Staging an Archaeological Dig

I haven't had this much fun preparing a lesson since...oh, I don't know, maybe back when I was preparing units for history as a first year teacher.  This project was a blast.

This is part of our series in which we highlight amazing activities to accompany you when you work through "Story of the World", Volume 1.  (But most likely, all these activities will work great with any classical history program!)

We read the Introduction to the book last week.  It is fabulous at engaging children by asking them questions that they can answer.  But it also delves into a big vocabulary word:   Archaeology.  So, to give them a video intro, we watched some of National Geographic's videos:

Now, when I was young, I remember reading a story about a kid who went on an archaeological dig   and if I learned anything from that book, it was that potsherds are the likeliest thing an amateur archaeologist might find on a dig.

So, we must have potsherds.  But I don't have a pot handy that can pass for an ages old piece of pottery and if I do, do I want to bust the thing up to make it legit?  No.  No, I don't. 

I need to make something I can break apart and bury in dirt, and not care the slightest when it is damaged beyond repair.  Got to make my own.   I worked on this recipe a couple of times until I was able to get something that was easy to mold, dries nice, and as an aged appearance.  The actual recipe is included in our Archaeology Tool Kit

Let's look at photos of the process to help you follow along.  This is the consistency you are after: very easy to mold at this point.  Just smooth out any cracks with a finger.

To build our little bowl, I began with a flat round circle.

Then, I built up the sides.  You can see mini cracking inside the bowl.  I didn't bother keeping it too smooth. 

Here it is, resting inside my oven, with the door open.  Don't leave your oven on at 350.  Turn it off, and let your pottery soak up the heat gently with the oven door open.  Too much heat may crack it in places you don't intend.

Once dried, I used acrylic paints to paint the little bowl.  At this point,  my son is still in the dark.  He doesn't know I am preparing any of this.

After I painted it, I was getting antsy about waiting.  So, while I was making lunch, (and broiling some asparagus), I stuck it back in the oven with the door shut.

This is how I know what might happen if you don't use the open door oven method.  See that big crack going down the middle?  Not a problem for me, since I'm planning to break it up to make potsherds, but good to know, nevertheless.

A successfully broken pot!  I tried to keep the potsherds large so as to help my son find them, and I admit, I was also hoping he would want to glue them back together on his own. Bigger pieces will definitely make it easier to recreate the pot.

Next, I prepared a Grid chart and a Location Record for this project, similar to what actual archaeologists use.  These pages are to help the young archaeologist record what they find on their dig and where they find it.  Then, I wrote up a "letter" from Glimmercat, inviting our young archaeologist to join her on a dig, and explaining what the student should be looking for (material remains, potsherds, or points).  Yay!  Now, it's getting fun!


You've already seen the potsherds I created, but what did I do for material remains?   (Material remains, in archaeological terms are simply anything plant or animal based, that might suggest something about the humans who lived there).

We had chicken for dinner the other night, after which I made a nice batch of Bone Broth, and so I had four chicken leg bones, all nicely cleaned off.

Bubbling away in my broth for 24 hours has given them a nice, aged look, too.  Fabulous!

I did not bury any Points this time.  But, you can purchase replica arrowheads through Amazon for a very reasonable price.   I will likely order those when my girls are old enough to do this project!

Now, outside I go with my "Material Remains" and "Potsherds" balanced on a paper plate.  I do not have string handy, but I do have my green gardening tape which will work just perfect for marking off the dig site.

The location grid on paper that I created above is large enough for 6 grid units (A-F), but I decided to keep it simple for us with just two roughly 1 ft square grid units.  I will separate this rectangle into Unit A and Unit B after I have buried my items.

I didn't dig too deep.  The deepest was perhaps 4 inches down.  But you can see the way I tried to scatter them across the grid.

Here's the completed dig site, all ready to go.  The "Tools" for digging are just my son's toy bucket, plastic shovel and a sturdy hair dye brush (useful for the point and the brush end).   We're ready!

Before we came outside, I prepared him for what we were doing, by watching another Youtube video of an actual archaeologist at a dig site, explaining about his tools, and we watched how carefully he sifted the soil he excavated.

I explained I had a dig ready for him to excavate, but that he would need to be careful, too.  A good archaeologist must be careful so as not to break an artifact. 

He was SO excited at this point, but we took a little time to explain how he would record what he found on his Location Grid and Chart (The grid and chart in the photo have since been updated).

He is going very carefully here, shoveling and brushing, unsure of what he is supposed to be looking for.  I did tell him that I had "planted" artifacts, and we went over the possible items that were suggested per our Glimmercat Grid and Location Chart, but that's all he knew.

Somewhere around here was when he announced that if his plans to be a Construction Worker don't work out in the future, he might just choose Archaeology for his day job.  I am okay with that.

Here's the moment when he finds his first piece:

He carefully catalogued his items as he went.  The bones, he guessed to be chicken, but his real interest was the pieces of pot.   He began hoping he would find all the pieces so he could later successfully glue it back together.

Now,  we have already learned that the reason Archaeologists do their thing is to help us discover more about the past. Listen in to this fabulous connection to all the dots:

That is what it's all about, right there!  That is the learning making the connection.  Best introduction to history, EVER!!!!

I am so jazzed and so is he.   If you'd like to do this project, check out our Archaeological Tool Kit, along with our recipe for "ancient Pottery" and another archaeology project at our store.

We're going to keep sharing these fun activities you can do to add to your adventure in history.  If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our other many projects that can be found in our Ancient World History Activities in our Store!


LearningWithMrsKirk said...

Wow! This is a fantastic hands on way to learn about archeology!

Christina Morrison said...

It WAS! We had such a blast. I'll be posting another way to do something similar as an inside whole class project in our next post. :)