Message #405:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Archaeology is at best seen as having little practical utility?
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 96 09:01:00 MST
Encoding: 543 TEXT

Listening to the Teachers: Warnings about the use of archaeological agendas 
in classrooms in the United States

Larry J. Zimmerman, Steve Dasovich, Mary Engstrom and Lawrence E. Bradley

In the United States, archaeology is at best seen as having little practical 
utility. For most who pay any attention to archeology, it is simply an 
exotic hobby, a branch of history that provides little more than interesting 
perspective and perhaps a bit of intrigue. Although some might see it 
differently, this view of archaeology is arguably the dominant view of the 
American public. Still, the exotic has appeal, and many elementary school 
children fantasize a future as an archaeologist as one of their first career 

In spite of this appeal, if archaeology appears anywhere in formal school 
curriculum, it is usually presented as a quaint diversion for students (cf. 
Selig 1991:3). Essentially, archaeology becomes entertainment, "a 
treasure-hunting, collecting, object oriented entertainment" (Blanchard 
1991:1). Teachers can use the "romance" of archaeology to teach some 
lessons, but few have done more with it.

Those who carefully have studied classroom archaeology, however, have 
recognized a greater potential: it can be a motivator of behavioral change 
in approaches to learning (cf Blanchard 1991:3). As an interdisciplinary 
field, archaeology can provide a linkage for teaching other fields of 
knowledge. Students can be lured into the "exotic" but shown how their 
science, mathematics, writing and other courses like music and art have 
application in the "real" world. This approach is sometimes called 
"co-curricular" study, whereby several aspects of education are linked by 
some outside activity. Co-curricular study led to the development of a long 
term project for the University of South Dakota and the local middle school.

For the past six years, the University of South Dakota has sponsored 
Archaeology Days for Sixth Grade (age 11) students in the Vermillion, South 
Dakota, Middle School. The fundamental concern for Archaeology Days was to 
promote a more realistic understanding of archaeology beyond that presented 
in the media. At the same time, it unintentionally became an effort to 
develop a co-curricular program. Archaeology Days, including the history of 
the project, activities we chose and executed with the students, and some of 
our observations about its success and failures will be discussed in this 
paper, but within a particular context.

There is already a plethora of quality case studies documenting archaeology 
in the classroom. On one level this paper is simply another case study of 
what can be done. At the same time, we hope it will be more than that. 
Frankly, those who developed Archaeology Days did so in something of a 
contextual, theoretical, and philosophical vacuum. Case studies abound in 
the literature, but document almost no effort to examine broader questions 
of effectiveness and interface with broader educational concerns, strategies 
and goals. Archaeology Days, like many similar projects in the United 
States, developed and grew haphazardly.


Archaeology Days had its origins in 1980 with a grant provided by the South 
Dakota Historical Preservation Center. The grant was intended to provide 
teaching materials for Junior High School teachers in the state for use in 
their required units on South Dakota history. The concern of archaeologists 
in the University of South Dakota Archaeology Laboratory (USDAL) was to 
provide audiovisual and printed materials at a level both students and 
teachers could understand. The materials had to be nearly jargon-free and 
easy to use.

With this in mind, USDAL developed a series of four filmstrips and audio 
cassettes about the prehistory of South Dakota and surrounding regions, with 
two of the strips concentrating on two important archaeological sites in the 
state. An illustrated a pamphlet-length Young Peoples' Guide to South Dakota 
Archaeology (K. Zimmerman 1982) and several teachers guides accompanied the 
package Ancient Peoples and Places of South Dakota. The package was 
distributed free of charge to elementary schools and public libraries across 
the state.

We discovered that distribution of the series placed the USDAL staff and 
other archaeologists in the state in high demand as grade school speakers 
around the state. The pamphlet was very successful, with over 7,000 
distributed, and comments on the audiovisual materials were quite good. 
Teachers continually asked what more they could do, specifically if the 
students could actually visit and perhaps dig at an archaeological site. For 
most, we realized this would be an impossibility because of time, distance 
and costs, but for Vermillion students it proved to be feasible when an 
archaeological site, the Bliss Hill Site (39CL9) was discovered at the edge 
of the city.

