Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer's barely started and already I'm up to my ears in camps!  Camp days are truly some of my favorite days to go to work, even if they take a LOT of energy.  Kid silliness is at its apex during the summer, so it's a fun challenge to be playful and get them to learn something at the same time.  I hate to leave our blog fans out of the fun, so here's your first installment of the convergence of archaeology and crazy camp kids:

Eco Camp - Ravine Gardens State Park

This camp lasts a full week, and I was invited to bring archaeology activities for one morning.  We spent two hours exploring how archaeologists learn about the past and looking at some of the information we try to interpret.

We started out with a couple of lessons from Project Archaeology.  The first, called, Time of My Life, teaches kids about chronology.  Each camper took eight strips of paper, wrote on each one an event from their lives, and mixed them up so that they weren't in order.  Then they switched with a partner and tried to put each other's events in the right chronological order.  Discussing the challenges to figuring that out and the clues they used to help them, we then looked at a site stratigraphy and explored how archaeologists use similar clues to understand sites temporally.

Eco Campers classify "artifacts" from a doohickey kit.

The next activity had our campers practicing classification--a skill that archaeologists use to understand the material remains we find on site and answer research questions.  We focused on sorting materials in order to answer questions using doohickey kits (an assortment of brightly colored objects purchased at a craft store).  One group asked whether the owners of these objects may have been musically inclined, sorting a bell and a plastic instrument, as well as a few nontraditional noisemakers into one pile and all of the "quiet stuff" into another.

Finally we moved on to exploring the challenges of interpreting symbols, as archaeologists sometimes get to do, using a piece of yet another Project Archaeology lessons.  We discussed how symbols work, using several examples from daily life, then kids got into groups to create their own symbols (if they look odd, it's because we were using a bleach solution with q-tips on construction paper).  I promised you silly--here's where the magic happens.  How would YOU interpret the symbols they created?

Answer: Don't feed the sharks (apples, apparently).

Don't make faces at old people. (note "old" person in lower right)

Don't smoke or drink, because people love you and you might die.  This one led to controversy and reconsidering how symbols may or may not look like the idea they represent--which can present a troubling challenge to archaeologists!

 Okay, so two silly and one earnest.  But you can't deny--all symbols we should observe!

Archaeologists run into challenges of symbolic interpretation fairly often--for example, determining the deeper significance of the Hontoon Owl, or researching the meaning behind a chicken burial at Kingsley Plantation.

I think we all had fun--and the campers learned some of the skills we use beyond just digging in order to understand people of the past!

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