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Digging with Kids: Historic Archaeology, Education, and Fun

The Kids Are Scientists Too (KAST), Archaeology Field School for Kids has been held annually since 2004 at the Farwell House site in Storrs, CT, USA on the campus of the University of Connecticut.  Children between the ages of 9 & 15 are able to learn the scientific methods of archaeology by excavating a real archaeological site.

Farwell House

The Farwell House was built in the mid-18th century and occupied by the Farwell family until 1908.  The house was sold in the early 20th century, and shortly thereafter the University acquired the House.  The House served as a dormitory until the University determined maintenance costs were too high. The House was burned down in a fire training exercise in 1976.  At that time the house was the oldest in town.  The foundation was filled in, and the only research conducted on the site has been by children participating in the KAST dig.

The site is ready for Field School

Each summer new units are excavated in what once was the front, back, or side yards of the House.  Much of what the students discover in the upper layers relates to the burning episode.  Below the burn layer are artifacts dating to the occupation of the House and date to the 18th-19th centuries.

All excavations are overseen by a professional archaeologist, and reports are filed with the State Historic Preservation Office.  Now that the program is in its 8th year with its 5th staff archaeologist, questions about excavation strategy, professionalism, and the future of the site and the KAST program are coming to the fore.  This year has been especially introspective and self-critical.  As we move forward we want to insure not only an enjoyable experience for the students, but a professional investigation of an historic archaeological site that answers real research questions and makes a contribution to not only the archaeological community, but to the larger community.

The KAST Field School has run for the last week and concluded Friday the 29th of July 2011.  After 4 days of excavation the students spent a day in the “lab” at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History.  Activities included washing and identifying artifacts and creating a display of their finds that will remain on exhibit at the Museum.

KAST excavators looking for artifacts in the screen


A KAST Student Washes Artifacts

KAST Display

The program has been well received by not only the students, but also their parents and local media.  A local news program visited the site and interviewed students for a short interest piece on the evening news.  It is my personal hope that programs and publicity like this will reinforce the importance of historic preservation and archaeology even in a precarious economic climate.

Swords, sandals and early Heritage sites

Local media

Our local media – print, broadcast and online – are still excellent ways to reach people involved with the community project and attract new visitors. Not everyone’s online yet. You are though: do take a look at our Facebook page.

One of our volunteers has built up a terrific relationship with them and gains lots of publicity for the different activities and events that ATU runs.  Here’s a piece published today about a screening of The  Eagle of the Ninth, based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic tale which visited our villa site.

There’ll also be a talk by Andy Brockman, who specialises in community archaeology and the Archaeology of Modern Conflict.

All Because of Tutankhamun?

Here’s another contribution with thoughts about promotion from Dr Lesley Hardy:

‘I’m writing this in a brief break from a longer writing task. Two weeks of study leave is hopefully going to allow me to make some further headway looking at the culture which took place in the 1920s.

In part, the appetite for all things archaeological was linked to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 but I argue its roots go back much further into the C19th and are also explained by the shifts that take place in culture and society post-WW1.

In order to trace these changes and their significance for how we look at archaeology today, I’m following the excavation of the Roman villa site at Folkestone. These were excavated by S.E. Winbolt in 1924 and in many ways epitomise the turn towards the promotion and integration of archaeology (especially, I think, Romano-British archaeology) through a wide range of media – newspapers, books, radio even.

The Earliest Heritage Site?

In other words, Folkestone is one of the first ‘Heritage sites’ in the country.

Must get back to the job in hand – production of this article: ‘The Romans in Folkestone: S.E. Winbolt and the evolution of Public Archaeology in the 1920s.”