Junior Archaeology Day teaches kids how to be an archaeologist

Students from across the Wiregrass learned about archaeology with hands-on activities.

Students from across the Wiregrass learned about archaeology with hands-on activities.

Around 50 budding young archaeologists excavated plant and pottery materials, learned how to read dirt and how those who came before us hunted during the recent Junior Archaeology Day event hosted by the Troy University Anthropology Club and the Alabama Archaeological Society at the TROY arboretum.

The event was designed to give children in kindergarten through sixth grade interested in archaeology and anthropology a glimpse into the work these scientists do. TROY professors, students from across the program and other industry professionals taught the young students excavation, stratigraphy, flotation, lithics, ceramics, paleoethnobotany, zooarchaeology and atlatl throwing.

Dr. Stephen Carmody, Associate Chair of the Anthropology, Sociology, and Criminology Department and assistant professor of anthropology, said the first event was a great success.

“Our goal was to introduce elementary school children to archaeology and to teach them how and why we do what we do,” he said. “We started with an excavation station where children got to get their hands dirty and practice the art of systematic excavation. We then moved them through seven additional stations where they got hands-on, experiential training in artifact analysis and a demonstration of indigenous hunting technology. 

“We hope that all who attended left with a better understanding of what we hope to achieve as archaeologists and how we tell meaningful stories of the past.”

Cayla Schofield, a freshman anthropology major from Montgomery, Alabama, taught students at the ceramics station about the different designs, tempers and incisions on pottery.

“I love working with kids, and it’s so fun to get to show them what we do and get them interested in it,” she said. “I hope they learned how patterns have evolved over time and the different ways people have used things and made things, the way people before us operated.”

Emily Kennedy, a junior anthropology major from Birmingham, Alabama, showcased skulls from a cow, a fox, an otter and several more and had the students guess which animal it belonged to. She also talked to them about where many animals we see in everyday life, like cows, originated from.

A TROY student pours rocks into a water system during the floatation demonstration.
A TROY student pours rocks into a water system during the floatation demonstration.

“I thought this would be a good opportunity to build up my own knowledge, but to also pass it along to kids who may be interested in studying something like this one day,” she said. “Kids really like digging in the dirt, and they see movies like Indiana Jones and they’re so interested in that, but this way we can really tell them what’s important, how it’s done and specifically try to encourage them to get out there one day, too.”

Kristen Hazel, departmental secretary for the Chemistry and Physics department, brought her son, Jacob, to the afternoon event and said it’s always a good thing to expose children to the sciences at an early age.

“Kids don’t know how big of a spectrum there is in the field of sciences,” she said. “I think back to my own education, and I knew what an archaeology dig site looked like and what you see from pictures and movies, but there’s a difference in knowing something exists and actually knowing what they do and how it works. Not everyone wants to go be a doctor or nurse, so I think exposing kids to all the options there are at a young age really helps. 

“Jacob has been interested in archaeology for a while, so for him it’s knowing that this may be a career option for him one day.”

At the end of the day, students who completed all eight stations earned their Junior Archaeologist Certificate. Niki, 8, of Troy, and Thomas, 8, of Auburn, both said they enjoyed learning new things.

“I learned that you can dig things up from under the ground and find new things. My favorite part was where we went to see the rocks and used the light where you can see through the rocks,” Niki said, while Thomas said his favorite part of the day was learning how to make weapons and digging for artifacts.

Junior Archaeology Day was part of the 2023 Alabama Archaeological Society Winter Conference hosted on the Troy Campus. Archaeology professionals and students from major universities and businesses across the state presented current research and findings in Alabama. The conference was hosted by the Troy Chapter of the Alabama Archaeological Society and the Troy University Anthropology Club.