My kids are really into (read obsessed) with finding “ancient artifacts” ever since they saw the Let’s Go Luna episode about Egypt. We’ve been looking at the photos in a few of my adult books about archaeology. I thought that would satisfy them.
Dear readers, they want more.
So we went onto YouTube and looked at a bunch kids videos outlining archaeology. Things get technical really fast and I wanted to outline what I did for my young learners to introduce them to this exciting field of study.
Warning: We dug up some dangerous stuff in this experiment like rusted metal and glass. If you are nervous about these things you can simulate this experiment in a sandbox with items that you pre-bury for your kids to find.
Here is how we did our archaeology day:
- Read up or watch some archaeologists in action. Explain to your child that the diggers are very careful when they dig. It’s not a free for all. Show them how they use string to make a grid box and catalog each of the things they find. This is a scientific experiment not a sandcastle contest.
- Getting your gear together. We had a small box, a large paintbrush for dusting, a garden trowel, a claw tool, some string, a sifter that I raided from the sandbox, gloves, ruler, paper and pen.
- Deciding where to dig. A key point of selecting a dig site is looking evidence of past people activity. Ask your kids if they can think of a good spot. In the woods behind our house is some moss covered concrete. I’ve also picked up glass pieces from that area to keep the kids safe while they explore. I knew we could reasonably expect to find something unique in this spot. If you don’t have a good place to dig see my comment in the warning section above for another option.
- Set up your dig sight. We cleared away the dead leaves. Then using four sticks we set up our dig area. We outlined it with our string making a box to dig in. Start digging in layers not one little hole straight down. Explain how the layers of dirt change the deeper they dig. Discuss how time can be shown by depth. If you child is old enough have them use the ruler to track the depth of their dig.
- Find something. Talk about how time and elements can effect different types of items that they find. What causes metal to rust? Why not glass? What about roots or other plant matter? What effect do bugs or worms have on things? What kind of people were here based on the things found? This is critical thinking in a big way. You may not know definitive answers about your dig sight but you can make educated guesses. Have your kids explain why they came to the conclusions they did. There are many maple trees in our woods so it is possible we were digging up a collapsed sugar shack for making syrup.
- Catalog your findings. I had my child list and draw a picture of what we found. Our dig ended up being about ten inches deep. We found lots of rocks and worms. We also found glass. I took this opportunity to explain how some archaeologists would try to find all the pieces of broken pots and recreate them with glue like a 3D puzzle. We didn’t find enough pieces to do this part of the experiment but maybe next time.
- Clean your findings. We took our stuff back to the garden hose and using some soap we cleaned things off so we could look closer using magnifying glasses. There is a process for this part too that you can review on YouTube for more advanced learners.
- Examine your findings. We decided most of the things we found were about 25-50 years old. We did this by noticing that the glass pieces had numbers and manufacturing marks from a recent production. We also found pieces of box wire fencing which is a more recent invention. We also decided that the concrete around the area was a mix still used today.
We didn’t find anything “ancient” but we did figure out a process and try something new. This took up a big chunk of time about 2 hours and it’s something we still talk about as we keep learning.
I hope this activity spurs on your young ones to more learning this summer.