Graduate students enrolled in ANTH 615 (“Public Archaeology”) this fall were challenged to identify a situation in the community in need of public archaeological engagement and to create a (hypothetical) program to address that need. As luck would have it, fellow graduate student Steph Hallinan and I happened to already be planning a program at Boston Children’s Museum for Massachusetts Archaeology Month. And just in case you didn’t think we could get any luckier, you should know that our professor liked our idea and agreed to let us use it for this class. Sometimes things just come together like that.
The idea for an archaeology month program stemmed from a unique aspect of the Museum: it is one of the few children’s museums in the world to maintain a collection. A product of one hundred and one years of donations and gifts, the collection boasts everything from dollhouse furniture to Egyptian art. It includes objects from countries on every continent (excluding Antarctica) and goes back as far as a few thousand years. But it takes an archaeologist to teach archaeology, and this is where we came in. Using the Museum’s Eastern Woodland holdings as our inspiration, we created two different activities designed to run simultaneously: a game that asked children to decide what a stone tool was used for by matching it with a similar object from the early American
collection, and mock dig kits designed to teach the law of superposition by using plaster and potting soil to mimic New England geography in aluminum tins (pictured above). Our most popular activity, mending ceramics (pictured right) was added at the last moment because we realized we had broken more plates than we could possibly put in the dig kits.
As we’ve learned in class, public archaeology means different things for different people. For myself, it means being public about what worked and what didn’t so others can benefit from your experience. And at the risk of this turning into something more suitable for Academia.edu than this blog I’ll end here, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each activity in their own posts over the next few weeks.