- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sandra Scham is teaching her archaeology students to dig deep for answers. Once they find artifacts, she shows them how to identify and analyze the items.

“How do you tell the difference between something worked by nature or something worked by a human being?” asks Ms. Scham, who has a doctorate in anthropological archaeology. “It’s not all that easy for someone who is not a specialist to tell. Archaeologists have the problem as well.”

She is teaching Archaeology 101: Firsthand and Close Up from April 24 through May 8 in a series of three sessions and a field trip sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates. Lectures will take place at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center in Southwest. The field-trip location will be Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in Calvert County, where the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory is located.

Each student will be assigned an artifact during class, most likely a stone tool or a piece of pottery from a study collection from a site in Jordan, Ms. Scham says. Then students will be asked to make a description of the form, finish and color. For instance, red ocher is one of the oldest paints in the world. The Munsell Book of Color is used to identify the color of pottery.

Further, if it is a piece of pottery, the student should be able to identify where in the pot the piece was located, such as the rim, base, handle, spout or body.

When trying to identify a stone tool such as a scraper, blade, grinder or chisel, the student should look for a sharp or flaked edge. In comparison, water erosion usually causes rounded edges. Hillside erosion is a more random process, Ms. Scham says.

Archaeology can help rediscover entire communities, says Al Luckenbach, the Anne Arundel County archaeologist who is heading the Lost Towns Project at London Town and Gardens in Edgewater, Md. He holds a doctorate in anthropological archaeology.

During his research, he is locating where buildings were in London Town, which was founded in 1683. The community lasted about 100 years. So far, one house has been rebuilt, and a second house will be started next month.

“Since we’re such a public project, we’re concentrating on bringing the past back to life for the citizens of Anne Arundel County,” Mr. Luckenbach says. “In a county that sees a lot of development, we’re trying to salvage information before it’s destroyed.”

Because most of the buildings in London Town did not have stone or brick foundations, wooden posts held the buildings into the ground, he says. There are still stains in the ground with post holes.

“We find the post holes and play connect the dots and figure out where the buildings were,” Mr. Luckenbach says.

Ground-penetrating radar has been helpful in showing him what’s underneath the ground, he says. When pointed at the ground, the device outlines features such as a pit, cellar or fireplace on a computer screen.

A trash-filled cellar under one of the buildings called Rumney’s Tavern has provided clues to the culture of the time, he says. By looking through the remains, archaeologists can tell what the people ate and what types of things were in the building.

“We found fish scales and pig bones,” Mr. Luckenbach says. “We date things from the styles of the artifacts. Things like ceramics and tobacco pipes change styles through time, like a car does. So we can pretty much tell how old a tobacco pipe is by looking at it.”

In addition to the London Town site, Mr. Luckenbach digs at various Indian sites. He says there are 1,350 known archaeological sites of various types in the county. Anne Arundel is home to more archaeological sites than any other county in Maryland, he adds.

“A lot of things have changed over the years,” Mr. Luckenbach says. “People came and went and lived in different ways. That’s what we try to find out about. We reconstruct the past.”

Reconstructing the past of Caesarea, Israel, has helped scholars understand more about the ancient civilization, says Kenneth G. Holum, professor of history at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Mr. Holum, who has a doctorate in history, has been directing an excavation of Caesarea, one of the largest cities in Roman Palestine. From 1988 to 2002, students amassed a body of data that he is using to write books and reports. He is working with a staff of 20 scholars in Israel, Canada and the United States.

The main project included excavating King Herod’s temple to the goddess Roma and the Roman Emperor Augustus, who was worshipped as a god.

“We discovered that the temple stood until about [A.D.] 400,” Mr. Holum says. “Then it was destroyed, and on its ruins was built a church. We excavated that, too. That church was shaped as an octagon with a dome above it.”

At the same time Herod was building the temple to Roma and Augustus, he was reconstructing the Jewish temple in Jerusalem where Jesus drove out the money changers. After Herod’s death, the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Today, there are mosques over the site, one of which is the Dome of the Rock, which was built about A.D. 700.

During Mr. Holum’s excavation, he discovered that the Dome of the Rock was modeled after the octagonal church in Caesarea. AutoCAD, a computer-aided design program, helped reconstruct the temple and church in Caesarea.

“The original idea was to understand the process by which the Roman Empire became Christian,” Mr. Holum says. “We also explored the way Herod ruled his kingdom and the architectural origins of how the Muslims used Roman classical Christian architecture as inspiration for their own monumental buildings.”

Although coins found under objects usually are the most accurate way to date an item, carbon 14 dating also is used often, Mr. Holum says. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, performed most of the carbon 14 dating for the project.

An isotope of carbon from a living thing is needed for the carbon 14 dating process, says A.J. Timothy Jull, professor of geosciences at the National Science Foundation Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory in Tucson. He has a doctorate in chemistry.

Mass spectrometry is used to determine the carbon 14 concentrations, he says.

“When the archaeologist finds some material or bones, they might have some idea how old it is, but they need to confirm it,” Mr. Jull says. “We had examples of things that people found that they thought were old, and it turned out it wasn’t old. It can work the other way, too.”


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