6th Grade Archaeologists? Can You DIG It?

Article excerpt

Archaeology! Can you dig it? Sixth graders at Markham Middle School sure do. For the past three years, students in my history class have explored an archaeological dig site right on our campus! This site was created for sixth graders by sixth graders.

Each August I launch the ten-month curricular adventure that begins with early man and ends with the ancient Greeks. We trudge along with hunter-gatherers, settle down with early farming communities and soon land in the first cities. Empires follow. Students learn that these larger communities must have certain key elements to qualify for the title of civilization: centralized government, specialized labor force, stable food supply and surplus, religion and the arts. All of it fascinates me, of course. I am the history major. I want my enthusiasm to be contagious. We do hands-on projects throughout the year, but it is DIG that ties the whole year of learning together.

Here is a sample set-up. Let's suppose that there are two history classes. Each class votes to determine where their civilization will hail from. This must be done with the utmost secrecy. Once we know where we are from we divide into small groups to research what geographical features are there (the river systems, plants, animals, climate, etc). Each group shares what they learned and we begin to catalog the information into a "reference" book.

The class then divides into civilization component groups. Over the years the size and number of these groups has varied with each class. At its most basic it has government workers, farmers, religious leaders, visual/performing artists and craftsmen, and scribes. The scribes develop a language and create a "Rosetta Stone" which has both the invented language and English (One year the students translated their invented language into Spanish. It was a delightful addition for everyone who loves to solve puzzles).

Each component group elects a spokesperson to represent them. These individuals must communicate with other component groups as well as to the whole class so that we all are current. Everyone uses the reference book to confirm basic information. As these component groups develop their laws and traditions, they must create both an English language document (on binder paper) and an invented language document (on grocery store bag parchment). The English document goes into my folder. The parchment document goes into a box that has been labeled by period.

Now we get to make the artifacts that reflect the documents, which tell the story of who and where we are. Dig artifacts are made from non-plastic junk that students transform into amazing, wondrous treasures. This year the Rosetta stone was a work of art done on rock, painted black and inscribed in gold. Festival songs and music described on their parchment documents now get real instruments and costumes. clay creations go home to bake in the oven.. .and sometimes return to class broken from a rough ride to school! But hey! Real artifacts are excavated in fragments as well.

It is now time to video each group holding their documents and artifacts. They explain where they are living, what their tools are made of, what laws are the most important, how they are enforced, which gods to pray to and when, festivals, foods, wars, even baby toys. …