Heritage Science at The National Archives – Activity Pack

Our next blog for British Science Week 2021 is brought to you by The National Archives which has created a family pack for use at home and in the classroom to showcase the heritage science and conservation research happening in their Collection Care Department.

This activity pack was developed by the Collection Care and Education teams to celebrate British Science Week 2021. The intention of the pack is to act as a gateway to showcase heritage science and conservation research happening behind the scenes at The National Archives in an accessible way. It is hosted on The National Archives’ family activities webpages and is designed for home and the classroom.

In the packs you can find two activities: ‘How to Make Berry Ink’, where children can learn how to make blueberry ink and ‘How to Make Invisible Ink’, where children can learn how to send secret messages using lemon juice.  The activities include recipes, instructional videos, and accessible PDF instruction posters.

The resources also highlight documents found in The National Archives’ collection that link to the packs to show how scientific analysis can help to understand the materials that the documents are made from and increase the artefactual value of the collection. The linked documents include the spectroscopic analysis of a Tudor map, to better understand the painting techniques, use of colour and materials deployed by Tudor mapmakers; analysis of wool sample books where scientists are analysing the dyes in the wool samples contained in the books to learn more about historic dying practices (with the future hope of creating a reference database using the recipes included in the books and accompanying spectral information); and the ‘orange juice letters’, letters written by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 conspirators who used orange juice as invisible ink. Here, we have explained how multispectral imaging can help increase the readability of these documents.

Analysis of ‘The orange juice letters’.
Image copyright: The National Archives
Image showing analysis of document
Analysis of wool sample books.
Image copyright: The National Archives

For many children learning about historic documents this will be their first introduction to scientific research in an archive. The National Archives hopes that through these fun activities, and the accessible blogs that accompany them, children and their families will learn about a different area of study within archives and be inspired to learn more about heritage science.

Further information:

Smoke and mirrors: Revealing the Gunpowder Plot through heritage science – discover how scientific imaging was used to improve the readability of letters written in orange juice and see why these ‘inks’ are visible under some lights, but not under others.

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