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Archaeologist Coaches Kids On Reading Story Of Time

One set of young archaeologists crowed over a skull.

Another group got on with brushing off several sea shells, after working out some interpersonal friction.

A member of a third set realized that kneeling right in the pit where he was digging probably wasn’t helping the artifacts yet to be unearthed.

Fifth-graders in Colleen Weber and Jerry White’s class at Broadway Elementary School spent Wednesday carefully uncovering six archaeological digs. White, a student teacher from Whitworth College, had seeded the spots with arrowheads and other projectile points, bones, stone tools, shells and fragments of pottery. Weber is White’s master teacher.

White counted neither the hours - nor the ibuprofen - that went into preparing the sites.

“The backhoe didn’t work out, so I turned into the backhoe” last weekend, White said.

Each group of fifth-graders scraped and brushed dirt from their finds and measured the precise location, before bagging and labeling their discoveries.

“Fifteen by twenty-four and a half!” called out one student.

“You never dig straight down,” said Tyler Jones, a member of the Rocky Point crew. Holding his trowel point down, he explained that that might break an artifact. Instead, scraping is best.

“Don’t you want to know why this is all important?” asked Kenny Marks.

“One reason is to find out if man lived here long ago and if Indians survived. And to tell how old something is. And something else - it’s fun.”

White, formerly a federal archaeologist, won a $500 grant from Washington Water Power for the project. The six-week project included a field trip to an archaeological dig near Newport, Wash., as well as exercises including “shoebox digs.” In those, White put together various household or office “artifacts” and challenged the students to figure out as much as they could about the people who used that combination of tools.

He hoped that through the whole project, the fifth-graders would learn that teamwork and perseverance can produce rewards, and that soil, rocks and bones can tell complex stories.

“I wanted them to realize that the story of time can really be told by looking at soil and soil deposits,” he said.

White varied the artifacts at his six sites behind the Church of the Nazarine, next door to Broadway Elementary. One site reflected a seashore culture, another showed a people who depended on big-game hunting, and a third came from a people who gathered and processed plants to eat.

The skull, of course, was found in the hunting site. What kind of skull was it? “A bison. Or a bear…. I don’t know,” admitted archaeologist Chris Renggli.

At the end of the day, White said, “Ah, yes, the deer skull. That was more exciting than the peanut shells” hidden at another site.

White plans on staging more digs in coming years and dreams of even putting students to work on a formal dig.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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