunskill has gathered a wide variety of options below.
Explore a selection of museums and heritage sites from around the world, thanks to innovations that have made them accessible to you at home, from virtual tours and interactive 3D reconstructions, to online exhibitions and Google Arts & Culture displays.
MUSEUMS AND EXHIBITIONS
- Virtual Visits, British Museum – The British Museum has expanded its Samsung Virtual Visits programme to allow even more school groups to experience the museum and its collections through interactive workshops.
- Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Italy – Explore the National Archaeological Museum of Naples and browse online exhibitions about inscriptions in Pompeii, the beautiful gold artefacts of Magna Grecia, and more.
- Salar Jung Museum, India – Discover treasures from the collections of one of India’s three national museums, from examples of fine textiles to the history of chess.
- Museum of the American Revolution – Take a tour of the museum, using a series of immersive 360° views of the different galleries to investigate the story of the American Revolution and the individuals who were involved.
- British Empire and Commonwealth Collection – Explore collections of objects and records from people who lived and worked in the British Empire and Commonwealth with this catalogue from the Bristol Archives – now online, after the museum closed in 2013.
- Eat, Drink, and Be Merry – Enjoy this online exhibition, originally designed to accompany an exhibition at the J Paul Getty Museum, which looks at food in the Middle Ages and Renaissance through illustrated medieval manuscripts.
HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES
- Lebanon’s History – Take a digital tour of ten of Lebanon’s most-important archaeological and natural sites, including the Phoenician Wall, the city of Byblos, the ruins of Tyre, and the Roman Bath Vestiges in Beirut.
- Great Wall of China – Travel along the Great Wall of China with a virtual guide, exploring the highlights in detail with panoramic views.(Paid option)
- Parco Valle dei Templi, Sicily – Discover the important Doric temples and other examples of Classical archaeology and architecture that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Agrigento.
- Explore Maeshowe – This app from Historic Environment Scotland takes you through a virtual recreation of the 5,000-year-old chambered tomb, which is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
- Colosseum, Rome – Visit the Colosseum and learn about its history and construction with this hour-long walking tour video.
- Ballcourts of Chichén Itzá, Mexico – Courts associated with the Mesoamerican ballgame are found at many Mayan sites. Explore those discovered at Chichén Itzá, and learn about how the game was played.
Learning in Lockdown
Get involved in a wide range of archaeological activities at home, from apps that let you project artefacts on to your kitchen table, to podcasts going behind the scenes at museums and exhibitions in the form of Twitter threads.
EVENTS AND EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES
- Civilisations AR – Play around with this augmented reality (AR) app from the BBC, which allows you to examine and interact with artefacts from around the world.
- Roman Life: Bathing and Exercising – Learn about the similarities and differences between Roman bathing and the modern spa, and the sports played at the baths, in the latest talk from Richard Bale at the Colchester Archaeological Trust.
- Society of Antiquaries of London – Take advantage of the fact that all SAL lectures are now streamed live and open to everyone – a Christmas Miscellany of papers is next up, on 10 December, but you can catch up later on YouTube.
- Wessex Archaeology Online – Delve into a series of online exhibitions from Wessex Archaeology, where you can see 3D models, videos, and artefacts from sites spanning thousands of years.
- Rally for the Rose – Enjoy this recording of the reading of a play, originally streamed live in November, about the discovery of the Rose Playhouse by archaeologists in 1989, and the fight to save it.
- The Form and Fabric of Early Medieval Britain – Sign up for this series of online seminars, hosted by the University of Glasgow in honour of the achievements of archaeologist Ewan Campbell, or watch past lectures, available on YouTube.
PODCASTS AND RADIO
- Sidedoor – Dig into the treasures in the Smithsonian’s collections and discover stories from the parts of the museums that are out of public view.
- Great Women of the Classics – Listen to a discussion about the depiction of women in ancient myths, the way they have been overlooked in retellings of those stories, and the roles that they had in antiquity.
- Thin End of the Wedge – Enjoy this new podcast, which explores the lives of people in the ancient Middle East through objects they left behind, the cities where they once lived, and the written records they created.
- The Memory Palace – Dive into this podcast presenting tales from the past. Topics vary widely and the host, Nate DiMeo, recommends that you simply choose an episode at random and let the story take you where it will.
- The Wonder House – Discover this new series looking at innovative contemporary approaches to decolonising museums, covering a range of topical subjects, with interviews from those involved.
BLOGS AND SOCIAL MEDIA
- #Museum30 – Enjoy posts from museum staff that were created throughout the month of November, covering different themes from ‘display’ and ‘narrative’ to ‘utensil’ and ‘safety’.
