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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 2010

A Public Archaeologist's Favorite Holiday

In the spirit of this holiday season, I’d like to share with you the gifts of my favorite Public Archaeology holiday: Thank-You Note Day.  In case you haven’t heard of Thank-You Note Day, let me fill you in.  It is observed on an indeterminate date following a class visit.  When the day comes, the celebrant discovers an unusually thick package in the mail. 

Momentary concern is replaced with excitement upon reading the return address, which is from a local school.   After that, I suppose we might all celebrate differently.  Some may tentatively slit open the package with a letter opener and gently remove the letters one by one. 

Not me.  I tear into these packages with the ferocity of kids on Christmas morning.  I pull out all the notes in one fistful, then immediately read them over and over a few times.

Over the years I’ve received all manner of thank you notes: notes on “antique” paper, notes with archaeology tools or sites drawn on them, notes on paper in the shape of storage jars.  But my December 2010 observance of Thank-You Note Day was even more special.  I received a very thick package, but this one was also a really odd shape.  Seeing it was from a Clay County Elementary school, I tore into it with customary reckless abandon and found this inside:

I got to excavate my own notes!  After taking my jar o’ notes outside for, um, screening, I thumbed through my yield.  I love some of the responses I get:

I really get a kick out of the way kids process my talks.  I always show a slide of four different artifacts from a City of St. Augustine Archaeology dig that turned up evidence of a feast.  Liam clearly enjoyed the picture of butchered cattle bones, which I love telling kids were found alongside butchered horse bones.  I use that sort of evidence to show archaeologists aren't just looking for "treasure"--because we try to learn about cultures of the past, we're most interested in any artifact that gives us new information.

Sometimes, when I'm really lucky, I get a note and some Grade A kid art:

Let me be clear though.  This holiday is to be celebrated mirthfully, but it also presents an occasion to reflect on what I’m accomplishing in the classroom.  When I give my tool talk, I discuss artifacts and changes in the soil, and how archaeologists rely on both to understand what they’re excavating.  Are the kids hearing me?  I talk about context, and how important it is for artifacts to be found where they were deposited.  Do they understand?  These letters make my day, but they also let me know what to emphasize or discuss differently.

So if both Liam and Tyler got stuck on the majolica plates, which come pretty early in my talk, maybe I need to adjust the way that I deal with that particular group of artifacts.  I spend much more time talking about changes in soil color and context than any particular artifacts.  Those things are maybe not as glamorous, but they're essential to archaeology.   Thank-You Note Day offers an opportunity to reflect on these sorts of challenges.  And I have to concede that no matter what I do, my class visits are most effective when paired with other classroom activities related to archaeology (see links below).

In the end though, Thank-You Note Day is a day of celebration.  I get to revel in what I enjoy most about my job--playing with kids about archaeology.  I love being a part of their discoveries, especially when I'm invited to do hands-on activities.  Piquing students' curiosity makes my day.  Best of all, I love when I can see that what I have to share is really fascinating to them--opening their minds not only to new ways of looking at the world (and the past), but also the idea that there are myriad ways of viewing the world and all of the people who have been a part of it.  When kids can get excited to learn, I've done a big part of what I hope to accomplish.

Now tell me, does it get any better than that?

If there is a class in northeast Florida you'd like me to visit, contact me at aweiss@flagler.edu.

For resources to teach archaeology in the classroom, try these sites:

For videos about archaeology and archaeology sites in Florida, visit FPAN's Resources page.

Special Edition "What is THAT!!!" Wednesday

Last week Amber and I biked out at the Guana Preserve with Chris Newman and her sister.  This WIIW is a two-parter:

Part 1: Sherd found and left on post near Menorcan well at GTM-NERR.

Part 2: What is that?!?!
No, not that (yellow arrow).
Or that...

...or that...


It was a privilege to spot both Parts I and II in the field.  First one to guess right gets a snake bit kit! Alright...just a picture of a snake bite kit.

Dig It!: Turtle Mound

After living in or near New Smyrna for over ten years, I finally visited Canaveral National Seashore. Besides being a beautiful beach, a nesting area for turtles, a natural escape for tourists and locals alike, Turtle Mound, a Native American trash midden, also lies in Canaveral National Seashore.
Timucuans who generated the mound lived in Mosquito Lagoon (what it now the area of New Smyrna and Ponce Inlet). Over a 600 year span, the Timucuans harvested nearby marine resources and discarded the shells. Standing approximately fifty feet, the accumulation of shell, charcoal, and food remains is one of the largest existing mounds along the Florida coast. Oyster shells compose most of the mound. Later Native Americans and Spanish explorers utilized the mound as a navigational landmark and a lookout throughout the eighteenth century. Turtle Mound now serves as a way for archaeologists to understand Timucuan culture based on the faunal remains and artifacts that still exist.
As I followed the boardwalk to the mound’s summit, I noticed two things: First, Beware of banana spiders!

