The Archaeology Lab at the National Heritage Museum is designed to teach students how archaeologists analyze artifacts in order to answer questions about the past. It targets an audience of students in grades four to eight made up of no more than twenty-five participants. The program comprises ninety minutes.
The program first introduces students to some of the most important concepts in archaeology, such as stratigraphy, context, and classification. Students visit a room in the "Seeds of Liberty" exhibition to explore how everyday objects become archaeological artifacts. The class is then given information about a fictitious colonial site called Hammersmith, including an old map of the village. The students are told that the archaeologists excavated Hammersmith, but they lost all their field notes, leaving only the excavated artifacts. The class is divided into four teams that work independently, each asked to figure out where their buckets of artifacts came from. To find answers, we'll take the student through a step-by-step process of what goes on in a typical archaeology lab. They will learn to sort artifacts by material (ceramic, glass, metal, and organic;) they will wash and/or dry-clean the artifacts. They will note which materials are represented and in which proportion, and then they will identify the artifacts using provided reference materials.
Next, the team will interpret their collection of artifacts. Some of the artifacts used in the program are real and some are reproductions. They will see certain patters or clues in their bucket. For example, the team member may notice that they have mostly metal nails and fragments or that a great deal of burnt material exists; every bit of information is a clue and it is part of the interpretation process. The analogy of an archaeologist to a detective is quite accurate for our lab.
Through the analytical process of archaeology, students examining the fictional Hammersmith site will expand their understanding of life in colonial New England. The program can be applied in conjunction with the Museum's keystone exhibition, "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution." However, the program's primary learning goals are not tied to colonial history. Thus, it can be beneficial for a class studying any time period. How objects can help us learn about the past is applicable to all historical periods.
The program is aligned to the Massachusetts state curriculum frameworks for history/social science, English language arts, and science and technology; teachers interested in more complete alignment information should contact our Education Group Programs at the Museum at 781-457-4142.