- Historic Royal Palaces Blog – Go behind the scenes at the Historic Royal Palaces with posts from curators, gardeners, conservators, and other experts, and uncover lesser-known stories from the histories of the sites.
- #TheTweetsideHoard – Discover Elizabethan and early Stuart treasures from the Cheapside Hoard, discovered in 1912, in this Twitter exhibition from the Museum of London.
- History Cool Kids – Delve into history with this Instagram page that posts pictures and stories of moments and people in the past.
- History Hit TikTok – Enjoy speedy tours of historical sites like Westminster Abbey, Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds, and WWI trenches, or fun facts about figures from the past, from Anne Boleyn to Rasputin, in these short videos.
Find a variety of archaeological games and craft ideas to entertain the whole family, or choose from a selection of TV shows and documentaries. Play online history-themed hangman, find instructions to create your own Egyptian cartouche, trace personal stories back through the past, or enjoy grown-up comedy from the team behind Horrible Histories.
CRAFTS AND ACTIVITIES
- History Activities – Find ideas to get children engaged in history at home, suitable for a range of age groups and interests, with instructions for crafts including carving a cuneiform cylinder seal, making Roman relief coins, and creating an oil lamp.
- Ancient Storytelling – Discover a series of videos, activities, and downloadable colouring sheets from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, all part of their family week online on the theme of ancient stories, from King Midas to Dionysus.
- Jorvik Classroom Resources – Take advantage of a series of packages for classrooms, including loan boxes of artefacts and replica items that teachers are able to borrow, but also plenty of downloadable online resources for everyone to enjoy.
- Historical Hangman – Save the dragon from the knight by guessing the historical word or phrase in this online twist on the game of hangman. You can choose between a variety of themes, from ’causes of the English Civil War’ and ‘medicine through time’ to ‘America in the 1920s’ and ‘castle terminology’ to test your knowledge and your guessing skills.
- History Craft Activities – Get stuck into historical craft activities, which range from making your own Egyptian cartouche or fan, and creating a Roman mosaic or Gunpowder Plot puppets, to building a model Tudor house.
- Edible Archaeology – Have a go at recreating your favourite archaeological site, character, or discovery in cake – or another delicious medium of your choosing. Then submit a picture of your handiwork to CA for a chance to see it appear in the magazine!
- British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley – Join Lucy Worsley as she investigates the myths that surround stories in British history, from the Wars of the Roses to the British Empire.
- Who Do You Think You Are? – Find out about how our forebears lived in a new series of the show that looks into the lives of celebrities’ ancestors.
- Inside Museums – Get special access to the collections of four museums and galleries across the UK with behind-the-scenes visits made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Britain’s Most Historic Towns – Alice Roberts returns for a new series of visits to towns around Britain that are rich with stories from history, beginning with medieval Lincoln.
- Ghosts – Enjoy this comedy series for adults from the team behind Horrible Histories, in which a couple moving into a haunted house are visited by ghosts from different historical periods.
- Phil Spencer: History of Britain in 100 Homes – Travel through Britain’s history with visits to some of the country’s most-beautiful houses, from impressive 16th-century homes to working-class housing that was transformed in the 1800s.
At the time of writing, England is in lockdown and museums and heritage sites in Ireland and Northern Ireland are closed. However, by the time you read this, they may already have reopened and, if you are in Wales or Scotland there are still many places to visit, should you feel safe to do so. Here’s an update on the situation which is correct as we go to press, but do check the websites of individual places if you’re planning any days out.
- England – All museums and heritage sites are closed at time of writing, with the national lockdown due to end on 2 December. After this date, many hope to reopen to visitors with ticketing systems and safety precautions in place, as they were before the lockdown.
- Northern Ireland – The circuit breaker in Northern Ireland has been extended to 20 November; a phased reopening after this date of many industries has been announced, but indoor museums and heritage sites remain closed at time of writing.
- Republic of Ireland – Level 5 restrictions, which include the closing of all museums, galleries, and other cultural attractions, are expected to remain until 1 December, after which many sites hope to reopen.
- Scotland – There are different local protection levels in operation, but many indoor and outdoor visitor attractions, including museums and heritage sites, remain open across Scotland. Time slots must often be booked in advance, and there may be restrictions regarding who you can visit with.
- Wales – Many museums and heritage sites in Wales have reopened after the firebreak period came to an end on 9 November, including all seven National Museum Wales locations, and numerous National Trust and Cadw heritage sites across the country.