This year’s “Day of Archaeology”, July 26th, was the final day of the inaugural Archaeology Summer program at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, NB, Canada. Over the past four weeks, 8 participants have participated in this unique “hands-on” learning opportunity that will also provide them with 6 credit hours in Anthropology. I am Tricia Jarratt, archaeologist, an instructor and coordinator for the Archaeology Summer program.
Archaeology is the study of the material remains left by people who lived in the past. We try to say something about people by examining the things they manufactured and used (artifacts) and that we today, find in the ground. In order to understand the meaning behind the artifacts, we need to understand the culture of those who made them, to do this we work with local First Nations populations. The learners people enrolled in this program have learned to replicate the technologies that produce the artifacts that are often discovered in our area (such as stone tools and pottery). The goal of this was to better understand a bit more about the people who had lived and manufactured such items in the distant past, and the processes by which the archaeological record is formed. This is known as experimental archaeology.
The program is held on a dedicated area on the UNB campus year after year and students learn excavation techniques in the space used in the previous year where the “experimental technology” has occurred. Through these exercises, participants can learn appropriate excavation and recovery techniques that would be used in a “real life” archaeological field situation. This simulation allows students to experience “hands on learning” without raising ethical implications that could arise from teaching students on a true archaeological site. I compare it to learning to fly with a computer simulator prior to taking a plane out for the first time.
Students this year have completed the course with the guidance of Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik Elders and craft specialists. They have flint knapped, made pottery, constructed a wigwam and learned the craft of basket-making. Students also learned how to create a grid and map an archaeological site. There was a focus on the importance of maintaining accurate field notes, careful trowelling and sifting dirt, and recording the location of artifacts. We worked outside in most weather conditions, just as if we would be expected to do if we were “in the field.” Most importantly, learners found a new appreciation for the objects left by those who inhabited the distant past in the teachings shared with them by the Elders.
Today, we spent the day reflecting on all we have learned and come to appreciate about archaeology. One student shared that this program “really hit home the thankless work of archaeologists, I know have a great respect for them after doing all the hard labour involved in a dig…but that by recording such matters we can understand that a vibrant nation once lived here well among the many rivers and streams of New Brunswick.”