- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2001

With "Jurassic Park III" barreling through theaters with its scenes of fossils brought to monstrous life, it's easy to see the work of digging into the past in a new, romanticized light.
But any seasoned archaeologist will say that profession offers less glamorous, more subtle rewards — the exploration of past civilizations through the meticulous sifting of the Earth's rich layers.
It's a lesson area children can learn themselves at a variety of digs around the D.C. metropolitan region.
Last month, teens gathered at a special camp run by Alexandria Archaeology, a division of the Office of Historic Alexandria, which let them fastidiously pore over an actual archaeological site — on Shuter's Hill, next to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial temple off King Street.
Fran Bromberg, preservation archaeologist and co-director of the nine-year-old program, says her students lap up the lessons.
"The kids come here to experience what archaeology is really like," Ms. Bromberg says. Indeed, her young charges diligently scrape the soil with their pointed trowels, swapping information and findings with their fellow campers in reflective, mature tones.
"This is not a created site for the camps. We have no way to predict what they'll find," says Steve Shephard, assistant city archaeologist. Objects found at the site have ranged from crude hand axes to the remains of opera glasses dating to the late 19th century.
The Alexandria Archaeology Summer Camp 2001, two weeklong sessions for children ages 12 to 15, let aspiring archaeologists explore the site, which in the 18th century was a plantation.
Students spend their days digging into the opened earth, making sure to watch for changes in soil color, which indicate a shift in level or time periods. At the Shuter's Hill site, the earth turns redder as it gets deeper, indicating first the presence of clay, then later soil untouched by humans. But color variations change from one location to the next, meaning a particular shade of red earth at one dig can date to a different period from the red earth at another site. Students label their findings, then clean them in a nearby laboratory in Old Town Alexandria.
"This has been the most productive spot. It's also very complicated," Ms. Bromberg says. "At this site, they find things the minute they start to dig. The first day was extremely exciting for all the kids, just touching something that hasn't been touched by human hands for years."
The bulk of the items evoke laundry work: Campers unearth thimbles, needles, buttons and other mending tools. The materials date back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, based on the building materials in question, soil levels and a fire insurance policy found that covered the plantation, Ms. Bromberg says.
Alexandria archaeologists discovered the Shuter's Hill site by searching historical deeds, tax records and other available documents. The site first provided a home for the laundry center, then later a mansion in the mid-19th century.
The excavation site is burrowed about two feet into the ground, a small measure that has yielded a bounty of artifacts, she says.
On the final day of a recent week's worth of camping, the students showed no signs of lethargy. They scraped at the soil with alacrity, comparing notes with fellow campers and exhibiting few signs of boredom. Six of the students signed on to repeat the course the following week.
A blue canopy covered some of the dig site, situated amid the verdant grounds surrounding the temple.
Ashley Meinhardt, 14, of Brandywine, marveled at a clay doorknob and belt buckle that she and her colleagues uncovered. The artifacts date to the early 1800s.
"I've always been interested in history," says Ashley, adding that excavating the site offers a lingering peek at the past. "It's a really slow process. It takes patience."
"It's a better way to actually experience history," says 14-year-old Reed Anzalone of Falls Church. "People actually lived here and used this site."
Once items have been collected in bags, the children bring them over to a large screening tray, where they separate the loose dirt from potential artifacts. Rusted, misshapen nails and pottery shards commonly appear while the soft, brown-colored earth falls to the ground.
"When you actually dig an archaeology site, you're destroying the site," Ms. Bromberg says. "We have to keep very careful records of where everything is. Many of the kids didn't realize (before the camp) there's a lot of record keeping."
Julia Czech, 12, of Alexandria, points to some ceramic pieces while screening out nails, bones and charcoal pieces from the dirt.
"That tells us how they ate back then," Julia says of the found materials.
"I like finding the artifacts and learning the history of them," she says. "There's so much history around this hill."
"Before archaeologists do any work, we do historical research," Ms. Bromberg says. "We knew the hilltop was a plantation site."
They discovered the remnants of a dwelling that dates back to 1781 built around the property. To secure its location, they used old-fashioned shovel tests, digging one-foot holes along the grounds, until they struck brick footing, which dated back before 1830. Items like needles, thimbles, pins and buttons helped identify its past life as a laundry center.
Alexandria isn't the only community offering archaeological lessons to local teens. In London Town Park in Edgewater, Md., archaeologist Lisa Plumley, education and volunteer coordinator with the Lost Towns Archaeology Project, helps staffers and volunteers sift through digs around Anne Arundel County.
The project, a product of the county's Department of Planning and Code Enforcement, which began in 1991, investigates Colonial period sites throughout the county. Last year, more than 500 elementary, middle and high school Maryland students helped comb through the region's past.
During the school year, the project teams up with area public and private schools to involve children in the archaeological process. In the summer, the project turns to high school and college interns for assistance, plus able volunteers 15 years old and up, Ms. Plumley says. Younger volunteers can pitch in, as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.
A more open program, Dig Days, runs one Saturday a month from April through September, when everyone is welcome to stop by to screen freshly tilled dirt and learn about Maryland's past. The final two Dig Days of this, its fifth season, will be Aug. 18 and Sept. 22.
"It's a real excavation. It's not simulated," she says. "Generally, you find something."
The project's main site, on London Town Road off Mayo Road in Edgewater, dates back to 1684. Archaeologists typically uncover domestic items like ceramics, glass and the random nail in the open earth.
Neophyte archaeologists respond to the work with an enthusiasm not usually reserved for history lessons.
"There's archaeology going on in their back yard," Ms. Plumley says. "They can touch Maryland history from 300 years ago."
Would-be archaeologists are given historical information while they dig, she says, in order to lend perspective to the lessons.
Sometimes, teachers themselves need a bit of archaeological instruction to make sure they can pass the information along to their students.
Last month, the Fairfax County Park Authority wrapped up its third annu-al archaeological school for local teachers. The school's "students" performed hands-on research on land in the Lorton Valley North proposed development along the Giles Run Stream Valley. The excavation revealed segments of earthenware, pottery, glass and stone flakes dating back to late 19th-century American Indians.
Patty Granada, a fourth-grade teacher at Camelot Elementary School in Annandale, says the program's tactile approach left her fully engaged by the material.
"You go out to the field and actually do the digging," Mrs. Granada says of the eight-week course. "I feel like I understand the field of archaeology better. It broadened my horizons."
And, she hopes, those lessons she will share with her students.
"You can pursue that as a career, or as volunteer work," she says of archaeology.
In addition, learning about the domestic lives of the past gives students a better perspective on their forefathers, who weren't all wealthy politicians like George Washington and his celebrated peers.
Mark Kapeluck, an elementary-level teacher in the Fairfax County school system, says the program showed him the role archaeological work can play in a student's education.
Archaeology allows students to learn about how our forefathers lived and the settlement patterns that led the way to our current sociological landscape, he says.
"Those are useful things for students to incorporate into their thinking," he says.
"It gives them a better sense of where they are in the worlda greater sense of belief in what they learn," Mr. Kapeluck says.
"There's archaeology going on in their back yard. They can touch Maryland history from 300 years ago."

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