Archaeology Days grew from this and became a project for members of the 
University of South Dakota's Anthropology Program Enthusiast's Society 
(APES) student club members in 1988. APES wanted to conduct test excavations 
at the newly discovered site so university students could get extra field 
experience. Some suggested that opening the excavation to the public might 
be a good promotional scheme for the Anthropology department, the club and 
the University. If the public could actually dig at the site under close 
supervision, the public would be even more interested. APES began the 
excavations on weekends during the early Fall but never involved the general 
public due to time constraints.

At that time, USDAL was asked about the possibility of giving a talk on 
archaeology to the local sixth grade. The sixth grade teachers also asked 
taking students to see any nearby archaeological sites. APES had just 
finished working on the Bliss Hill Site (39CL9) and thought that this site 
was well suited for a tour. They arranged for more than 100 students and 
their teachers to visit our archaeology laboratory and the Bliss Hill site.


The laboratory tour showed the students most of what it is that 
archaeologists do in the lab. APES built displays of topographical maps, 
aerial photos (normal, infra-red), site maps, a hand-made example of 
stratigraphy, and artifacts. They showed a film-strip on South Dakota 
archaeology from the Ancient Peoples and Places series as well giving a tour 
of the artifact storage room. Finally, there was a demonstration of on-going 
cataloging and a hands-on demonstration of pottery making and decorating.

Bliss Hill

The tour of Bliss Hill was the sixth graders favorite part. First, the 
students were walked around the perimeter of the site and were told reasons 
why the site was located at this particular place. After short discussion 
about safety and proper on-site behavior, they had a short "field school" on 
proper excavation techniques. Finally, each had a chance to excavate under 
the supervision of APES members and university faculty. Contrary to what 
many thought would happen, the sixth graders did an excellent job and for 
the most part were patient and well behaved. An extra bonus that made this 
portion of the day so popular were hands-on demonstration of an atl- atl 
(spearthrower) and fire making.

The project was an overwhelming success. The whole sixth grade (about 120 
students) wrote thank-you letters. Not one had a negative comment.  One 
reason for such success was that all the students actually got to use, with 
their own hands, the atl-atl, or try to make a fire or a pottery vessel, or 
had a chance to actually dig in a real excavation. Teachers were also 
receptive. They got a reprieve from the daily classroom activity and had 
others take charge of their students for a day. The teachers felt both they 
and their students had learned a great deal. They invited us to do the same 
program the next year. For USDAL and APES, the day was successful in other 
ways, with regional media attention and consequent requests from other areas 
schools for us to conduct the same activity for their students.

There was an unexpected amount of media coverage. Four local newspapers and 
four local television stations did news stories on the project. More 
coverage than we had hoped for, there were newspaper articles in three towns 
and television coverage in the four states area around us. We managed to 
also include one other school from nearby Volin, South Dakota, on the site 
before cold weather came.

                                  ARCHAEOLOGY DAYS 1989

>From the successes of our 1988 Archaeology Day, we realized that the 
potential for our project was nearly unlimited. As the start of the academic 
year came, we decided that we should try the project again but to 
demonstrate as many aspects of archaeology as was possible and in a more 
integrated way than in 1988. The sixth grade teachers recently had attended 
a conference which discussed co-curricular approaches to teaching. They 
decided that archaeology fit perfectly as co-curricular teaching because it 
involves so many different areas. A major problem was to decide just what 
areas to cover and how to do it.

USDAL staff, APES and the teachers met in both USDAL and the Middle School 
to plan the project. Eventually, these meetings also included 
representatives from the university's School of Education, the State 
Historic Preservation Center, the W.H. Over Museum, and the Shrine to Music 
Museum. Together we decided on a general approach to the week and on 
specific activities for the students, seeking a blend of in-school and 
out-of-school projects.

Pre-tests and Post-tests

Early in our meetings, we all realized that one thing we did not know was 
exactly what the students had learned the year before. They seemed to have a 
fun time, if their exuberant letters of thanks were any indication, but what 
did they actually learn about archaeology? Were they just happy to be out of 
the regular classroom for a day or did they really absorb something about 
archaeology? We decided that we should develop a test structure that would 
measure pre-existing knowledge about archaeology and what students learned 
from the sessions--a pre-test and post-test structure. Pre-and post-tests 
contained the same questions, with seventeen of them multiple-choice and 
thirteen as True or False with all questions geared toward selected 
activities from the Archaeology Week.

