- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

FORT PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Slowly, but with energy, children wielding tiny wooden picks revealed tiny skulls, pelvises and assorted bones from tiny animals devoured by predators long ago.

It might have been a little gross, but it was most definitely educational.

The activity was dissecting owl pellets, the regurgitated, undigested remnants of the raptors’ meals. The 20 fourth- and fifth-grade children attending the three-day archaeological camp recently hosted by the South Dakota State Historical Society attacked the assignment with relish, delighting as they uncovered parts of birds, rodents and shrews.

But the pellets were just a side activity, a fun diversion from the main goal of the camp: Digging alongside experts in the area of the old Fort Galpin, north of Fort Pierre.

Fort Galpin was a post occupied by the American Fur Company in 1856 and 1857 after the company sold nearby Fort Pierre Chouteau to the military. The company stayed at the fort for only a year while completing the second Fort Pierre. The location was also occupied by a rival company that moved in later.

Along with a team of archaeologist from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the children excavated small squares of ground where Fort Galpin was believed to have been located. For their hard work they were rewarded with the discovery of glass beads, pieces of flat glass, a small bottle, evidence of charcoal and a bone.

Paige Olson, a state historical society employee who spearheaded setting up the camp last year, said the camp instills in the children the techniques of archaeology. That includes one lesson that’s not easy for adults, let alone elementary students: not necessarily removing things once you find them.

“We’re teaching them that if you take an object out of its context, it loses its value,” she said.

Four of the children from last year’s camp returned this year, and a couple more who will be too old next year want to return as volunteer helpers. That says there’s definitely interest in archaeology out there, Olson said.

The main lesson taken away from last year was to bring in more activities to keep the children from being bored, she said. This year, in addition to their excavation work, the children toured the Oahe Chapel and Oahe Dam Visitor’s Center, were given a behind-the-scenes tour at the South Dakota State Historical Society, learned flint knapping - the technique of fashioning stone blades - and had the chance to use atlatls, a Native America spear-throwing weapon.

“The kids were crazy about (the atlatls),” she said.

But even with all these activities, the children themselves said the main reason they came to the camp was for the excavation.

“I kind of like to explore, digging and to find things,” said Shane Badger.

Fellow participant Kylie Sterling succinctly summarized what made the camp worth attending.

“Because we found a whole bunch of artifacts,” she said.

Jennifer Winter, an archaeologist who works around Big Bend, said the artifact hunting is part of the camp, but it’s more about teaching proper procedure.

“We’re trying to show kids how to do archaeology, and how to do it right and not just to get excited about digging,” she said.

Both Winter and Michael Fosha, assistant state archaeologist, said the children were enthusiastic about the work, even if it was just finding an odd nail or two.

“Any artifact is an excitement to them. They understand the romance and the history of the nail,” Fosha said.

The dig is also a chance for the children to learn about the historical context of the artifacts, such as picturing the blacksmith who first came to that area to hammer out nails in order for the fort to be built.

“They’re not only touching history, but feeling history,” he said.


Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, https://www.capjournal.com

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