Category: Educator Field Experiences

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Digging Into Archaeology

UPDATE: In October, I shared this experience with my students – our 7th grade archaeologists participated in a dig of their own! Using homemade tools consistent with our limited budget (large flower pots, curved spatulas, & colanders), each dig team expertly removed layers of soil & documented soil changes & artifact finds in collaborative field notes. This is a true example of the “ripple effect” of hands-on PD opportunities for teachers! Check out some photos of my social scientists in action on our classroom website.

This week, the CT State Office of Archaeology offered educators the opportunity to “get our hands dirty” (literally!) in the field of archaeology. Every year, my 7th grade social studies scholars start their foray into the social sciences with a journey into the world of archaeology. They learn archaeological vocabulary, sort through and analyze collections of “artifacts” (clean recyclables and objects that I find around my house and classroom), and consider how the stratigraphy (soil layers) of a pit can help archaeologists date objects they find. When I learned about this “field school” for educators, I jumped at the opportunity to move from the theory of archaeology to practice!

Before we began digging, we examined the stratigraphy – soil layers – in a test pit near the dig site

We spent the week digging in Windsor, CT on land that was once home to the family of John Mason. Born in 1600, Mason was an early English settler and Deputy Governor of the Connecticut colony who is most often remembered for leading what is now known as the “Mystic Massacre” – a devastating attack on the Pequots that effectively wiped out the tribe. Read more about the controversy surrounding Mason’s life and a statue built to remember him in this 1996 Hartford Courant article.

CT State Archaeologist Brian Jones examines a teacher’s work and advises next steps
Tents shading us from the scorching July sun made digging a bit more comfortable

On one of the hottest weeks of the summer – in the 90s everyday! – my teacher colleagues and I worked with State Archaeologist Brian Jones, along with other expert archaeologists, to peel away the layers of the land just outside the Windsor Historical Society. As we worked – digging 10 cm at a time – we encountered artifact after artifact. We documented everything we found, and the archaeologists helped us to identify the objects.  

An archaeologist helps me to identify some of the pieces of pottery, glass, and brick that I uncovered
A collection of artifacts found in a single 10 cm layer of soil

After five days of digging, we finally encountered what we hoped to find – elements consistent with a 17th century cellar believed to have belonged to the Mason family. As we reached this depth, I unearthed a stem from a clay pipe with a very narrow hole. Based on the width of the opening, we were able to determine that this pipe was likely  from 1620-1650. As I held this piece of history in the palm of my hand, I was reminded that the stories of those who came before us often lie just beneath our feet.

Elements of the stone cellar belonging to the Mason family (c. 1640)
A clay pipe stem c. 1620-1650