Lecture Activities

The one day site/lab tour was extended to one full week to accommodate all 
the new plans. Nearly all academic areas involved in archaeology played a 
role in our plans. These areas were divided into talks and presentations 
which had minimal amounts of hands-on activity and ones that had heavy 
amounts of student participation.

Archaeology Days actually began about two weeks ahead of the intensive week 
in order to build interest and anticipation. Teachers assigned students to 
read four brief narratives in a unit titled "Understanding the Past" from 
their readings book Celebrations (Durr 1989). One narrative is a story about 
a Stone Age boy who learns to make stone tools and helps his tribe survive. 
Another is a short poem, "Who Am I?," that looks at a child as an integral 
part of their environment. The third is an article directly discussing 
archaeological methods, and the fourth describes what a necklace found in a 
site can tell. All are well written, enticing in style and reasonably 
accurate in archaeological content. These provided the initial contact with 
archaeology for all the students. After these readings were completed, the 
sixth grade teachers discussed them with their students, administered the 
pre-test and announced the activities of Archaeology Week.

At the start of the next week students had a presentation by the Shrine to 
Music Museum on what ancient music might have sounded like and about early 
musical instruments. APES placed a colorful exhibit about archaeology in 
exhibit cases in the school commons area.

Archaeology Days was under way the next week with a photographic slide 
program given by the South Dakota Historical Preservation Center about what 
it is that archaeologists actually do. This talk was a good general 
introduction to the week's activities. Following the talk, the first group 
of presentations, those with minimal student participation, began with 
students rotating through them.

We selected five different areas for these presentations: bones, 
stratigraphy and dating, ecology, artifact classification, and a slide show 
on different archaeological sites from around the world. The students were 
divided into groups moving from one station to the next so that each group 
could see each station. This session was split into two days, Monday and 
Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoon, all students toured to the W.H. Over 
State Museum for an in depth look at the museum exhibits, exhibit 
preparation, curation and the history of South Dakota archaeology.

The bones presentation showed the students different bones from many kinds 
of animals, including human. We explained how peoples' diets and the 
environment of the sites could be ascertained from bones. The students were 
also shown some bone tools and asked the function of each.

The stratigraphy and dating presentation described many methods for dating 
sites or artifacts using both relative and absolute methods. We discussed 
the use of artifact styles as time markers, but we also introduced students 
to more complex techniques such as radiocarbon, dendrochronology, and 
stratigraphic interpretation.

The ecology section focussed on food chains and what things would be people 
would find important about their surroundings so they would want to settle 
in a particular location. Students participated in a role-playing simulation 
where they "became" different parts of the environment.

In our artifact classification unit, we used two groups of "artifacts," one 
a series of items taken from a faculty member's desk and the other, a series 
of wooden board game pieces. Divided into two groups, students sorted the 
"artifacts." After they had finished, the students switched places and tried 
to figure out how the other group classified their "artifacts". We hoped 
this activity would show the sixth graders the processes involved when an 
archaeologist must classify real artifacts found in an excavation.

The slide presentation showed the varying types of archaeological sites to 
be found around the world. Some slides pictured the locale where certain 
sites were found. The students were then asked why, just by looking at the 
slide, the site was located where it was. Several slides also documented the 
process of finding and excavating sites showing aerial photographs, maps, 
walking surveys, shovel tests, excavation equipment and excavation 

Technology and Hands-on Activities

Tuesday was technology day, with "experimental" archaeology demonstrations. 
We set up five stations: ceramics, structures, prehistoric art methods, 
flint-knapping, and the atl-atl/fire making. Each of these demonstrations 
explained how prehistoric peoples used the technologies. Again, the students 
were in five groups moving in turn through each station.

The structures and flint-knapping presentations were not hands-on projects. 
In the structures presentation, slides showed real or reconstructed 
 shelters or buildings. We incorporated as much variety in both dwelling 
type and geographical area as possible.