 Second, I could understand why the Timucuans would live near Mosquito Lagoon. From the mound, I saw water all around. The area would be rich in resources; they could fish, harvest oysters, and hunt if necessary. At the top, a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and endless greenery extends until ocean meets sky. With a touch of historical imagination, I could envision native peoples launching their dugout canoes at the mound’s base, as Alvaro Mexia described in a 1605 exploration of La Florida.

Turtle Mound serves as a testament to what once was. The mound—smaller, but still intact-- is a stunning creation to see in person. Canaveral National Seashore offers a glimpse into history paired with beautiful surroundings.

Social Media Sproutlettes!

Happy new bloggers (and a few veterans) hard at work.
Today we are hosting a social media for heritage professionals seminar.  The offering brings together heritage partners across FPAN and northeast Florida, including representatives from the National Park Service, A1A Scenic By-way, St. Augustine Archaeological Association, Habitat for Humanity, St. Johns County Historic Resources, and FPAN staff from West Central and Central. 

THEIR FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write a paragraph for the blog that features a picture, links, title and labels.

Read what our Sproutlettes suggested for this post!

Title: Sitting in the Second Row
Photo: some eyes behind a screen could be cute here.

Link: FPAN page since I mentioned it in the paragraph.
Label: workshop

NPS is representin' at the Social Media workshop in St. Augustine. Here we are taking up almost the entire second row of a room full of computers but instead of tweeting back and forth we are talking face to face with Sarah and Amber from FPAN. The normally outdorsy Rangers have traded an afternoon in the uncharacteristically frigid Florida temperatures to learn more about social media in a cozy library classroom. You can feel the presentational spirit in this room if not the tech savvy. Although many of us are still beginners, the excitement social media can elicit is catching and I am sure many a blog, tweet, and post will blossom out of this workshop.

Title: Stranded on the side of the information highway...

Photo - hitchhicker or interstate
Link - to FPAN, info on public archaeology, info to definition on social media

I am hear in St. Augustine to learn more about social media so I can buy into the program for work. As a public archaeologist, I should be all over the opportunity to share information with the public in a format that reaches out and gets read. However, my concerns lie not only in my ignorance of how social media works - but also in the thought of sharing my opinions and personality with people in a format I cannot gauge reaction nor take back or clarify my responses. So here I sit, stranded on the side of the information highway - unwilling to stick out my thumb.

Title: Learn Some, Live Some

Picture of everyone at the workshop. It's proof!

Labels: Social media, FPAN, something fun?

Ah! Social media. I'm only a fan of Facebook. Everything else seems a bit beyond me. Nevertheless, my distaste for Twitter and other social media are based more on the fact that I don't use them than an actual shortcoming in such mediums.

Like me, many other people dislike or don't understand the modern ways to interact and communicate.

Perhaps my dislike of all the websites and programs I can sign up for stems more from a fear of long term commitment than the actual program. I can't possibly have enough time (or enough interesting things to say) to continually update a Twitter account or to write blogs that other people will actually want to read. Right? I definitely don't have the motivation to try.

It seems unfair to rule out the possibilities. Without other people pioneering into the unknown, how would I ever get to experience the beauty of The Onion ?

The Woes of a Harried Archeo-blogger

{Add catchy photo of air boat}

As I sit here at the Social Networking workshop, I can’t help but feel that our own efforts to reach out through social networking is so far behind so many others that are in this workshop. To date I have learned a dozen shortcomings of my own outreach attempts. Even though our Facebook page is slowly gaining a regular audience, that audience is small and hasn’t grown all that much. It seems that without a significant investment in both resources and time that our own efforts to reach out to a larger audience are ultimately doomed to failure—or even worse to obscurity. It is difficult to envision a way in which FPAN Central can reach a much larger audience without making some radical departures from the way that we currently conduct business. Currently, our web page is fairly static and only the scheduled events are updated on a regular basis. I think that a better approach will be to really bring in some of the other activities at Crystal River.

Toni Wallace and Zaida Darley introduce each other to the group

Title: Electronics Improves Social Life after 60

Photo of me surrounded by friends. Link to archaeology sites, etc.

