Inspiring the Next Generation, Part 2: Creating an Excavation Exhibit for a Children’s Museum

Our project coinciding with the Day of Archaeology 2012 was to build up an “excavation” for children to dig at the Cheshire Children’s Museum in Keene, NH, USA. The excavation activity will be in the Egypt themed area. At first I fretted over how we could possibly replicate an Egyptian excavation within our 2 m x 1 m box (that just wasn’t going to happen!). I decided to focus on simply portraying a few main ideas–the measured square units that archaeologists dig; the idea of layers– so that this excavation activity would look more like archaeology and a little less like a sandbox.

I am very lucky that my husband Randall, an architect, designer, and person who knows how to make anything with fiberglass, agreed to help with this project. First we stacked sheets of foam into an excavation grid with several different “layers.” After a messy first attempt that caused some of our materials to self-destruct, Randall worked with sticky resin and fiberglass fabric to mold the excavation units and places for artifacts, while I made some “ancient” ceramic sherds out of pots from Agway. (As I mentioned in my preliminary post, it proved to be rather difficult to find suitable artifact replicas to purchase for the exhibit.) Later, we applied more sloppy glue and a bucket of sand to the fiberglass surface, and glued the artifacts into their layers (based on rather loose relative dating).

Creating archaeology = messy basement!

What a relief when we delivered this mold to the museum and it fit right into its designated crate! To this will be added some loose sand, so that children can dig and discover the artifacts. Setting the scene further will be excavation tools (or, children’s shovels, etc.) and grid indicators/measurements, and an Egyptian desert mural behind the excavation. In addition to digging, we plan to provide clipboards so that children can choose to draw or record their finds. Based on my 7-year-old’s suggestion, we’ll also provide an “artifact report”/ “fun facts” sheet for each of the artifacts. She and her sister are really excited to learn more about these mysterious items, so I’m hoping that will be true for all the local children who visit the museum!

The mock excavation table, in situ in its museum home.

If time, space, and budgets permit, I’d love to add additional activities or games, perhaps some puzzle activities for the younger children. But this is only one small part of a museum with many different topics and activities. So for now, if a few children share in the fun of discovery, and leave with some idea that real archaeological excavation involves those neat square holes in the ground,* or if a few children are inspired to learn about ancient cultures, we’ll be thrilled!

 

*My subliminal anti-looting message for the youngsters!

In addition to thanking Randall Walter, who did all the dirty work here, I’d also like to thank the Cheshire Children’s Museum for the opportunity to work on this fun project, and Rita Elliott, a fellow archaeologist who, although I have never met her, took time out to discuss with me ideas for “mock excavation” activities. Thank you!

Inspiring the Next Generation (Or Working On It…)

The truth is, the closest I got to archaeology today was watching my 4-year-old and her dance class perform in their “Jurassic Arts” Dinosaur dance show. But this weekend will be different as I turn my attention to archaeology for children. A few weeks ago, one of my daughter’s friends earnestly explained to me that “paleontologists dig for dinosaur bones, and archaeologists dig to learn about Egypt.” (OK, a little limited geographically, but that is pretty good!) These kids, and many others like them, have inspired me to take on this small, “easy” project of creating an archaeology excavation / activity table for a local children’s museum that will open soon. We only have essentially a 2 m x 1 m box in which to convey the main points of archaeological excavation to the 3- to 10-year old crowd, while providing fun and entertainment as well. And what would an archaeological project be without the smallest of budgets!

Of course even a simple project is not without its challenges. Finding inexpensive, kid-friendly artifact replicas has proven to be more time-consuming than finding the coveted fluted point at my last Paleoindian dig. And after my 4-year-old drew blood from my 7-year-old with my Marshalltown, I’m still on the search for suitable tools. I think I’ll go get some whisk brooms and toothbrushes next. It has been an adventure just working out the logistics of this one exhibit, especially in trying to find the common ground between what’s important to us, and what’s interesting for kids…

We’ll be working on installing the activity table this weekend, and I hope to post more about our progress. Fingers crossed that it goes well, and that we give future generations, one child at a time, an appreciation for learning from and preserving our archaeological heritage!