For those following along on my earth science course, this post adds some details on the simulated archeology/paleontology dig I have planned to supplement the sections on dinosaurs, fossils, and finding the earth’s age.
First off, this has turned into a scheduling nightmare for me, as it turns out we will likely not be moving to Dillingham (a tiny, charming village on the coast of Bristol Bay on the Alaska Peninsula) until late September or early October, which is when I was thinking of doing this activity. I originally thought we would be moved and settled by then. No such luck.
This is further complicated by the fact that here in Fairbanks we will have frozen solid ground by then (and snow likely as well).
I’m going to have to bump up my timeline considerably or do some major re-shuffling of the order I do things in order to get it done here in Fairbanks before the freeze.
And though none of this affects you guys( you are not tied to my schedule and can plan as you please) those of you in early-winter regions may want to think about how the weather may affect your dig and get to it pronto before cold weather becomes a factor. It’s just too rich of an activity to leave out due to poor planning.
Now, on to the details.
A similated dig is where the teacher sets up a site, pre-filled with strategically placed artifacts to be discovered by the student. There are many ways this can be done, but the important thing is that the student digs in a realistic, careful, authentic way, layer-by-horizontal layer, recording data as he/she goes. The dig should be set up so that the student uncovers artifacts that have been arranged in such a way as to relate to one another to tell a story. A straight archeological dig will have remnants of a human inhabitation: pottery, arrowheads, burned wood, beads, etc., all consistent with one particular culture and time (ie don’t mix Greek pottery with Amerindian arrowheads, etc). Decide ahead of time on the culture (perhaps tied in with your history studies?) and build the dig accordingly.
Digs are ideally set up in the ground (how I hope to do it) or if that is not feasible, can be done in a large container of some sort like a sandbox, kiddie pool, or large plastic container(one of those under-the-bed storage boxes comes to mind). Smaller-scale digs have even been done successfully in plastic shoe boxes. The important thing is that the dirt be removed by the child in layers, uncovering rather than digging up artifacts. Tip: Sand is not the best material to use because items tend to shift as the child digs and their relationships to one another are lost.
Digs can be single-layer, or multi-layer. In a multi-layer dig, artifacts should be arranged so that they rest in layers according to age, with the oldest items on the bottom, newest on top. Ideally the dirt would be visually or texturally distinct from layer to layer to help the child distinguish them, and to give further authenticity to the dig. Add potting soil to darken a layer, a bit of sand to change the texture of a layer, etc.
Artifacts can be genuine or artificial (perhaps made from clay) or I have even seen laminated cut-out pictures of artifacts sucessfully used in place of the real thing. Maybe even a combination of a few real pieces mixed with artificial ones.
In my dig there will be three to four distinct layers.
On the bottom will be the paleo layer, containing some real fossils I purchased online as well as a few I have collected over the years. This may actually be 2 or more layers, depending on whether I decide to get that detailed or not.
In the middle will be an Ice Age layer, containing some fossilized mammoth bone, dolphin vertebra, walrus ivory and tooth, fossilized wood, and some amber.
The top layer will be the Alaska Native layer, with some beads (both glass and caribou bone) salmon bones, clam shells, moose hide, and some burned alder wood (used to smoke salmon) as well as anything else I can come up with.
Artifacts are the fun part, so get creative with these! Fossils, both real and artificial, can be ordered in kits online (I got this one) or made from clay (terra cotta sculpey makes wonderful fossils, in fact we made some ourselves a few years back that turned out great.) Pottery (check yard sales or thrift stores) can be broken and placed so that the student can find the pieces and “restore” the piece like a real curator.
I also have a really super cool fake T-Rex scale model that I have yet to decide if I am going to add to the dig or do as a seperate project. If I add it, it will be the only fake thing in the dig, but would also be so cool. Maybe even so cool that it overshadows the real fossils? I don’t know. What do you think, add it or no?
Anyways, there are a million and one ways to go about all of this. You just have to find the way that will work for you. I encourage you to think big and go for it!
There are a few websites with excellent info that can help, so I will pass them along to you.
Archeological Institute of America: Lesson Plans: Simulated Digs
Basics of Archeology for Simulated Dig users
Archeology in the Classroom
Hope that helps!
Feel free to ask any clarifying questions!