A local knapping expert did The flint-knapping demonstration. He used thick 
glass rather than stone to show the knapping processes because of its 
uniform quality and ready availability. He explained how glass was like the 
stone used in prehistory, how glass/stone is worked and different kinds of 
chipped artifacts. He also demonstrated how ground stone tools like axes 
were made.

The ceramics, art, atl-atl and fire making presentations were hands-on. The 
ceramics presentation began with a short talk and demonstration about 
several methods of making and decorating pottery. Students then used 
modeling clay (plasticine) to try some of the techniques. Plasticine is 
easier than potter's clay for unskilled hands to use (and is less 
expensive!). Cord wrapped hand-paddles and bone and wood instruments were 
used to show various methods of decorating and shaping pottery common from 
the prehistoric sites from this region.

The prehistoric art presentation talked about cave art. Poster board was 
taped up on the outside wall of the school building, then covered with a 
thin coating of shortening to hold the colors on the paper. Cow hooves and 
mollusk shells were used to hold the charcoal sticks and finely crushed 
colored pigments. Small hide-covered rocks and a large blow-pipe were used 
to demonstrate some of the ways pictures might have been made on cave walls.

For the atl-atl and fire making presentation, spears, one atl-atl and a 
bowdrill for fire making already had been made by APES. A mammoth silhouette 
made of styrofoam was the target for the spears. Each student had one or two 
chances to throw the spear using the atl- atl. Several had a try at using 
the bowdrill to make a fire.

Laboratory and Field Activities

Thursday and Friday were reserved for the Archaeology Lab, an archaeology 
computer simulation game, and activities at the Bliss Hill Site. All these 
activities required more careful supervision than the others. They also 
presented greater logistical difficulties because they were at three 
separate locations in the city.

The computer game, Adventures in Fugawiland (Price and Gebauer 1989), 
simulates an ongoing archaeological study of an actual archaeological zone 
near the Great Lakes of the United States. In the game, the user can choose 
many sites to excavate. The results of the excavation are shown for each 
site. The user analyzes the data and forms conclusions about the culture 
they have been studying. A self quiz about the culture whose sites have been 
excavated concludes the program. As an aside, Fugawiland was written for 
college students and is an excellent program. We discovered that the 6th 
graders were adept at using the program, excited by it, and almost as good 
as the college students who used it in University courses.

The field and laboratory exercises were conducted in much the same way as in 
1988 but with a few changes. On the site, we had several more excavation 
squares open and had fewer students on the site. This allowed each student 
to receive better instruction, to have more time at the site and to both 
excavate and use the shaker screen. The lab tour was structured in such a 
way as to allow students more hands-on experiences than in 1988. We used 
teaching collection artifacts and old equipment to allow them to use 
stereozoom microscopes, calipers, and balances much as an archaeologist 
might use for analysis.


In 1989 we more carefully examined how students responded to the activities 
in which they became involved. We knew ahead of time that they liked the 
active, hands on activities best.

Favorite Presentations

After Archaeology Days, some of the sixth graders wrote thank-you notes to 
their favorite presenter and others were asked to write down five things 
they learned, their three favorite presentations and two things that they 
did not like. For the most part, the students did not like lectures. On the 
other hand, none said that they disliked the hands-on atl-atl presentation. 
Those few who said they did not like the excavation at the Bliss Hill site 
noted that it was only because "digging was too dirty." Nothing stands out 
about the other activities, with many of the same activities liked best or 
least by many students.

Test Results

The pretest and post-test results give an indication of what the students 
learned. Students showed improvement on 27 of 30 questions. Of these, 16 
improved 10% or more. Of the 16 presentations covered in the test (Table 1), 
students showed an increase in knowledge in all of them. Seven areas showed 
major change (10% or more). Also interesting is that not only the intensive 
hands-on areas showed improvement; students answered more questions 
correctly about the slide and lecture presentations on the post-test as 


Many of the weaknesses in our program were apparent at the time we tried to 
implement each activity. Some of the presentation group sizes were simply 
too large to manage. When we had more than 25 sixth graders in a lecture, 
there was a great deal of talking and whispering. Too, large group size 
prevented easy question asking by students. Having their questions their 
questions answered, we discovered quite by accident, proved to be extremely 
important to students. In one case a group got out of their rotation and we 
filled in the time by allowing them to ask questions of an archaeologist. 
That session turned out to be one of that group's favorite units. We 
discovered that they wanted answers from the "authorities" and were not 
always satisfied with answers from their regular teachers.

