This past November and December I conducted the Young Archaeologist Club through Archaeology in the Community. When sitting down and thinking about what I wanted to teach the students over the course of six weeks, I found that I had too many ideas. While my passion is Egyptian Archaeology, I didn’t want to solely focus on that. Throughout my college career I learned a lot about different ancient cultures from the Prehistoric to the modern African Diaspora located in the Americas. That’s when I came up with the idea of a time traveling archaeologist. Every week we changed subjects, proceeding in chronological order, for the most part, because some cultures were occurring at the same time.
I then had to think about how to make the lesson plans more focused on archaeology rather than history and culture. I brainstormed some general archaeological techniques, like conservation, excavation, languages, and museums. Then I matched each technique to a specific culture and thought about a hands on activity that the students could do. To make it even more fun, I made passports for every students, with a slot in the front to put a name tag. Every week at the beginning of the club we all wrote our name in a different language. Then at the end of class in exchange for three things they learned that class, I stamped their passports with custom stamps that I made.
I had never really designed a lesson plan before, so it took a couple edits to figure out what I was going to do for each class. I was afraid that the classes would go to long or be too short, but most of the extra time was filled with exciting questions from the students. Each class started out with a powerpoint presentation about the culture were were going to learn about as well as the archaeological technique. Sometimes we watched a video or took a snack break before starting our activity for the day. We would finally end when the parents arrived and the students enthusiastically told them what they learned.
Our first class was on prehistoric archaeology where we talked about megalithic structures such as Stonehenge and Ska Brae, both in the United Kingdom. First, since most prehistoric peoples did not have a written language, we created pictographs of ourselves. We went over what the students thought archaeologists did and some common tools we use. Then we used trowels and a Munsell soil book to compare the colors and textures of different soils. The day ended with a Stonehenge stamp.
The second class we learned about pottery and Mesopotamia. We wrote our names in ancient Akkadian, which proved very difficult and then learned about many of the different cultures that were founded in the Fertile Crescent. Next we pulled out some clay and we made pinch and coil pots, while we watched a video of people making pottery. We also looked at different types of wares and examples of pottery throughout history, and ended with a stamp of a vase.
My favorite class was the one on Ancient Egypt and languages. We wrote our names in hieroglyphics and learned about the Rosetta Stone and how it helped modern historians translate the ancient Egyptian text. We then created our own languages and let the parents translate their secret messages. One student enthusiastically described (almost word for word) the weighing of the heart in the Egyptian underworld to determine if they person was good while alive to receive a stamp of the pyramids.
We then condensed Ancient Greece and Rome together to learn about conservation in the field and the lab. First we wrote our names in Latin and emphasized the difference between the two empires as well as similarities and influences. My favorite activity of the whole club was the conservation method we did in this class. We set up some dirt and pretended that we found a broken pot that we wanted to keep intact and take to a lab. By wrapping the pot in gauze as we excavated, we not only kept the artifact stable but taught important excavating techniques like not to dig straight down with your trowel. After excavating the inside of the pot, the students received a stamp of the Colosseum in Rome.
On the fifth day of the camp, we went on a field trip to the National Museum of the American Indian. We wrote our names in Cherokee and then trekked around the museum with a scavenger hunt. Throughout the trip we talked both about the many different tribes in North America as well as the civilizations in South America. We also talked about how museums display artifacts and how both archaeologists, conservators, historians, and curators all work together to make a museum and an exhibit work together. The day ended with a look around the bazaar of Native American artisans and a teepee stamp in the passport.
The last class focused on historical archaeology with an emphasis on the African Diaspora in American and on artifacts. Because we were caught up with modern day languages we decided to make up cowboy names as it was part of the lesson for the day. We then learned about the only existing example of an African American owned saloon in the Wild West with emphasis on the different artifacts that they found and how they tell the story of the saloon. The students excavated to finish the class out and figured out what each artifact we found was. We ended with a reflection about the whole club and a stamp of a two trowels.
All in all, it was a very successful camp. Even though the camp was meant to teach the students, I ended up learning a lot too.I did find a challenge with keeping the students on topic and paying attention, but I learned to adapt my lesson plans to add fun videos, stories, and facts. I plan to design more lesson plans and expand on many of these cultures to teach to students in the upcoming summer months.
About the author: Melissa Thiringer has been an AITC intern since Summer 2017 after graduating from Hofstra University where she received a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology and Art History. She has conducted excavations in DC, Virginia, England, and Italy as well as internships at the Brooklyn Museum and Hofstra’s Center for Public Archaeology. She is taking a gap year before pursuing a career in Egyptian Archaeology as a MA or PhD.