Art, history students unearth, analyze artifacts all their own
CHAMPAIGN — Students at the High School of St. Thomas More got a close look at archaeology and what it means for art and history at their own dig Wednesday.
The students, who are in art and world history classes, dug up artifacts and cleaned, cataloged and analyzed them.
They worked with archeologists from Illinois State University and based the dig on artifacts students made months ago in art class and then buried.
Art teacher Deborrah Pagel said she first had students create art you would find in several different time periods, including their own take on cuneiform tablets (students also made a key) and Greek vessels.
Pagel dug a pit on a hill behind the school, about a foot and a half deep, and lined it with plastic (to make sure students would know when they got to the bottom when excavating).
She and her students buried the artwork, some of it wrapped in linen, and some vessels with items inside.
Collin Gillenwater, who is a second-year master's student studying archaeology at Illinois State University, helped the students as they excavated the site.
He gave them practical advice, for students to be careful to keep their trowels flat while looking for artifacts, to be careful not to let the sides of the pit cave in and to use their hands to scoop dirt out.
He warned them to watch for color changes in the soil.
"It will tell you about what's there," he told them.
Gillenwater also showed students how to handle the vessels they unearthed.
"Careful not to turn it over, in case something is inside," he told one student.
He also told students about how he had found mummies on a dig in Peru, and that a piece of broken pottery is actually known to archaeologists as a "sherd," not a "shard."
While several students excavated, others made a model of the site, and another group documented their progress by taking photos, videos and interviews. Inside, other groups documented and cataloged artifacts, while others researched them online.
The groups rotated as the morning progressed.
Freshman Cathie Seebauer, who is in both art and world history classes, said she liked the activity because it showed how art and history are related. She also found it interesting that some of the history she learns in textbooks is discovered by professionals working at real archaeological sites.
"I like how it's a hands-on thing," Seebauer said. "You're actually out here, discovering stuff."
Freshman Morgan Hummel said she liked learning the process of archaeology and was excited when she found an artifact while excavating.
"I think it would be even more fun, in real life," she said.
Sean Stretton, who is a graduate student at Illinois State University, also works as an archaeologist at the University of Illinois' Public Service Archaeology and Architecture Program, which has done work all over the Midwest.
"It's important to teach (students) some reasons why archaeology is important," Stretton said, and why it's important to learn about the past, "even if it's not their past."
Archaeology can teach people more about people who lived before them, he said.
"It's another way to learn about the past," he said.