Wednesday, August 3, 2016

DIG! Kids, Dirt & Discovery 2016

DIG! Kids, Dirt and Discovery's dig site

Two weeks back, I volunteered for one of my favorite Colonial Williamsburg programs - "DIG!: Kids, Dirt and Discovery."

When I worked at Colonial Williamsburg, the DIG! site was my favorite site to oversee (you can read some my enthusiasm from last summer at the end of Part 5 of the 35/15 Photo Project). Luckily, they liked having me, so they invited me back this summer as a volunteer!

From the first summer, a lot of progress has been made. For little legs, there are now stairs for entering the site.

Dig site early summer 2015

Dig site late summer 2015

Dig site July 2016

Let's walk through a day at the DIG!. Each day is broken up into four 50 minute sessions. Each session consists of a brief introduction, digging, sifting, and categorizing.

This is pretty self-explanatory. Each archaeologist-in-training is given a pair of gloves, a trowel, and a bucket. Using their trowel, they scrape away the dirt. Everything they find, from dirt to artifacts, goes into their bucket.

Due to site excavations in the 1940's with less-detailed archaeological practices than today's, there are plenty of real artifacts in the soil, with none of the normally-found dirt layers. This site is the perfect place for kids to get a first taste for archaeology.

There are three groups, each one is led by one of CW's archaeologists. Each has their own section of where to dig.

Kids getting last minute instructions before
they get digging!

Dig time!

Looking down the stairs at the dig

One one side of the excavation, you can start to see some of
the higher brick features of the Archibald Blair storehouse
peeking through the soil. The bottom of the foundations
are 7 feet below the ground level!

Once the digging portion has ended, the dirt collected in the buckets is dumped onto a screen over a wheelbarrow. Even if you think you found everything you dug up, there could be something you missed hidden in the dirt. The dirt gets pushed through the holes, while the artifacts stay behind. All the artifacts found get bagged for future analysis.


Pushing dirt through the screen

All the excess dirt from each session is wheeled away to a pile in a corner. Every month or so, a truck comes by to take the dirt away so it doesn't take over the property.

Mount Sifted Dirt. Not a catchy name.

After everything is screened and bagged, the leaders bring the archaeologists-in-training back to a shaded picnic table to go through what was found. They help guide the kids to discover and identify for themselves the different kinds of artifacts that are present.

Sorting artifacts by types

These kids are using wands with magnets in
them to see if any rusty-looking globs have
metals inside.

After the last DIG! session, the site closes down for a quick clean-up, then reopens as a free-flow site for DUG!. As the name suggests, this program centers around things archaeologists do after they dig everything up, so there is no digging during this time. The program is different every day. Sometimes, it's cleaning artifacts, or putting together broken pottery examples. Sometimes, it's a Q&A with an archaeological expert or a special guest (The Father of American Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson, has visited from time to time).  The day I was there, it was cleaning artifacts. Artifacts can be delicate, so wet toothbrushes are used to wash off the dirt. For smaller nooks and crannies, we used a long toothpick-like stick.

Cleaned artifacts!

More treasures found

It's always fun to answer people who ask, "What did you find today?" "Oh, you know," I say, "Lots of broken glass, rusted nails, bones..." And they seem perfectly fine with children handling these normally-abhorred objects because they are artifacts. Ah, well. The present's trash is the future's treasure.

Other objects usually found at the site are pieces of tobacco pipes, oyster shells, broken ceramics and porcelain, buttons, bricks, mortar, and, of course, plenty of dirt.

The Prentis Store next door was a car repair shop before it was restored, so there have been a few automobile items found. It can be an interesting mix. There have been other oddities, but you will have to come by the site yourself to learn about them!

It's like a puzzle with lots of scattered and missing pieces.

After the dig, check out the DIG! artifact display case in the Visitor Center. It has had at least three changes since being established.

Visitor Center Artifact Display
Fall 2015

Visitor Center Artifact Display 
Winter 2015/2016

The latest update has been "Curated By KIDS!"

Visitor Center Artifact Display
Summer 2016

I think this is a great program that allows the future another opportunity to learn from the past.

It's a fascinating site. Most of what you see around Williamsburg is a final product of hours and hours of behind-the-scene work. Here, you get a peek at how it's done. I'm so glad DIG! came back for a second summer. Hopefully, it will continue after the Archibald Blair site has been excavated.

For DIG!, a free ticket reservation can be made the day of at any ticketing location with a valid admissions pass. Ages 5-16 are welcome. Capacity is limited to 20 kids/session, so the earlier you get your ticket, the better. The 9:30am session requires no ticket, it is first-come, first-serve. I recommend coming earlier in the day, as the sun heats things up, shadows disappear, and the soil become harder to dig into.

For DUG!, the site is free-flow 3-4:30pm, no ticket is required.

The official blog for DIG! can be found HERE.

(Want to still dig without getting dirty? Do a virtual dig in the non-CW online game Excavate!)

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A little background on me and Archaeology. I love archaeology. It's still on my list of things I want to do when I grow up. I was a master sandbox digger starting at a toddler age. I proudly boasted I would find the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island (that's still on my to-do list). I was fascinated by Pompeii. Around the turn of the millennium, I did a CW kids dig at Carter's Grove. Apparently I also toured the house, but I can only recall the dig. That dig's artifacts were all planted, and the dirt had layers, so it was a bit different than DIG!.

Me digging at Carter's Grove
June 26, 2000

After that, I don't think I had any other archaeological experience before last summer. It has been great to reconnect to (or should I say, dig up?) a lost part of me.

Me sifting for overlooked artifacts
with CW Archaeologist Libby

Thank you to Meredith, Libby, and Victoria for letting me help you DIG!

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