Monday, July 9, 2012

Ready for your recommended daily allowance of archaeology camp hijinks?  Time for the second installment of my adventures at kids' summer camps!

St. Augustine Lighthouse Camp - Amazing First Americans (K-3)

Kids at this summer camp spent the week learning all about Florida's indigenous population--the people who were living here before Europeans arrived.  I spent an hour with them each day, focusing on archaeology as the way we learn about prehistoric people.  The kids took in a lot of information through hands-on activities, then shared what they learned at the end of the week.

On day one, we focused on the basics: how does archaeology help us learn about people of the past?  We examined archaeology field methods by excavating peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

K-3 campers create pb&j "sites" before moving into Phase I of investigation.

Day two we focused on pottery, talking about different styles, shapes, and decorations we find on prehistoric ceramics in northeast Florida.  After learning all about it, campers got to work with real clay to make their own vessels... 

Campers form their clay vessels.

 ...and try a variety of methods to apply designs.

A camper rolls a corn cob along the inside of his clay bowl.

We saw some more traditional efforts:

One camper made this shallow bowl with impressed "palm leaf" design.

As well as some very creative designs.

Home for a snail (found that morning), complete with cob-marked design on outside & Statue of Liberty in the center.

On the third day, we headed outside for our campers to try their hands at real skills used in the field--we had our Archaeology Olympics!  This activity involves five stations, each relevant in their own way to archaeology fieldwork--and it gave us a chance to review the methods they learned about on the first day of camp.

Station 1: Measuring Footsteps
Archaeologists conducting shovel tests (a preliminary survey to get an idea of where relevant site resources are concentrated) use a shortcut to lay out what can be hundreds and hundreds of evenly-spaced shovel tests.  Instead of stopping to measure every single time, we learn how many steps we take to cover a given distance, and use our steps as a measuring device.  That way we can more efficiently test a large area while maintaining accuracy.

Campers take turns measuring how many steps they take in 5 meters.

Station 2: Leveling a Line
People sometimes forget how critical recording data is to archaeology.  We measure, map, notate, sketch, and describe our way through every excavation, no matter how insignificant it might seem.  Leveling a line is an important piece of this.  Any time we want to draw a profile map or measure the depth of a unit, we need to make sure we're measuring from the same set vertical point.  to do this, we string a line level between two pins.  That string, once leveled, becomes the height from which all below is measured.

A camper levels a line with the help of one of our counselors.

Station 3: Understanding the Munsell Chart
Another piece of recording data is in observing the soil itself, distinguishing between changes in stratigraphy (layers of soil) and recognizing features (evidence of human activity that may be partly made of dirt, and thus can't be removed from it--such as a trash pit).  The Munsell Color Chart helps us to record soil colors in a precise, universally recognizable way.  Instead of writing "light yellowish brown," which another person might describe differently, I would record that soil color as 10YR 6/4.  Anyone can find exactly that color and understand what I was seeing.  For the activity, we cut the 10YR Munsell page into strips, and the kids have to sort them into the right order by observing the gradation of colors from bright to pale and light to dark.

Campers arrange the strips so that they match the layout of a Munsell page.

Station Four: Laying Out A Unit
This station has kids set up a test unit, the basic "building block" of a site excavation.  This activity can be made very simple or fairly complicated: kids can do everything from laying out a unit using the Pythagorean theorem to simply stringing the unit in a consistent manner.  With this younger group, we went the simple route--the rule is, as you wrap string around the perimeter of a unit, the way the string wraps each nail has to be consistent.  If you wrap the string around the inside of the first nail, it has to go around the inside of all of them. 

Campers string the boundaries of their test units.

Station Five: Trowel Toss
At our last station we explore the truth that, because archaeology requires so much precision and data recording, we sometimes find ourselves waiting around a lot.  I often share that I once waited 90 minutes for someone to be able to come photograph a level of our unit!  Because we sometimes end up waiting for the next step, archaeologists have to find ways to entertain themselves.  In the trowel toss, the goal is to throw your trowel so that it sticks upright in the ground.

Our campers try their hand at the trowel toss.

After they had plenty of practice time, our campers competed head-to-head against their friends!

And they're off!  Campers pit their skills against those of their friends.

Day Four of camp was about Native American foodways--before I arrived they talked about resources used for food and even made food using Native methods & ingredients.  When I arrived, the focus was on the hunt!  We talked about what kinds of animals prehistoric people in this area would have exploited and how they would have hunted them.  Which of course led to a favorite activity of campers everywhere: Atl-Atl Antics!  In this activity, campers throw a spear by hand, then use an atl-atl.  They can observe and record the differences in distance when using the prehistoric hunting tool. 

A counselor helps a camper put her spear onto the atl-atl.

An added bonus of atl-atls: it makes the FPAN staff who brought the spears & atl-atls REALLY popular.  Kids--and counselors!--like throwing pointy things.

Sadly, I was sick and missed the last day.  I hated not being there on the day that kids prepared all of the activities & projects they had done in order to share them with their parents.  From what I heard the kids did a great job and obviously learned a lot from the camp.

Our campers bring it all together to share what they learned about "Amazing First Americans."  Photo courtesy of Saint Augustine Lighthouse and Museum.

Can't get enough?  For the first installment of my summer camp adventures, visit my previous blog.

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