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Children and Archaeology
Lynn Simonelli, Vice President of Collections and Research for the Dayton Society of Natural History (the parent-organization of SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park and the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery), shares her adventures as an archaeologist and gives caregivers tips to help introduce their children to this fascinating field.
The Life of an Archaeologist
Lynn Simonelli, Vice President of Collections and Research for the Dayton Society of Natural History, shares her adventures as an archaeologist and gives caregivers tips to help introduce their children to this fascinating field. Introduce your child to archaeology as a career and create an “Archaeology Party” for your child and his/her friends using the activities below.
“When people learn that I am an archaeologist, their first response is, “How interesting!” It is clear that the majority of people associate archaeology with the romance, intrigue, and mystery of the Indiana Jones and Lara Croft movies. While I am also a fan of these movies, the reality of archaeology in Dayton is that it is unnecessary to travel to exotic locales to learn more about the lives of past people and their cultures: there’s plenty of archaeology to be done in southwestern Ohio.
“The second response I get from meeting someone new is “So, how many dinosaurs have you dug up?” Many people are unaware that archaeology, the study of cultures through examining their material culture, is separated from paleontology, the study of prehistoric life using fossil evidence. Archaeologists are insatiably curious. We want to know how the people of prehistoric cultures lived, ate, married, taught their children, built shelters, and particularly what they threw away. It is not commonly known that prehistoric garbage is a bonanza for an archaeologist. By examining animal bones, broken pottery and other items discarded by ancient people, archaeologists can gain a wealth of knowledge.”
The Importance of Pottery
“Archaeologists spend a lot of time looking to recover the small remnants of material culture left behind by prehistoric societies. Some of these remnants can be particularly useful for reconstructing how past groups lived. For example, pottery is very useful in defining societal roles. Pottery can be used to determine a person’s social ranking, gender, or even possibly their relationship to others in the group. Archaeologists use pottery and the designs placed upon it to decipher how various areas within the archaeological site were used. For example, one would expect to find pottery in a food preparation or cooking area, but would not expect to find it in a sleeping area.”
Archaeology Party: “Ancient” Pottery Excavation Activity
Why I Became an Archaeologist
“Like many other archaeologists, I became interested in archaeology because of ancient Egypt and mummies. When I was 14, my high school French class took a trip to England and France. Of course, we visited many of the great museums in both countries, but my favorite was the Louvre. There were numerous rooms of Egyptian artifacts, sarcophagi, and mummies. It gave me chills to be in the same room with people who lived thousands of years ago. I decided right then that I would become an archaeologist.”
Insight into Ancient Egypt
“Ancient Egyptian mummies were originally wrapped in fine linen bandages. In some cases and during some periods, the wrapped mummies were encased in bitumin, a tarry substance. In most cases, the bodies were carefully embalmed with natron (a sodium carbonate mineral) after certain portions of the body were removed (lungs, liver, intestines, stomach). In nearly all cases, the brain was removed and discarded, while the heart was left in place in the body, since it was regarded as the seat of the person’s soul.
“Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart would be weighed on the scales of justice by the god of the underworld. If the person had not committed enough good deeds in his or her life, the heart would not weigh enough on the scales of justice. In order to counteract this, ancient Egyptian people began to place various amulets over the heart and inside the mummy bandages. The amulets, often in the shape of a scarab beetle, would help weigh down the heart on the scales of justice; a kind of insurance!”
Archaeology Party: Mummy Wrap Activity
4. Finish with a separate wrap only for the head. Leave your mummy room to breathe!
What Does an Archaeologist do?
“I spend a lot of time on my computer, writing and conducting research. I spend time overseeing the efforts of my volunteers and staff in washing, labeling, cataloguing, and placing excavated artifacts in permanent storage. I analyze artifacts from excavations the Museum has conducted over the past forty-plus years (this includes weighing the pieces, measuring length, width, thickness, describing the piece, gluing pieces of broken pottery or bone together), and I make these materials available to other researchers in the archaeological community.
“Unlike Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, I don’t have to battle enemies as I work, but I sometimes have to battle the effects of monotony. Archaeology is full of repetitive tasks that cannot be described as exciting, romantic, or intriguing. This includes digging square holes in the ground, mapping the original location of each and every artifact encountered, photographing the location of each artifact recovered, and writing notes about the location of each artifact we come across. This is the epitome of repetition, but it is intentional. It is meant to guard against the loss of information as individual notes, maps, or photographs are passed down or lost.”
The Unexpected (and Sometimes Unpleasant) Side of Archaeology
“Artifacts aren’t the only things archaeologists encounter while excavating those square holes in the dirt! Insects, worms, voles, spiders, mice, skunks, groundhogs, toads, and other residents of the great outdoors are commonly met while archaeologists are conducting their work.”
Archaeology Party: Edible Archaeology
My Favorite Archaeological Subject
“I have become very interested in the late Prehistoric American Indian cultures that occupied southwestern Ohio, and I am particularly interested in their bone tool sets. It’s amazing to see the varieties of bones that were used for similar tasks. For example, in the bone tool set from SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park, there are over 15 different kinds of animal bones that are fashioned into awls (ostensibly, tools made for poking holes into leather or other textiles). These range from turkey legs to deer or elk ulnae to simple splintered pieces of animal longbone. Archaeologists can become completely immersed in esoteric things!” For more information, please call 937-268-8199.
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