Another problem was that a whole week was simply too long. Teachers felt 
that it was a bit disruptive to their regular teaching schedule and to the 
other Middle School grades. From our own perspective, we felt that all our 
time that week was devoted to the Middle School and that our own university 
classes suffered because of it. The sixth grade teachers also expressed a 
feeling that they wanted to be more involved as instructors and do more in 
their own classes instead of depending on us. The teachers were very 
diplomatic about this and we suspected there were deeper, unspoken issues.

Finally, we realized after we gave the pre-test that the students had a 
great deal of existing knowledge about archaeology. We had no idea where 
this came from until we studied their Celebrations readings carefully. The 
article on excavation techniques is excellent and gave them a great deal of 
information that was tested on the pretest. Although the improvement on the 
pre/post-tests was impressive, we felt it would have be moreso had we given 
the pre-test before the readings.

To deal with these problems, we resolved to move to 3 instead of 5 days. To 
teach the same amount of material, we planned to develop units that the 
teachers can do in their regular classes. For instance, the art section 
would be made a part of the regular art instruction for the sixth grade and 
the industrial arts/woodworking teacher will help students make 
spearthrowers and bowdrills. We can do little to reduce group size in some 
cases, but the in-class instruction should help. We also planned to allow 
more time for questions by the students in every unit. We planned to give 
the pre-test before the readings.

                                  CONCLUSIONS FROM 1989

>From our perspective and that of the sixth grade teachers, the 1989 
Archaeology Days was a huge success except for the relatively minor 
problems. The sixth graders learned a great deal about archaeology and for 
the most part, they had fun doing it. The material presented to them was not 
"dumbed down"; rather it was presented to them in a manner they could 
understand and enjoy. This is an important idea when it comes to teaching 
difficult scientific ideas to younger students. Choosing the proper 
presentation level is critical if they are not to lose interest. 
Popularizing science is no new idea, but it is rarely done to allow 
elementary students to see how virtually all fields of knowledge are related 
within their education. Archaeology makes an excellent mechanism for 
co-curricular instruction. Frankly, we were skeptical about the impact 
Archaeology Days would have until we saw the test results. We have also 
recognized that there is carryover past the school year. In the summer a 
student who had been in the class found a number of bison bones eroding from 
the banks of the Missouri River, contacted us and came to USDAL to find out 
what she should do. We can think of no better demonstration of the 
effectiveness of Archaeology Days.


When this paper was initially presented as part of World Archaeological 
Congress 2, we had not yet done Archaeology Days for 1990. We were full of 
enthusiasm from what we assumed to be a very successful program. But, we 
simply had not heeded some warning signs. The three following years saw a 
decline in the program, the reasons not entirely apparent immediately. In 
1990, the Middle School teachers seemed relatively enthused, but the bulk of 
the work to organize the structure fell to two teachers. The program was 
reduced to two days with some in-class teaching. The highlight of the years 
was a videotape of the program made by some of the students. No testing was 
done at all.

The 1991 program remained at two days, but very much curtailed from earlier 
years. The technology segment was reduced to a technology "fair" with an 
afternoon spent in the school with student groups rotating around 8 stations 
with art, bones, and some of the other popular presentations. Student groups 
had about 15 minutes at each station. The day at the site was reduced to 
half a day with the students spending about a half hour at the site in 
several groups. Groups not at the site went to the W.H. Over Museum.

The 1992 program was essentially that of the prior year. A new principal at 
the school came to the excavation, and was enthusiastic, giving hope that 
Archaeology Days will continue at some level. We did not understand the 
reasons for the pull-back from the initial enthusiasm for the program by the 
Middle School. By the time the 1992 program was done, only one of the 
teachers was still enthusiastic about it. One of the teachers who strongly 
supported the program in its early years now has only desultory 

                              WHOSE EDUCATIONAL AGENDA?

