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Saint Augustine, Northeast Florida
Going public with archaeology for outreach, assistance to local governments, and service to the citizens and state of Florida. Visit our website at: http://flpublicarchaeology.org/nerc/
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Archive for November 2010

Issues and Answers: Proexcavation and Mock Digs

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.
http://www.asor.org/outreach/Teachers/beyond/beyond 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. http://archaeology.moonstart.com/archday.shtml

Roe, Anna. El Independiente. Old Pueblo Archaeology Center offers scholarships to
participate in mock dig. http://journalism.arizona.edu/publications/independiente/archives/2000/november/oldpuebl

News Briefs for October 2005.

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

Teachers: Call Before You Dig!

Cover slide of NCSS presentation shows St. Augustine City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt down in the dirt.

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the National Council of Social Studies in Denver. The session had extra meaning for me as I was trying to right a karmic wrong. Last year I attended in Atlanta and went to a session where student teachers were describing, nay, ENCOURAGING other teachers to grab a trowel and head out to dig up the school yard.

Before you grab that shovel, stop for a moment and hear me out. Digging on school property doesn't make sense legally, ethically, or most importantly pedagogically. There are far better ways to learn and experience archaeology and you run a serious risk of reducing the science of archaeology it to a tactile treasure hunt.

Students on a supervised dig at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate (Kentucky Archaeological Survey).

This is what an archaeologist means by curation
First, be aware that archaeology is a science. As such, it follows the same process of any other science: problem formulation, implementation, data recovery, data processing, interpretation, and publication. To add to this, archaeologists must complete their scientific inquiry not with publication, but the all important last step: curation. All photographs, notes, artifacts--EVERYTHING--must be stored in a suitable environment in perpetuity. Curation should be the first consideration taken when thinking towards an archaeological dig. If an archaeologist doesn't accomplish publication and curation, then they are no different than vandals and looters.

My other issue in bringing up the scientific method is to point out the diversity of components students can get experience in, beyond just data recovery.  The digging is fun and what's most remembered, but students can be involved in pre-survey activities such as research and surface mapping, or in the lab washing and sorting artifacts.  They can certainly help in publishing findings, particularly on-line or through presentations.

Whew- with that off my chest, let's turn to the legal reasons. Federal laws protect archaeological sites and artifacts on federal lands, or as part of federal undertakings (parking lots, highways, projects funded with federal dollars). State laws often mimic the federal laws and apply to state lands and state undertakings. Here in Florida we add two more unique layers; many counties and many cities now have their own preservation ordinances. Some, like St. Augustine, even apply to private property. If you pick up that shovel and head out to the school's softball field, you and your students may be committing a Class D felony! Not exactly the lesson you were looking to teach, right?

Ethically, archaeologists have some explaining to do. Not many people realize that archaeologist are bound, similar to physicians, to do no harm. Arguably the best example of archaeological ethics can be found at the Society of American Archaeology's website. Here they break down the Ethical Principles that we all must follow as professionals. This includes: Stewardship, Accountability, Commercialization, Public Education and Outreach, Intellectual Property, Public Reporting and Publication, Records and Preservation, and Training and Resources. If you read through these principles you'll find the answer to why some archaeologists are hesitant to work with teachers on a school dig.

For example:

  • Archaeologists should work to preserve sites, not dig them all up. If a site is not threatened it should be left in place. There are PLENTY of sites at risk from development and erosion, these should receive priority in recording and documenting. 
  • Archaeologists can not give monetary amounts to artifacts and can not encourage the illegal digging and recovery of artifacts.
  • Archaeologists must write up what they find, often taking months to write up just one day of fieldwork, and must ensure the preservation of the materials they recover.
  • An archaeologist can not dig a site they are not train to dig on, nor can they work beyond their means if a project requires a larger field team or require large lab facilities if none are available.
But remember too that public outreach and education are also in the guiding principles and is steadily moving up as the highest priority.


 Finally, pedagocially it doesn't make sense to expose students to excavation just because it gets them outside. There are plenty of ways you and your students can explore local history and learn about archaeological methods without leaving the classroom or without disturbing the ground. One of my favorite lessons is PB&J archaeology because it does what no one day in the field can do: outline how archaeologists find sites, how they record soil profiles, and what role artifacts play realistically in site survey. I will very rarely find a sprinkle (representing and artifact) in one of the shovel probes I excavate in the sandwich using a straw. But, I know they're there! Archaeology is much more about soil and context.

Amber, our Outreach Coordinator, is always happy to meet a teacher and talk with students.
I can't encourage you enough to involve a professional archaeologist if you are considering archaeology as a unit or module in science or history. It's sad but true: just one off message about site excavation or practice can undo all the good you think you're doing. In Florida, contact anyone at our organization, Florida Public Archaeology Network. We were designed to get an archaeologist into every part of Florida. Besides FPAN, you can also contact the Florida Anthropological Society, Florida Archaeological Council, or the state's Division of Historical Resources. Outside of Florida, check out Project Archaeology with a regional map of active programs. You can also find an archaeologist through the Registry of Professional Archaeology website, or your state's own State Historic Preservation Office (every state has one!).

 Good luck, and drop us an email or a comment if you have any questions!

Students on a supervised dig as part of Community Service Learning project.

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