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Vindolanda: a dead obsession

It's time to get your would-be child detective on the case. There's a historical mystery to solve and it starts with human bones!

Peta Greenfield
Peta Greenfield
2 min read
Vindolanda: a dead obsession

Vindolanda is a famous Roman auxiliary fort (castrum) just south of Hadrian’s wall. It’s one of the richest and best preserved sites in Roman Britain and justly famous in archaeological circles for the wooden tablets discovered there.

In a new foray into accessibility, Vindolanda has released an app called The Missing Dead. Aimed at primary school children and drawing upon some of the amazing artefacts held in the Vindolanda collection, this is your entry level for a later life that spirals into ancient history, becoming an archaeologist, and nerding out with a Masters in Latin…

Let me set the scene. The British might be notorious for Brexit, but they make a mean murder mystery. We need to keep this in mind when considering that this offering is centred on a mysterious disappearance aimed at (mostly?) children.

I’m the first to admit that the game play of this piece is very simple – there are some decisions to make along the way, but we are not in anything like an open world here. What The Missing Dead offers is a great entry point into thinking about clues, problem solving, and – most importantly for any young intrepid investigator – a primer on Roman numerals.

Barbara Cirley, Curator at the Vindolanda Trust extolls the thinking behind the game:

The Missing Dead app deals with difficult, real-life subject matter, but handles it with sensitivity. Students learn about their past in a way designed to make them ask their own questions and to piece together the clues and information they are given to help them solve the mysteries, just like a real archaeologist.”

The aim of the game is to encourage players to visit the museum to learn more about the artefacts they’ve discovered during their detective work. This strikes me as a great way to encourage interest in heritage collections.

This is especially important in the UK where many museums have been hard hit by the rolling closures of the long year MMXX. Vindolanda isn’t the only museum running a campaign calling for donations.

Having played through the game, I can confirm that this is designed with the child gamer in mind. The animation and interactivity aims to foster curiosity while imparting interesting details of note about the finds at Vindolanda. There are different pathways through the mystery and perhaps the only infuriating element is that you can’t save your progress. [Confession: I didn’t realise how short the game was until I played it through the second time, so this might be a minor adult-like quibble.]

The android version of The Missing Dead is free and available to play while the iOS version is due for release later this year. Word has it that there are also activity packs developed alongside the game developer Creative Assembly to foster literacy, historical understanding, and computing skills.

What better time to become a junior detective!

TechnologyIdeasArt & CultureGames

Peta Greenfield Twitter

Peta is a historian and podcaster who loves nothing more than dusting off old books and reading about obscure priestesses and Roman consuls.


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