Uncovering The Past

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LEARN.

What is an archaeologist? Why do they do this work? An archaeologist is someone who studies human history by excavating and analyzing the items that people have made or used. Their work helps answer questions like, “How did people from long ago live?” and the objects archaeologists find from the past are saved from being destroyed. By saving very old artifacts, we can understand how we are connected to the past. Archaeologists do not sell artifacts or keep them for themselves, they study them and write reports about what they found.


Materials Needed:

  • Pen or pencil
  • Paper
  • (optional) Crayons or markers

Instructions:

STEP 1: Review the seven steps in the chart below to understand the archaeologist’s process:

Research

The archaeologist reads documents to learn about the history of the place, learn about the people who lived there, about the buildings that were there,and how things have changed over time.

Survey

The site is looked over carefully. Tests are done on the surface of the ground so archaeologists know where they should dig to find the best information.

Excavation

The site is divided up into squares. Archaeologists do not dig with big shovels. They carefully remove small layers of dirt with small trowels, paintbrushes, and even dental picks, like the one your dentist uses on your teeth! They have to be very careful not to destroy anything they find. The dirt they remove is put on a screen so they can look for very small pieces of artifacts. If something is found, it is placed in a labeled bag, that includes information like: where it was found, the archaeologist’s name, and the kind of dirt it was found in. Sometimes archaeologists use a book to figure out the type of dirt that surrounds an artifact.

Artifact Processing

Artifacts are taken to a laboratory to be cleaned and organized into groups of similar objects.

Analysis

The archaeologist examines the objects to learn how and when they were made and used.

Reporting

A report is written that includes all of the information collected.

Preservation

Artifacts are safely stored at an archaeology office, university, or museum so they can be used for future study.

STEP 2: Your teammates are at the dig site and are sending you photos of their work. Unfortunately, the photos came to your e-mail out of order. You can piece together where they are in the archaeological process by figuring out which photo in each pair below is the correct next step. Look at both photos in each pair and select which is the next archaeological step by sliding the bar to cover the image you think is incorrect. This will leave only the image you think is the correct and reveal if you are right. Good luck!

 

Image Comparison 1

An archaeologist looks through the scope of a survey instrument to take measurements before excavation work begins. An archaeologist looks through the scope of a survey instrument to take measurements before excavation work begins.

Left image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

Right image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

 

Image Comparison 2

An archaeologist uses a book to match the dirt sample found where the artifact was located. An archaeologist uses a book to match the dirt sample found where the artifact was located.

Left image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

Right image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

 

Image Comparison 3

Using string, Archaeologists mark the area where they will remove bricks and layers of dirt prior to excavation. Using string, Archaeologists mark the area where they will remove bricks and layers of dirt prior to excavation.

Left image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

Right image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

 

Image Comparison 4

An archaeologist uses a book to match the dirt sample found where the artifact was located. An archaeologist uses a book to match the dirt sample found where the artifact was located.

Left image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

Right image
Credit: Michael Bixler

 

Image Comparison 5

After dirt is removed from an artifact, archaeologists often put that dirt on a screen so they can look for very small pieces of artifacts that may have been hidden. After dirt is removed from an artifact, archaeologists often put that dirt on a screen so they can look for very small pieces of artifacts that may have been hidden.

Left image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

Right image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

 

Image Comparison 6

Once artifacts are carefully removed from an excavation site, they are taken to a laboratory to be cleaned and organized into groups of similar objects. Once artifacts are carefully removed from an excavation site, they are taken to a laboratory to be cleaned and organized into groups of similar objects.

Left image
Credit: Old Swedes Historic Site

Right image
Credit: Michael Bixler

 

DO.

What do artifacts tell us about the past? You can’t always see evidence of the people that have existed in this same space, or what they were like and what their lives were like, but archaeology allows us to understand more about the past by investigating artifacts.

Instructions:

STEP 1: Grab your materials from the list at the top of the page.
STEP 2: Ask an adult permission to walk outside where you live or attend school. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!
STEP 3: W
alk around outside near your house or at school and look for something that grabs your attention - it could be a fire hydrant, a picnic table, a potted plant, or a piece of litter. Without touching it, walk around it and analyze it. (If you cannot walk outside, then complete the activity inside.)
STEP 4: Sketch what you found, note its location, and then create a story about this fascinating “artifact” you found. What will future archaeologists think about your community if they found this artifact? Be creative!

  • For example, if you find a plastic bag on the sidewalk, you could say that you discovered this weird, white, crinkly item and you think archaeologists in the year 2075 will probably think it was used as a hat!

REFLECT.

What are we leaving on Earth now, that future archaeologists might find? What do you think those archaeologists would say about our society if they found trash? What actions can we take today, to make sure that planet Earth is healthier and cleaner for future generations?

 

Last updated: May 11, 2021

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

New Castle Court House Museum
Attn: First State NHP
211 Delaware Street

New Castle, DE 19720

Phone:

302-478-2769
If you need to speak to a park ranger call our ranger station at (302-478-2769) and someone will return your call as soon as possible. For a more immediate response, please email the park at firststate@nps.gov.

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