Virtual Trowel: Learning about Archaeology Online

Article excerpt

IN DECEMBER, STUDENTS AND ARCHAEOLOGY ENTHUSIASTS ALIKE will be able to catch a glimpse of a real archaeological dig-online. The Old Pueblo Archaeology Center is building an interactive website called the "Web of Archaeology."

"This website will be set up so that people can start with the modern ground surface in the photo on the screen and make decisions about how to excavate it," says Al Dart, the center's executive director. "We haven't found any other archaeological excavation site on the Web in which somebody could actually excavate a prehistoric archaeological feature."

The center, says Dart, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about archaeology and to researching the Native American cultures of the Southwest. The center concentrates for the most part on the Hohokam Indians, who inhabited southern and central Arizona from approximately 400 B.C.E. until the mid 140Os. Known for their cultural similarities to Mesoamericans-both groups constructed platform mounds and ball courts-the Hohokam Indians disappeared just before the Spanish arrived in the region.

Archaeologists disagree about the purpose of the Hohokam platform mounds. The traditional theory is that the mounds served to house the elite members of Hohokam society, while others believe that the mounds had religious and ceremonial purposes. The Hohokam ball courts are oval in shape, in contrast to the Mesoamerican design, but archaeologists speculate that the rubber balls and stone markers found in some courts indicate that the Hohokam played a variation of the same sport, tlachco. They left irrigation canals, some of them still in use today, and housing lodges, or pithouses, which the Old Pueblo organization is excavating.

Old Pueblo offers educational programs designed to teach the fundamentals of archaeology and the history and culture of the Hohokam Indians. The Old Pueblo Educational Neighborhood, or OPEN program, allows participants to simulate a pithouse dig at a site constructed by archaeologists. The site is completely fabricated, but the goal is to help people to think and act like archaeologists.

The Old Pueblo website will work the same way. "The site will take them through the steps just like archaeologists have to. It's not just a matter of digging and recovering artifacts. …