As I mentioned in my previous post on practicing public archaeology, our program featured two activities: a mock dig and a matching game with objects from the Museum’s collections. Though we had the room for 2 hours, the activities were designed to be completed quickly so families could experience other aspects of the Museum during their visit. We did the program twice, on two different Friday nights.
Having a mock dig was initially on our wishlist until an educator at the Museum sent us the following link: http://www.ehow.com/how_12077769_make-dinosaur-dig-kids.html. While this activity is meant for paleontology programs, the idea of using plaster appealed to us as a way to teach children about stratigraphy. Using our experience digging in Grafton over the summer, we designed a dig kit that would mimic New England stratigraphy: plaster would represent the clay of the “B horizon”, and would contain objects evocative of those used by Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans (shells, rocks for stone tools), while a layer of potting soil on top of it would represent the “A horizon”, and would contain objects associated with Europeans (broken plates, teacups, gaming pieces, fake coins). The idea was that children would scoop out the potting soil and push it through the screens we’d provide then pop the objects out of the plaster with a (blunt) trowel. We made 7 kits in all. Each kit was designed to be used by one or two children at a time with the volunteers replacing the potting soil and reburying the “artifacts” for the next child.
As the picture below shows, this is a messy activity and some kind of floor covering is a must.
The potting soil worked well but required a 1/4 in screen, which most children were not interested in using. The plaster actually dried around the artifacts, making it difficult for children to pop them out. When we did this activity on the second night, we did not use plaster at all.
Though the stratigraphy aspect of the activity did not work well, we were able to engage with the children by getting them to think about what these objects could be, what they were used for, and what we could learn from digging them up. With the exception of the under 5 crowd, the majority of the children were able to understand this line of reasoning. They also picked up on the idea that ceramic pieces from the same kit can mend but, if they don’t, could represent multiple vessels. Without any prompting from us, several children began taking ceramics from the dig kits to see if they mended with any of the plates at the mending station. This also provided an opportunity to explain that archaeologists don’t always find all of the pieces to things. And telling children that archaeologists don’t get to keep what they find was a convenient way to explain why they couldn’t take the objects home with them.
This activity was very popular, could be assembled quickly, and was a convenient way to suggest that children check out the other archaeology activities being offered. The next and last post in this series will focus on the matching activity and address some of the challenges of using collections in public programs.