My Social Life has just expanded 100%. Today I learned how to use several new and exciting ways to make new friends and influence people. FPAN-NE, that amazing source of info on Florida archaeology, just taught me how to use Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, and some things I’d never heard of before. Frankly, I was feeling a bit left behind. It seemed everyone else was on the bandwagon, tweeting and facebooking and connec- ting with lots of friends and associates. Now I’m up to date and able to do it. Weeee! My life is sooo exciting now! Thanks, FPAN.

Title  My Day at Twitter Camp

I am learning about social media from the FPAN Northeast Region. There are some mediums I have never even heard of and some blogs sites that I will definitely follow. This is going to be a very informative session. Can't wait to see what else is in store for us.

Our secret weapon: fabulous bloggers who give us tips on content and tone.  Thanks guys!

[photo of me taking notes while I look intensely at the Tom and Lorenzo website on my computer screen]
link  Tom and Lorenzo
label  Blog Gurus

Photo- happy people sitting at computers

link-FPAN website, NPS Timucuan label- NPS goes legit with social media

Today Emily, Brittany and I attended the Florida Public Archaeology Network's workshop on utilizing social media in hopes to seriously step up the Timucuan Preserve's game (whoop whoop NPS!). Despite my questionable decision to sit directly under the air conditioning vent (It's about 40 degress outside), the atmosphere has been warm, inviting, and very informative. Who knew so many different types of organizations were dedicating so much time to getting media saavy? Hopefully by the end of this we'll have the Timucuan Preserve tweeting, facebookin', blogging, and playing foursquare like a pro.

Title: Social Media to the Rescue

We're learning to use SM to enliven and expand
our connection with interested folk that are
"out there..."

photo: happy new bloggers trying out new skills
links to LAMP, FPAN and other blogs

title Power of Blogs

link to either FPAN or Lamp and check out the fun blogs

photo - Stat page showing hits for blogs OR a great photo and caption from a blog
Label - "What the public likes"

Who knew? Loads of social platforms but the power of blogging within websites is phenomenal. Timely, engaging, personality driven and the kicker is that when it's done on a periodic basis - say weekly - it provides an "institutional history". (thanks Brendan for that phrase)


The FPAN Social Media Seminar is going very smoothly and we are sharing some great ideas. Amber Graft-Weiss led a session this morning on Facebook and Twitter accounts. This afternoon is blogs, more on facebook, linkedin, and other useful outlets for social media. Although I am new to Twitter, and have yet to determine its utility in the LAMP setting, I am more aware of its inner workings and now have an account to experiment with. Sarah pointed out how blogs can be accurately analyzed for their content, comments, viewability, and monitored in order to tailor better blog entries. Thanks FPAN Northeast!

Here's the LAMP/Lighthouse blog too, for those of you interested in maritime history!


Wow- ten different approaches to the same content.  The possibilities are endless...great job class!

"What Is It?" Wednesday

This weeks mystery came from our recent outing to Robin Moore's Salamatoto site.  We found prehistoric sherds, majolica, and more modern porcelain.

One of the sherds, we believe majolica, featured this interesting, handpainted, blue wheat motif.

Any guesses? 

WHAT IS IT?!?!?!?


Come on, say it with me...it's fun to say! SALAMATOTO

This week FPAN staff gave a helping hand to St. Johns County Historic Resource Specialist Robin Moore on his survey of a property along the St. Johns River. The project is of significant because part of the San Diego de Salamatoto Mission once stood on this site.

Some words from the man himself (Robin Moore) on the current survey:

View of property with St. Johns River in back.
Popo Point is in the northwest portion of St. Johns County and sticks out like a thumb into the river. Beginning in 1657, after the Timucuan rebellion of 1656, the Spanish developed San Diego de Salamatoto mission in this region. It became the major river crossing for the Camino Real, the westward route connecting the Florida mission chain, serving this function for 50 years. Picolata, to the south, later was established as the major crossing for the remainder of the First Spanish period.

The exact location of Salamototo was always a question, until recently, when an archaeological survey for the Rivertown (St. Joe Company) development identified a 17th century Spanish site on Popo Point. Archaeologist Bob Johnson subsequently conducted some intensive excavations on the St. Joe property at Popo Point and believes this site to be the Salamatoto location.

The current effort will be a shovel testing survey on property immediately adjacent to the St. Joe property where Mr. Johnson conducted excavations. This land is owned by a single family, not by St. Joe. They intend to build a house on the property. The objective of this survey is to place shovel tests across the property in order to assess if the Salamatoto site extends into the property, and assess to what degree the site contains intact archaeological deposits.

Archies gather 'round the fire- marshmallows & hot dogs.

