- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

I love and have learned plenty from the comic books and trading cards I collected as a youth and over the past 30 years. The Science Museum of Minnesota hopes children still have a fascination with these art forms and has developed a site using bold lettering, colorful illustrations and cliffhanger plot lines to give them a virtual education in archaeology.

The museum’s Web endeavor explores the findings gathered over the past five decades by scientists who have visited the ancient ruins of a city located in the middle of Turkey that was the home of a thriving civilization between 7,000 and 10,000 B.C.

Mysteries of Catalhoyuk

Site address: www.smm.org/catal/home.html

Creator: The Science Museum of Minnesota’s Learning Technologies Center (LTC), located in St. Paul, maintains the site in collaboration with the museum’s Research and Collections Division staff. The LTC, a research and development center devoted to exploring ways digital technologies can support informal, hands-on science learning, develops online activities, classes for children ages 4 to 12, and community programs to support this goal.

Creator quotable: “We created this site and a related museum exhibit to give children and families a chance to explore an unfinished scientific project and to see that science is as much about asking questions as answering them,” says Don Pohlman, project director and director of the museum’s Peoples and Cultures Program.

“We tried to show the archaeologists at Catalhoyuk as real people working together to understand the past, and we tried to create opportunities for Web visitors to think like archaeologists about their own lives,” he says.

Word from the Webwise: This broadband-busting cyber-stop combines colorful headlines, animation, illustrations, photos, online tours, rollover designs, movies, pop-up boxes, audio snippets and plenty of fascinating information to give the middle school crowd an immersive picture of Catalhoyuk.

The site, whose name translates to “forked mound,” is the size of 50 football fields and is rich in artifacts, skeletal remains and art that can help define the human race and its fascination with living in urban centers.

The opening page looks as if it was ripped out of an Indiana Jones comic book, with panels containing real photographs and bubble dialogue boxes that beckon visitors to join scientists as they attempt to solve mysteries or look at the primary sections Virtual Exhibit, Mystery Cards, Journal and Virtual Tour.

The number of multimedia moments crammed into this site is amazing. Students can delve into what residents of Catalhoyuk ate with the help of paleoethnobotanists Julie Near and Christine Hastorf and micromorphologist Wendy Matthews, a seed-identification challenge, six laboratory analysis videos and a “find the artifact” game.

Or they can take part in an investigation of clay balls that might have been used for sport, warfare or simply for heating water with archaeologist Sonya Atalay. Activities range from using recipes to make a real clay ball to trying to identify close-up images of other spheres to watching a video interview and reading notes from Miss Atalay.

Great virtual tours also are found on the site, presenting the real museum display and dig site with plenty of areas to click and view displays using 360 panoramas with the option of zooming in.

Even with all the multimedia attractions, though, I consider the Mystery Cards section to be the site’s pinnacle. The six trading cards allow visitors to explore nonfiction tales, including “Mystery of the Owl Pellet Burial” and “Mystery of the Bear Paw,” through interactive sequential art whose panels come to life and lead to multiple knowledge stops and video sequences.

In the case of the bear claw found in excavation unit 3370, zoo archaeologist Louise Martin offers explanations for why the claw was in the city, and visitors can review field notes (found by clicking on a filing-cabinet icon), take part in a game demanding they match bones to the animal they represent, and post an opinion.

Additional resources on the site include a glossary, timeline, biographies of the field team and definitions of their expertise, a gallery of artifacts and fossils, and a locator map viewed from the perspective of space.

Ease of use: Visitors will need a high-speed Internet connection, Windows 95 or greater, or Mac OS 7 or greater computer; Netscape Navigator 4.05 or greater, Internet Explorer 4.01 or greater browser and the MicroWorlds, QuickTime 4 Virtual Reality and Real Player Audio/Video plug-ins to take a fantastic cyber-journey.

Don’t miss: Visitors looking to perplex the noggin can learn some strategies scientists use at dig sites by playing the Excavation Game. Set at an easy or difficult level, the challenge has a player drag holes over a blackened square area to slowly reveal an image. The entire image can be displayed if the player is stumped. The goal is to use the fewest holes while figuring out what the image is.

Family activity: Several projects are found on the site to enjoy away from the computer, including making Neolithic geometric design stamps using plastic foam to understand ancient art, restoring a postcard to learn about interpretation and painting, and conserving a mural to explore the role of creativity in preserving history.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: An imaginative use of computer artistry will give students an unforgettable Web experience into the past.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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