Week 3: Archaeology
Archaeology is the branch of anthropology that studies humans who lived in the past through their material remains. They dig for human bones and material culture. (Students were very disappointed to find out archaeologists do NOT dig for dinosaurs.) Artifacts are anything made or changed by humans. By studying artifacts, we can reconstruct different aspects of culture and learn about the lives of humans in the past.
Excavation is the exposure, processing and recording of archaeological remains. When archaeological finds are discovered, the identification of the context of each find is vital to enable the archaeologist to make conclusions about the people who inhabited the site and the date of its occupation.
There are two main problems that occur while digging: Under and over cutting. Under-cutting occurs where contexts are not excavated fully and some remainder of the context is left. Over-cutting occurs when contexts are unintentionally removed along with material from other deposits and contexts.
In Tuscaloosa, we are just 30 minutes away from Moundville, so many of the students in this partnership have actually already been exposed to an archaeological site. At Moundville, archaeologists study Native American culture, especially pottery, stonework, and copper.
In Timbuktu, local archaeologists are focused on locating and preserving 16th century Arabic manuscripts from mosques, private homes, and universities.
Activity – Cookie Excavation
Materials required per student:
1 m&m cookie
1 paper towel
• Pass out materials to each student
• Explain to the students that they are archaeologists who have been hired to excavate artifacts (m&m pieces from the cookies)
• They must keep their m&ms intact to the best of their ability
• Stop the class after a few minutes to see who was able to complete activity without fragmenting chips
Through this activity, students demonstrated the process of excavating artifacts. They were encouraged to not to over-cut, because they could potentially ruin another artifact. The students were very intuitive and understood that if an artifact is mishandled by a researcher, it cannot be salvaged after; meaning that piece of culture is potentially lost forever.
After the activity was completed, I asked students “Now that you are an archaeologist who completed their first dig, what would you tell a new archaeologist? What is important for archaeologists to remember?” One student gave the most poignant answer I could think of… She said “Take your time, don’t rush, and be patient.” I think she absolutely nailed it! (A sticker was awarded, because as I stated last week, kids love stickers.)
The students really enjoyed this activity, especially because they got to eat a cookie at school! I would recommend cookie excavation to elementary school teachers doing archaeology.