Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christy Pritchard digs with kids at DeBary Hall.
Let me get this out first: I am fervently anti-mock dig.  And it's not just me.  If you line up 100 4th graders and ask them if they'd rather dig on a real site and find nothing, or dig a fake site and find tons of things, 100 out of 100 of those students will pick to be on the real site.  It's hard to describe being on a real site.  There's a feeling, an anticipation of the unknown that charges the site.  It's also the best way to make sure you aren't sending the wrong messages to the students by neglecting provenience (where you are on the site) or paperwork.  Sometimes the only way to learn is to do.

Collage of Ashland Project Photographs.
Archaeologists call excavating with students on real sites proexcavation.  Digging on real sites with real archaeologists can be done, but the opportunities are few.  I participated for five years at on-going excavations at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, Kentucky and learned a lot about setting up and organizing that type of operation.  You must have a good, skilled, trained field crew that not only are familiar with the site, but the curriculum you are supplementing with a site visit.  Ashland was in many ways the perfect setup: the site was secure and open year round, we had endless supply of graduate students and lab space at the University of Kentucky, we had funding from the Transporation Cabinet to fund the extensive analysis and write up over the many years, and four pre- and post- visit lesson plans tied to 4th and 5th grade standards.  (Credit goes to the folks at the Kentucky Archaeological Survey: Kim McBride, David Pollack, Gwynn Henderson, Jay Stottman, Eric Schlarb, Cecilia Manosa, and too many other KAS, PAR and students to mention...sorry, drop a line and I'll send you gold stars!).

Given the infrastructure needed to pull off proexcavation, it is not a surprise that many educators opt for alternatives to actually digging.

Mock digs do have many affordances and constraints (see below).  Believe it or not, I actually have a favorite.  When I was in 6th grade at Sunrise Drive Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona in the 1980s we did a dig as the culminating activity to our World History unit.  In class we had to invent a culture, from its language and religion to systems of kinship, politics, and education.  From there we made artifacts that reflected our made up culture in art class.  Finally, we buried our artifacts in the desert.  On the day of the dig, each 6th grade class traded sites and had to dig up the artifacts from the other class.  From the artifacts we had to make observations and interpret what we could about the other classroom's culture.  There you have it folks, the first (and maybe last) mock dig that I will stand behind.  What an amazing activity to do what archaeologists really do: derive culture from artifacts.

There is a lot online about mock digs, and many graduate schools have their students supervise this kind of activity, which is a great idea.  Read the bullets below for the reason's I've found thus far in favor or against mock digs, and drop me a comment if you have an example to add or something to add!

Students work on a shipwreck tarp to map artifacts on underwater site.

Sarah's Standard Handout for Mock/Simulated Digs

Affordances of Mock Digs:
• actual/intact sites are not disturbed or ruined
• beneficial for students to have hands-on experience
• logical and critical thinking skills
• learning about other cultures and time periods
• emphasizes the idea of archaeology in its “context”
• learning how to preserve and protect our heritage
• if a professional archaeologist visits prior to the mock dig students will have clearer perceptions of archaeology

Constraints of Mock Digs:
• cannot discern exactly what students learned-sometimes students place more value on finding things
• mock digs sometimes do not reflect what really happens at research excavations
• they do not work well as a stand-alone activity; they must be part of a larger lesson teaching about archaeology
• most educators do not know the process of archaeological research, takes excavation out of context
• without analyzing and documenting what is found, students may only learn how to destroy sites

Things to keep in mind as you prepare your Mock Dig:
• involve a professional archaeologist in the program! They can help advise and make the experience more accurate and minimize damaging messages.
• start out asking students, “What are the steps of the archaeological process?”
• have groups design their own research and questions
• have groups design a letter asking for permission to dig, include research questions, strategies, records, and a museum who will display their finds
• place fewer items in the sandbox or the simulated excavation site

Recommendations from successful Mock Digs:
• place fewer items in the sandbox or the simulated excavation site
• put students in groups of three or four
• emphasize the importance of note taking to students!
• once students reach the floor of the dig, have them map and record the artifacts found
• have students backfill the site at the end of the dig
• have the student groups share their discoveries from the dig, include having them answer their research questions from the beginning
• give students a questionnaire to fill out, asking them to rate the experience (see student questionnaire handout in folder)

For more information:

Little, Barbara J. Historical Archaeology. Left Coast Press, Inc. 2007. 144-145.

Davis, Elaine M. How Students Understand the Past. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.
2005. 62.

Doing Archaeology in the Classroom.

Clark, Joelle G. Should Kids Dig?

Connolly, Marjorie and Margaret A. Heath. Lessons Learned: Students Excavating at
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Beyond Indiana Jones: Teaching Archaeology in the Interdisciplinary Classroom. indiana4 dig.htm

Burke, Heather and Claire Smith. Archaeology to Delight and Instruct. The Simulated
Excavation: An Alternative to Archaeological Site Destruction. Walnut Creek,
CA: Left Coast Press. 2007. 132-141.

Smardz, Karolyn and Shelley J. Smith. The Archaeology Education Handbook. Walnut
Creek, CA: Altamira Press. 2000. 91, 94-100.

Smardz, Karolyn and Shelley J. Smith. The Archaeology Education Handbook. Walnut
Creek, CA: Altamira Press. 2000. 101-115.

Davis, M. Elaine. How Students Understand the Past. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.
2005. 63-66.

Intrigue of the Past: A Teacher’s Activity Guide for Fourth through Seventh Grades.
US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 1996. 30-38.

Davis, M. Elaine. How Students Understand the Past. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.
2005. 177-178, 181-182.

Graduate Students Organize Mock Digs.

Archaeology Day.

Roe, Anna. El Independiente. Old Pueblo Archaeology Center offers scholarships to
participate in mock dig.

News Briefs for October 2005.

Problem with the links?  Many were found on the Society of American Archaeology's education page: or can be sent to you upon request.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Callisto says:

    Lovely!! I'm planning my first mock excavation for International Museum Day this year and keep thinking "what the hell have i got myself into"...but positive vibes. This might just work out.

  2. A profitable blog.
    We save lots of information regarding construction and excavating.
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