Archaeology at work

June 18, 2010 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

Kate Jackson, Fernbank’s Archaeology Programs Specialist, has been an archaeologist her whole life—well basically. She cannot remember a time when she did not want to be an archaeologist, and now she is actually living her dream.

It all started when Kate was 13-years-old. She was exploring one of the pyramids in Egypt and she got to touch history. “The pyramid was hot and kind of gross, but the history, how you could just touch it, was so cool,” said Kate with a big smile on her face as she remembered every detail.

Kate then started teaching me about archaeology. She told me about the different digs she has been on, the pieces of history she has discovered, and the joy she gets from teaching people about the past. She told me one of the most important things about archaeology is the desire to share the information that is discovered. After all, what would be the point of spending countless hours searching, discovering and learning about the past if you were going to keep it all to yourself? No, archaeologists want people to discover history with them.

I learned that paleontology is the study of fossils, including dinosaurs; anthropology is the study of people; and archaeology is the study of people in the past through the clues they’ve left behind. I always thought fossils and artifacts were archaeology, but that’s not true. While they are related in that archaeologist and paleontologists both look at the past through what’s leftover, they look at different things. They are kind of like cousin sciences.

I also learned archaeologists are meticulous, patient people. Kate described to me the importance of details in archaeology. For example the distance between two objects can tell so much about the way people used them in the past, and depending on how far down an object is located in the ground could determine its age.

Did you know that archaeology isn’t just about the dig though? I sure didn’t.

“Excavation isn’t the biggest part of archaeology.” Kate said that archaeologists agree that “for roughly every hour on dig, you have three hours in the lab” studying the artifacts you found.

To start off with, archaeologists have to find a site. Sometimes they search historical records or look for visual elements or get a tip from people. A good example of that is when farmers find artifacts when they are plowing and planting their crops. Kate recommends that if you find something, don’t dig it up yourself—contact an archaeologist at a local museum, university or the state archaeology office.

After a site has been found, research is really important. An archaeologist’s first move is never to push the shovel in the ground. The pre-excavation research can include walking surveys, searching the history of the area and checking with other archaeologists and with people who live in the area. When they finally find a good starting spot, they set up a grid and start with shovel test pits (small holes a few feet apart from one another). Then they slowly dig bigger and bigger areas.

(To give you a time frame, it can take years to get to this point…like I said, archaeologists are patient people!)

All of them have a tremendous interest in history, which keeps them motivated during the slow discovery process. They want to know everything about people in the past and tell everyone what they know.

Is that something you are interested in? Because if you love learning about people in the past, Fernbank has a lot of great ways you can start your archaeology adventure.

For younger scientists, the junior archaeology labs are a really neat way to get involved. There are tables with different activities: excavation boxes, puzzle recreations (known as mending in the lab) and coloring. Kate also brings in artifacts that kids can touch and learn about. For older students and Boy Scouts, a 3-4 hour mock dig program on a Fernbank-created simulated excavation site is offered. . It is as real as you can get without being on an actual archaeology site—including the paper work and carefully washing the artifacts. “You get the complete experience about what a real archaeology site is like,” said Kate.) Fernbank also offers occasional Archaeology Open Houses, an annual Archaeology Day and of course, the museum is filled with interesting artifacts, including a rare dugout canoe found in South Georgia. Don’t miss the permanent exhibition Conveyed in Clay: Stories from St. Catherines and the brand-new special exhibition De Soto’s Footsteps: New Archaeological Evidence from Georgia, which is changing history!

Come to Fernbank and explore archaeology today.

-Andrea Lowery, Marketing & Communications Intern

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About

At Fernbank Museum, there’s much more than dinosaurs and giant-screen films. Even with our website, e-newsletters, Facebook pages and Twitter updates, there’s still a lot we’d like to share with you. This blog is an opportunity for the people that keep Fernbank running and constantly expanding, to share stories from their point of view. We hope you’ll enjoy these first-hand, behind-the-scenes glimpses of what goes into keeping a world-class natural history museum running. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on these stories, to hear your personal experiences and hear any suggestions for topics. Happy reading!

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