Kids and parents learn archaeology
by Jason Lowrey
May 21, 2012 | 1500 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rusty and April Echols help their children, Hunter, from left, Maddox and Caiden, learn to reassemble broken artifacts at Saturday’s Archaeology Day at Etowah Indian Mounds.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Children and their parents were able to get a taste of how archaeologists uncover artifacts during the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site's Archaeology Day Saturday afternoon. The site had three large wooden boxes above the ground filled with loose soil that visitors could dig through to find items such as beads, marbles and small rocks to take home.

The process involved putting small amounts of dirt into a bucket, carrying it to a sieve, dumping the dirt out and sifting through what was left. Paintbrushes were available if visitors wanted to brush off their finds.

Site volunteer Alexis Wittke said the digs were a way to educate visitors on how careful archaeologists must be when they are uncovering artifacts.

"We started those about four years ago and it's a representation to teach people what an archaeological dig is like," Wittke said. "A lot of people think that you go in and just dig and it's not like that. It's very, very meticulous ... If you don't record everything you lose information."

The small digs can even teach visitors how small details, such as a change in the soil's color, can be an important piece of information.

"We teach the children what an archaeological dig is, what things may look like. Because you may find features that weren't there anymore, but are long since gone but they've changed the color of the soil," Wittke said.

Changes in the soil's color were a major component of archaeologist Jim Langford's talk about a potential new discovery near the Indian mounds -- a structure called earthlodge.

"These things ... were built down into the ground," Langford said. "They dug out an area maybe 10, 12, 15 feet deep and that was a place where you then walked down into, and the walls went up and the roof went over it. So these looked like a small mound, maybe."

Earthlodges were meeting places for tribe officials. An earthlodge in Macon, discovered in 1939, had 47 seats carved into the red clay and another three seats for chiefs on a raised platform. The Etowah earthlodge is thought to be 140 feet in diameter and could seat at least 250 people.

"Etowah was a political center until about 1400, and then that political center moved up to another river," Langford said, explaining why the earthlodge in Etowah is so large.

Two digs have occurred where the earthlodge is buried, a site behind the largest Indian mound, but outside of the historic site's boundaries. The digs recorded how the soil's color changed as they went more than 15 feet down. Langford said another dig may happen this fall.

"If it is what we think it is it'd be one of the most important things found in North American archaeology in 80 years. [A] really spectacular, very important structure," Langford said.

Interpretive Ranger Steve McCarty also gave a talk and demonstration on some of the weapons and tools used by Native Americans, such as spears, knives and woodcarving tools. McCarty saw the talks as a way to expand on what children learn in schools.

"It expands, it reinforces, for some that don't cover it it's new information they can use," McCarty said. "Every week is different."