Archaeology

Great Educational Archaeology Resources for Kids



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SMALL DIG, BIG RETURNS



For fifty years, a shade-dappled site in the Atlantic Coastal Forest has produced scores of local artifacts and countless hours of inspiration, occupation, and education for the children of my clan. This secret spot, rich in old-time bottles, vintage china plates and bowls, silver tableware, assorted restaurant and farming tools, and small household ornaments, was discovered by my son when he was only eight years old.

As my boy told it in 1957, he and some of his pals took a long and vital bike-ride into the less populated area of our township. They were on a quest for a more secure place to build their "summer fort," a place that was farther away than "in the woods just across the street," a place where other neighborhood children would not readily find and tear down their home away from home. In those days, tearing down each other's forts was a major childhood occupation. In those days, too, mothers could allow their children such free range with utter confidence that their safety was more likely than not.

About four miles from home, the boys turned from the bumpy gravel road onto a narrow, sandy path that led them to the perimeter of an older, loftier forest than the one near our home. To them, this felt like Columbus discovering America. They propped their bikes against the glistening trunks of silver maples and explored the lay of the land. The landscape gentle rolled with mounds of rich earth and grassy hillocks. A cedarwater stream gently flowed over small river rocks and twigs nearby. Each boy in the group of four adventurers took interest in his own favorite aspect of the place.

While others were envisioning the fort-to-be installed up off the ground, in the low but sturdy branches of oaks and maples, my son spotted a slight amber glimmer at the edge of a larger mound. He found a hard oak branch. He started digging. Although my boy did not run home naked to report his find, to hear him describe his discovery, even now, is akin to hearing Archimedes famously exclaim, "Eureka!"

That amber glimmer in the verdant mound turned out to be a very, very old beer bottle - perfectly intact. With a dousing in the gurgling cedarwater stream, all of the bottle's markings came up clear as the "Coke" inscriptions we see today. A little more digging that day turned up a few old pharmaceutical bottles and two restaurant-china "monkey bowls."

Thus began my family's "small dig" and its ongoing big returns. Since the other boys on the initial expedition had no interest in the archeological value of the site, my son became the "boss of the dig." He enlisted father, mother, and sister in field trips to the site from time to time. He drew his own grids, keeping account of what was found where, and a log that recorded depths of the artifacts, dates of the finds. He read up on archeology, which led him to also build a screen.

As time went on, his collection of artifacts grew. Most were small enough to be stationed on a narrow shelf in his bedroom. Some were quite beautiful, inspiring the entire family to research the objects' possible origins. Eventually, a busy lives and adulthood put my boy's dig on the back burner and the artifacts into storage boxes.

Never forgotten, though, he shared the site with his sister's children when they came along. And, now that he has children of his own, he takes them to the site now and then. They always return home with more objects, more historical knowledge, more inspiration to learn more, and more facts about the flora and fauna of this secret family academy.

Nowadays, the richness of this half-century adventure is enhanced by computer research. My 8-year old granddaughter does a lot of the "Googling" herself after a current dig. She's the dig's "Computer Queen." Her 10-year old sister is the official "polisher of the artifacts" and "Princess of the Flowered Monkey Dishes." I have every reason to believe that my granddaughters' children will also be purveyors of the past, in exactly the same manner, with precisely the same astonishment and love of discovery that has blossomed before my very eyes so many times already.

Indeed, right now, my daughter's 5-year old grandson - that would be my GREAT-grandson - carries a gadget he unearthed at our dig in his back pocket. Someday soon, led to discovery by the youngsters who just slightly preceded him, I imagine he will let us all know exactly what that peculiar little instrument is.

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