Digging through time: RMAE students excavate plots to learn about science, history

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

Imagine it’s the year 3212, and you are an archaeologist. Imagine what you might find as you dig in different areas of the world such as North Africa, the Caribbean, Egypt, Oregon, China and Rome.

Sixth-graders from Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen were provided with just such a scenario in the school’s annual archaeological dig last month, and they spent hours sifting through dirt in eight plots depicting different parts of the world.
While digging in the dirt can be fun, the students, working in groups, also used geology, math, history and English skills to find items, document their location, research their historical significance, and write about what they found.
Some were looking for as many as 80 artifacts in each plot, dating from 1920 to 2012.
The plots are on school property and were built by Drew Reynolds, the middle school English and history teacher, and Jonelle Castleberry, the sixth-grade science teacher. Each year the pair diligently dig into the plots, most of which are 4 feet by 8 feet, and carefully place the artifacts for the students to find. Some artifacts are more than 2 feet deep.
The students already know about the different world cultures depicted in the dig sites, Reynolds said, since they’ve been studying those areas of the world since kindergarten.
“It’s really about the process,” Reynolds said, “and learning in a different way. This is really hands-on, and it shows kids that learning doesn’t just take place in a classroom.”
In the Caribbean plot, for example, the student archaeologists found a cannonball, shells, beads, shark teeth, minerals and a skull. In the China plot, students found clay pottery, fossils, beads, plants and bugs.
Sixth-grader Jack Torgler said he learned that processing an archaeological dig site takes a lot of time and patience.
“You have to dig in an orderly fashion,” sixth-grader Scout Easton added. “I thought this would be easy, but it’s hard, frustrating and dirty.”
She said her group members would analyze what they found at their site to determine what the items really were.
Jack added that they had to dig very carefully.
“You don’t want to dig a big hole and find nothing,” he said.
The team of students digging at a Native American site found animal bones, a headdress, leaves, a horseshoe, minerals and pieces of a clay plate. That group learned teamwork was essential.
“It’s been interesting being able to connect the items we found,” sixth-grader Bryce Streett said. “This has been a really interesting experience.”