Archaeology in the Classroom
May 28, 2015 5:04 AM   Subscribe

Bobby Scotto, a fourth grader at the Children’s Workshop School on 12th Street in the East Village, wants to be an archaeologist when he grows up, and he is already off to a good start. In the past few months he has excavated dozens of old coins, a toy watch and other artifacts, all from an unlikely dig site: his classroom’s closet.
posted by ursus_comiter (6 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Bobby and his best friend in the class, Lizardo Lozada

That's an archaeological team made for the movies, right there.
posted by magstheaxe at 5:36 AM on May 28, 2015 [16 favorites]

This is cool!
posted by carter at 5:36 AM on May 28, 2015

This is legitimate archaeology. These kids are actually discovering artifacts left behind by a long lost culture. Sure, the stakes are low, but for an eight-year-old a penny from 1943 or a Red Cross pin from 1921 is every bit as alien as a pottery shard from three thousand years ago. (Heck, I own a 1943 steel penny, and I think it's pretty neat.) Kudos to the archaeologists, and kudos to the faculty and administration for supporting and encouraging the project.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:49 AM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

This is a cool story. THe teacher sounds like a fabulous teacher, and I love that the kids are discovering history right there where they spend every day. I'm going to beef about the Times, though: the field of professional archaeology has spent about a century trying to move people away from the "treasure hunters" concept, because archaeology is not about hunting up old stuff and plundering it, but carefully using the non-renewable resources of a deposit record to understand more about the past. Headlines like that don't help. Also, finding stuff inside buildings is not really unexpected. Archaeology encompasses all analysis of physical data to gain information about the past, and house/building archaeology is a fully developed subfield. Not far from these kids, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum does it regularly, and blogs about it.

But that's me coming from a specialist angle trying to make something good even better. I wish archaeology were better represented in the media, because I think more people would be interested in it if they knew more about what it really was. At the same time, this story is awesome and I should probably just direct my headline comment to the Times itself.
posted by Miko at 5:51 AM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

...considered enlisting the custodial staff to remove some of the closet floorboards, which would provide easier access to whatever is still beneath them.

Not everyone likes that idea. “That might be a little too easy,” Bobby said. “We’d find something every five seconds.” Other students expressed similar reservations.

The best archaeologists know that you should always leave part of the site unexplored. Future fourth graders may have much more advanced technology and may learn far more from what is left untouched.
posted by General Tonic at 6:53 AM on May 28, 2015 [21 favorites]

Doing minimal damage is essential to archaeology. Because a basic presumption is that whatever tools we have in the future are going to be more revealing and better in every way than tools we have today, there is a strong prejudice in the professional ethics to leave everything untouched unless it is under direct threat. That's why most archaeological finds today come from construction sites: the only reason archaeologists are required to be hired and to go to those sites is because the sites are about to be disturbed, and thus destroyed in terms of information recovery,anyway. Other things that prompt excavations are infrastructure changes, climate change, erosion, etc. Technically the kids should be leaving everything in the closet and leaving the closet alone for future fourth graders; that's what archaeologists advise people do when they stumble across a site. In real life it's pretty hard to insist on that standard, but archaeologists all have stories of someone digging up their backyard and totally destroying whatever information was once in there.
posted by Miko at 12:04 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

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