Colonial Digs - MetroFamily Magazine
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Colonial Digs

by Jennifer Geary

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

So often when I'm talking about school with people, I hear them say that history was their least favorite subject; they were given dates and names to memorize, and though they've forgotten all of those dry facts, they definitely remember being bored to death. This is such a shame, because history is full of some of the most amazing stories, and not just the tales of the famous people that get a few paragraphs in a history textbook, but the stories of the everyday people, too. One of the way to bring those stories to life is through archeology.

Obviously you can't take part in real archeological digs for every time period you study, but you can make your own dig at home fairly easily. Way back in my previous life as a classroom teacher I was fortunate enough to get to spend a week at the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, where I was first introduced to indoor archeology digs. On a large tarp, the instructors painted outlines of buildings and scattered different items around the "site" for us to catalog and discuss.  For each item we would write down where we found it, a brief description with size, material, etc., and what we thought the item might be, or if we didn't know that, what we thought it might be used for. After we all had a chance to look over all of the items, we went through them and found out what they really were and we could see how good our guesses were!  

You may not have lots of authentic historical artifacts, but there are some simple ways around that problem! Do you have access to reproductions? If you visit museums or state parks, you may find inexpensive reproductions of some items in the gift shop. You may find some online, too. Are there some substitutions you can make? When we did the colonial dig, there were shells on part of the tarp to represent the shells that colonists used on their walkways. Here in Oklahoma we don't necessarily have the same kinds of shells that would be found in Virginia, but you could use some from a lake or river here and then mention the differences when discussing the items later. Look around your house! One area of our dig had a circle painted on it and inside were some bones; we later found out this was supposed to represent an area where trash was burned.  You can save some bones if you're cooking chicken or see what other things you have around the house that you can use. This may vary depending on the time period you're studying, but you can probably come up with some things without much trouble! If you can't find items anywhere, you can always print pictures to represent them.

If you're making a dig to use at home or at co-op you don't need to spend a lot of money. I've done some that I made using a cheap flat bed sheet and paint, or you could just tape several large pieces of butcher paper together. Sponges make great brick prints and I made walkways by dabbing a wadded up piece of cloth in brown or gray paint and printing it on the sheet. I would recommend either sewing or painting grid lines on the sheet to divide the dig into sections like a real archeologist would do; this will also make it easier when the kids are trying to describe where they found each artifact.

Obviously there is some imagination required when you're doing an archeological dig in your living room, but the suspension of disbelief can work in your favor. When we did an underwater excavation of a sunken ship from the time of the explorers, I printed off pictures of different items that would have been found on board a ship at that time, such as a Bible, maps, gold, and food.  We talked about how in real life, a lot of these items would not survive long underwater, but since we're not dealing with the limitations of reality, we can have anything survive for us to find!

When you're planning out ideas for history this year, get creative and help bring it to life for your kids. They will always remember it and hopefully remember that history is exciting, too!

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