We headed out early Tuesday, bundled up like the stay puft marshmallow man.  It was cold, but we had the warmth of camaraderie--and an actual fire--to keep us warm.
From my own shovel tests I learned the site is very complex.  There are shallow and deep deposits, suggesting some disturbance to the site.  The artifacts ranged from prehistoric rim sherds, early Spanish majolica, later glass and a modern cosmetic jar on the surface.

Square shovel test excavated by yours truly and Flagler Alum Jennifer Newton.

Prehistoric and Spanish ceramics my (I mean our) unit. 
All the data--including artifacts, maps, and photos--will be taken to the county's archaeology lab to be processed by Courtney Boren.  She will wash, sort, and analyze each artifact.  Along with Robin, they will put together the best interpretation of the site based on the evidence they found, then publish the results.  If I had to guess, I'd say the survey may be featured in one of St. Augustine Archaeology Association's monthly meetings.

Did I mention it was cold?
Thanks for the invite Robin and keep up the good work!

Be the first to caption this picture!  Sarah Bennett, volunteer Jim, and site mascot Rosie.
Visit our Facebook page to see all Salamatoto photos.

A Day in the Life of an Archaeology Site Monitor

Life can be exciting for a Florida Archaeology Monitor.  Last month I wrote about how the State of Florida will train interested citizens to help with the identification and preservation of Florida'a archaeology resources.  A three day course will prepare you to assist the state with this important job.  I got my certification this year and have been getting calls to come and help identify sites.  I work for FPAN - Northeast Region at Flagler College as a Site Specialist.  Last month I visited three potential sites in response to people calling FPAN with site questions.

Indian Shell Mound

Roads as Sites
Did you know that many of Florida's early roads were constructed from old Indian shell mounds?  Crushed oyster and clam shells make an excellent road bed material.  Indian shell mounds and shell rings once lined the east and west coasts of Florida as well as along many of Florida's major rivers like the St. Johns River.  Most of these important sites were destroyed as roads for wagons and later automobiles were extended into the Florida peninsula.   And, as a consequence, artifacts from the shell mounds, end up eroding out of the edges of many of our roads, especially roads constructed in the early years of Florida's European history.   When people walk along old roads and find these Indian artifacts, they immediately think they are on an Indian site. 

I was invited to Clay County to see some artifacts from an old road near the St. Johns River.  This road was originally an old shell road going to an early plantation. The artifacts were eroding from the road bed and appeared to be out of their original context.  They were probably moved as road fill from a site that was not too far from the road.   Many Indian sites existed along the St. Johns River.   So I did not prepare a Florida Master Site File (FMSF) form for the road because the artifacts came from another place, but noted that the road itself is definately an interesting part of Florida's early history.  The road is still in use serving a modern subdivision but it was originally built to serve wagons and carriages on their way to an early British St. Johns River planatation.

A house built in the mission style

A Lost Mission
Did you know that there were about 140 missions built by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries in Florida in the late16th, 17th and early 18th centuries.   Unlike California missions some of which are still standing, all of Florida's mission buildings have long since mouldered away.  But there is still evidence under the ground for many of these early Indian missions.  Several Franciscan mission sites have been identified around the City of St. Augustine by our City Archaeologist, Carl Halbirt.  But many in outlying areas of the state are still lost.  FPAN-NE was invited by a private citizen to see some artifacts from the mission period found along the St. Johns River in St. Johns County.  I visited the residence to view the place where the artifacts were found.  It so happened that the property was right next to a known mission site which had already been recorded on the Florida Master Site File.  The value of this visit is that we now think that the mission extended farther along the river than originally recorded.  More archaeological testing around the mission site will be undertaken by our St. Johns County Archaeologist, Robin Moore.

Prehistoric pottery sherd.

A Historic Home
Frequently history and archaeology overlap.  FPAN-NE was called by the owner of a home in Volusia County already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The owner had uncovered some Indian artifacts on the property in the course of doing some tree removal and landscaping.  The house, one of the oldest in Volusia County, was on a site that had obviously been occupied for a long time before Europeans entered the County.   Indian pottery from the St. Johns I period as well as a number of lithic objects were found around the old house.   I will prepare a Florida Master Site File form to list the property as an archaeology site as well as the historic home site already listed on the National Register.

All in a days work for a Florida Archaeology Monitor.  If you would like to come out with me on some of my future site visits, just give me a call or an e-mail with your contact info.   I would love company!

Toni Wallace,

What is it Wednesday: Monkey head

Alright, I realize we're a day late, but any thoughts on this artifact?  Recovered from the Ximenez-Fatio House in downtown St. Augustine, Florida.

This one has a known form but a genuine question is the date.  And it's pretty cool lookin, so thought I'd share!

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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