The archaeological community in South Dakota did not lose its interest in 
archaeological education. One of the Archaeology Days participants began a 
major program of lectures to elementary schools around the state, lecturing 
to nearly 15,000 students in three years. He is now in charge of a funded 
program to develop an archaeology education initiative for the state. As 
part of that program, he suggested an archaeological field school geared to 
elementary and secondary teachers. We agreed to participate in using the 
University of South Dakota as a focal point for the project. In the process 
of developing the program the reasons for the decline in Archaeology Days 
started to become clear. The reasons provide a limited critique of many 
archaeology education programs. We discovered that a significant part of the 
problem was that we failed in Archaeology Days to consider that there might 
be more than one agenda for archaeology education.

As we began to plan the teacher education course, we followed usual approach 
of outlining our objectives for the course and our strategies for teaching 
teachers. Each of the professional archaeologists selected an objective and 
outlined methods to accomplish it. We then met several times to clarify our 
goals. Finally, we met the Middle School teacher who had maintained her 
enthusiasm to show her the proposed class. Though she was interested, she 
seemed overwhelmed and our impression was that she was lukewarm about it. As 
we probed the reasons, we discovered that the agenda of archaeologists for 
archaeological education is not necessarily that of teachers for it.

We began to examine what sorts of things had been written about why 
archaeology education should be done. By doing so we discovered that 
archaeologists have paid little attention to the needs or concerns of 
teachers. Archaeological goals are many. A handout from a 1990 workshop for 
teachers entitled "Everything We Know About Archaeology for You to Use in 
the Classroom" sponsored by the Archaeology Assistance Division of the 
United States National Park Service says the following:

     "Recognition of the need for more, and better, public education about 
archaeology is dawning throughout the United States.
     Many American Archaeologists believe that better public understanding 
about archaeology will lead to more preservation of sites
     and data, less site looting and vandalism, greater support for the 
curation of archaeological collections and records, and a demand
     for yet more archaeological interpretation and participation for the 
public. Public outreach was identified in a survey by of Society
     for American Archaeology members as one of the highest priorities for 
the Society. The importance of public education has been
     further emphasized by the results of the Society's 'Save the Past for 
the Future' project."

Others archaeologists or agencies have professed similar goals (see Brook 
and Tisdale 1992; several papers in Butler 1992 for examples). Though many 
of us pay lip service to broader educational goals, few of us look beyond 
the goals of professional archaeology goals: preserving sites, preventing 
looting, more public support for our efforts. Though we also espouse goals 
about understanding environment, culture change and the like, our primary 
goals seem oriented toward our view of what archaeology should be and for 
what it should be used. On one level it is very self-protective.

At the risk of seeming overly critical, advancement of our on goals is not 
unreasonable. At the same time, imposing them on students and their teachers 
might be unreasonable. Are we attempting through our educational endeavors 
to bring the public into line with our goals? Is this reasonable? On one 
level, it certainly is, but on another, it absolutely is not.

Teachers have different goals from archaeologists. They are concerned with a 
variety of issues ranging from entertaining students to maintaining 
discipline; from teaching critical thinking or mathematical skills to 
teaching factual content in subject areas. Few archaeologists go beyond 
simply mentioning the broader educational goals or issues (see McNutt, n.d. 
3-6; Higgins and Holm 1986 for examples of those who do so).

Teachers are forced to filter our goals through their own. We do little to 
help them achieve their own goals. For example, our goals for both 
Archaeology Days and for our planned teacher course are so specifically 
archaeological that teachers had, and will have, a difficult time 
implementing what they learn from us. Certainly we teach teachers how to 
teach stratigraphy, lithic technology, and settlement pattern analysis, but 
do we teach them how this is significant to their goals for the classroom? 
Certainly we teach them the importance of site preservation, but do we give 
them a rationale for teaching this to students in a framework of their own 
classroom agendas?

We discovered in talking to the Middle School teachers that it took them 
some time to realize the problem themselves. They and their students are 
interested in archaeology. Teachers do see the potential for co-curricular 
and other approaches to education. But, they have a difficult time 
translating our agendas to theirs. We have determined that in our teacher 
course, we will be engaging the teachers as professional equals and that the 
first goal of our program must be to set an agenda that is mutual and 
negotiated. That done, the separate agendas for archaeology education may 
actually be more easily accomplished.