ODOT Archaeological Education Day at Elk Trail School

The students of Elk Trail School arrived on Wednesday the 21st expecting it to be just another school day – and a rainy one at that. However, thanks to the archaeologists from ODOT the day turned out to be one many of the students will remember long into adulthood.     When they got to school, the students were surprised to learn they would be participating in a mock archaeological dig – right on their own playground! The dig was organized, set up and manned by 5 ODOT archaeologists, headed by Kurt Roedel. Roedel organized this and several similar events as a way “To share what we do with the community” as well as to educate the students about archaeology and local history.

The dig was as well put together and organized as any “real” dig would be. The students participated in 8 groups from 9:00 am until 1:00 pm. Paired up, each duo was given a “dig kit” consisting of gloves (safety first!), a bucket, trowels, brushes & a collection bag. They were advised that though Indiana Jones carried a whip – he would also have needed all of these types of tools on a dig site.

Next, the budding Indy’s were taken to one of two “dig sites” – these ODOT created by filling 2 large boxes with fine sand and a wide variety of artifacts mimicking the types of “treasures” one would find at a real Oregon Trail type site. The archaeologists were the “site supervisors” with one for each student duo. With trowels in hand the kids literally dug in and the fun began! The supervisors educated the diggers on proper use of the tools and helped them identify each object as it was unearthed. Dustpans were used to scoop sand into buckets, and it was time for more surprises.

The kids were lead from the tables to one of four sifting screens, buckets were dumped, contents sifted and smiles and exclamations grew as even more “artifacts” were discovered. “Finds” included pottery shards, bits of metal and even some chess pieces. There were also bricks here and there – these were layered within the box illustrating how an old foundation wall could be reconstructed at a site.

Lastly, the kids carefully washed their finds with toothbrushes and soapy water, and were then shown how artifacts would be “bagged and tagged” and catalogued for storage and future museum displays.

The kids even understood when they were advised they couldn’t keep any of their finds, “That’s the thing with archaeology,” one of archaeologists explained, “you don’t get to keep anything.”

The only difficult part of the day was getting one group to stop digging so the next group could begin. One student exclaimed, “I wanna live here!” The adults had just as much fun, as the kids did, despite the scramble between groups to re-bury the artifacts and re-assemble the dig kits.

One of Roedel’s hopes was that “we can inspire someone to be an archaeologist.” It would seem a fair bet that among all those students at least one was bit by the archaeology bug and will be a future Indy or Dr. Zahi Hawass.     On the adult education side: there are over 30,000 recorded archaeological sites in Oregon. If you think you’ve stumbled across a new one, please contact the State Historical Society, contact info can be found on their website: http://www.ohs.org. If you think you’ve found remains, don’t assume they’re historical! Contact the authorities first, the Historical Society second!    For kids and adults interested in the field, Roedel noted that it’s not just about the dig, folks with education/interest in history, chemistry and computers can also enter the field.    And what a fascinating field it is, as stated by Dr. Zahi Hawass: “…archaeology is not just a job. It combines everything that I could want – imagination, intellect, action, and adventure.” No doubt the students at Elk Trail will wholeheartedly agree with him on that.

By Christy Pitto
Of the Independent

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