News Column

Children get hands-on look at archaeology

July 9, 2014

By Eli Freund, The Chronicle, Willimantic, Conn.

July 09--STORRS -- As temperatures rose this week, some students were outside at the University of Connecticut using shovels, trowels and metal detectors to unearth the past.

Starting Monday and ending Friday, kids from the fifth- to 10th-grade learned the archaeological process as part of KASET, which stands for Kids Are Scientists and Engineers Too, a camp with one-week modules dedicated to archaeology, astronomy, chemistry and many other topics.

The archaeology portion, which was sponsored by the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center, was a program to get kids involved in the past and how to properly unearth it, according to head archaeologist on the project, Zac Singer.

"We started this week off with giving the kids a little homework," Singer said. "They had to find out the background on the old house we were excavating and use that to accurately map where we want to dig and what we are expecting to find."

Singer said that the kids, in addition to digging, also did many of the tasks real archaeologists do, including mapping the locations where things are found and sorting and labeling the artifacts.

As kids were scattered among multiple dig locations, each had different techniques. Some had trowels, which Singer said helped carefully excavate and some used a metal detector in order to find metallic artifacts.

"What we're finding at this site, which is the sight of the former Farwell House, which was burned down by the fire department as a training exercise, is mostly charred wood and nails," Singer said. "We like to use different extraction techniques in order to find everything possible."

Emily Grant, a 15-year-old from Manchester, has been coming back to the camp the last couple years because archaeology has been an interest of hers since she was a young kid.

" I remember my interest in archaeology first started when I went to a museum with my parents that had a hands-on archaeology exhibit in it," Grant said. " I was just blown away, it was so cool because you could use all the tools and find things in the sand."

Grant said she hasn't found anything yet, but she's hopeful they will soon.

"Last year we found some nails and glass and charred wood," said Grant. "But we still have a few days left, so I think we'll find something good."

As the kids kept digging, the group with the metal detector did find some good things, according to their adviser, UConn senior Danielle Fernald, who is an anthropology major.

"Most of the time you find very common things, but sometimes you find a coin or two," Fernald said. "Coins are exciting because you can trace them to an exact date."

The camp, which ends Friday, will gather all the artifacts found while digging on the site and bring them to the archaeology lab on the last day. The artifacts will then be washed and analyzed.

David C. Colberg, public information coordinator for the natural history museum program, said he loves the program because it gives children a taste of reality.

"This program is great because kids get to experience the true nature of archaeology," Colberg said. " It's not always treasure chests and gold, you get a chance to piece together a story."


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