Not Just Boring Facts and Dead People
By Michael McInnis Staff Reporter · August 01, 2012
Carefully digging in their grid during the unit on archaeology offered at Stacy School by Social Studies Paul Peloquin were from the left Drew Mirisola, kneeling Tommy O'Connor and Luke Reardon.
Stacy Social Studies teacher, Paul Peloquin, knew that he was onto something when he saw Archaeologist Kimberly Connors-Hughes in action.
A Special Education teacher, Peloquin took classes to gain certification in social studies and met Connors-Hughes who said she conducted mock archaeological digs at schools. That was some six years ago and ever since, in the spring, Peloquin engages his students in a "mock" archaeological dig, on the grounds of Stacy Middle School. Connors-Hughes has been part of each dig except for last year.
The Stacy dig, presented over three days, allows students to receive hands-on experience in several archaeological disciplines including digging for, screening and logging artifacts, which had been previously buried by the seventh-grade Social Studies teacher.
Carrying buckets, clipboards, kneeling pads, trowels and other tools of the trade, the Milford students made their way to a small tract of land on the school's grounds, where Peloquin had divided into evenly measured grids. There, they were challenged to unearth "artifacts" such as broken dinnerware, tin containers, plastic action figures and the like, taking care not to damage the treasures in the process.
Of all the tools utilized by the students, the clipboard was, perhaps, the most important. This distinction was revealed during a pre-dig presentation by Connors-Hughes, who listed the "three most important things that archaeologists do" as being "paperwork, paperwork, paperwork" in order to properly document their findings.
Accurately logging the location of artifacts is often the key in identifying the object. "I tell the students the story of the makeup kit I found," she said. "I found a mortar, [which people] would have [used] grinding pigments - especially the Egyptians [who] crushed semi-precious stones for make-up. I found a pair of tweezers and a Kohl [the black coloring of ancient Egyptian eye make-up] applicator or rod, made of copper and I didn't understand what it was, until I found a third piece. A lot of archaeology is context - you look at the assemblage of artifacts, not just the one."
Connors-Hughes also allows the students to handle actual artifacts, which she's collected during the course of her career, some dating back 2,000 years, saying "When they have artifacts ... in their hands, it really helps them to understand that history's about people. I have some pots that have the potter's thumb print from when they made them and [the students] can, literally, put their fingers where ancient people did."
She added that moving history out of books and into the hands of inquisitive students serves to help them understand its "not just a bunch of boring dates and dead people, but actual live people that lived right here in Massachusetts and all over the world."
Connors-Hughes, who is still a practicing Archaeologist, started her business, Archaeology Outreach, which conducts the school digs, following a stint at Harvard University's Semitic Museum, which was wholly devoted to archaeology. In between educational visits, she participates in local digs, such as one planned for later this summer on the Concord-Carlisle-Acton border. "I'll [be] working on [GPS] mapping of a Native American site," she said, adding the site dates back to before Native American contact with Europeans.
The Stacy program, which is sponsored by the PTO, is one of several offered by Archaeological Outreach.