children’s archaeology activities

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!