Archeology/Paleontology

STEM Tuesday — Digging Up History/Archeology– Writing Tips & Resources

Introduction (aka The Mike Hays “work-a-Jurassic Park-reference-in-any-chance-I-get” opening paragraph.)

There’s some really cool experimental technology in the first part of Jurassic Park (I know, I know! There’s cool theoretical technology all over Jurassic Park but bear with me.). Take the Thumper, computer-assisted sonic tomography (CAST), technology, for example. The Thumper fires a lead slug into the ground creating waves which are analyzed by a computer to give an image. Dr. Alan Grant distrusts the technology but when the computer transforms the wave echo to yellow contour lines in the shape of a perfect juvenile velociraptor skeleton on the screen, he realizes technology might not be all bad. 

By National Park Service – Public Domain

All the Lovely Facts (aren’t always so lovely)

I’m a fact nerd. One of the reasons I enjoy writing is the process of research and the collection of interesting facts on a particular subject. In some ways, my facts nerdom is a blessing. In other ways, it’s a curse. 

Why?

Crafting a STEM story, project or homework assignment usually based on facts. The creative and/or informative work begins with a collection of relevant facts—an often unruly and random collection with a lack of cohesion. In short, the massive collection of somewhat related facts becomes a chaotic mess. These are tossed in a pile, studied, and then lined up in some sort of order that resembles the story inside your head you wish to tell. Then comes the work.

  • Dig deep
  • Chip away
  • Clear away the dust
  • Extract
  • Clean

Finding your story is like finding the fossilized femur bone in the side of a mountain. Discover, dig, chip away, clear what doesn’t belong, and shine it until it sparkles and is ready to put on display. Writing becomes a whole lot like archaeology. Your story is out there. It’s buried deep under layers of sediment or fossilized in stone. Keep chipping away until you find it and then do the work to make it shine.

Melissa Stewart had an excellent Celebrate Science blog post in May of 2018 about the importance of focused nonfiction expository writing. Being a story archaeologist is key to producing this type of focused work. Sure one can use a drone camera to identify areas where a find likely exists, but until one gets focused on a site, does the digging, and finds the specific artifact, the drone picture is just a nice picture. A good story is the same. Focused. It grabs the reader from their drone-height view and embeds them into the story. 

Hits & Misses

All the data suggests below the spot you now stand is a goldmine of artifacts. Artifacts you’ve spent your entire adult life searching for. Your heart pounds in anticipation as you can almost feel the remnants of an ancient society held gently in your gloved hands. You dream of headlines, prestigious publications, research grants, and museum exhibitions. 

The grid is set over the location and the excavation begins. Day after day, week after week, month after month pass without a single discovery. Finally, you give up and admit this site is a dud. 

Disappointing? Sure. 

Devastating? Maybe.

Time to give up? No way! 

You keep going because you know there’s something out there. You learn to accept the failures because you understand failure and success are made from the same cloth. The cloth of taking a chance on an idea. No one ever hit a baseball without swinging the bat. The same is true for science and writing. Moving forward often takes the courage to leap out of one’s comfort zone and into the unknown.

In writing nonfiction and fiction, ideas are cheap. They’re a dime a dozen plentiful. The fully fleshed and polished stories, however, are gold. There are more misses than hits in writing, especially when just starting out. With experience, though, the ratio begins to even out. A writer learns what works and what doesn’t work for them. They learn to focus. They learn to chip away at the rock until the perfect baby velociraptor skeleton of a story emerges. 

The key is to keep digging.

Keep swinging.

Your story is out there.

Make it happen. 

But please don’t start an amusement park of cloned, extinct alpha-predators without first considering the principles of chaos theory.

Have a STEM-filled 2019-2020 school year!

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files uncover some interesting links and information exploring archaeology and history while digging up some STEM funnies. 

  • How do you discover a dinosaur? via The Guardian
  • Hunting for dinosaur bones in the digital age
    • “Nowicki flew drones with thermal and spectral cameras over hundreds of square miles to create high-resolution, three-dimensional maps accurate down to the inch. The process identified 250 likely new locations to find fossils.”
  • 4 New Technologies That Are Driving Archaeology Into the Future
    • “Human history can easily be covered by nature, but archaeologists like Cusicanqui can use drones and LIDAR and Muon Tomography to uncover our past.”
  • Archaeology unearthing the past using modern technology
    • “Archaeology has always been very interdisciplinary,” says Heather Richards-Rissetto, an archaeologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told NBC’s MACH. “But I think now there’s a lot more collaboration between science and engineering than before, and archaeologists are a part of that, helping to develop the technologies to study the past.”
  • Tech in the Sediment: 12 Ways Archaeologists Use Technology
  • Not quite as exciting as Dr. Grant imaging an infant velociraptor skeleton embedded in the rock, here is a tutorial video on how to use Argus Electronic’s PiCUS Sonic Tomograph to measure cavities or decay in a tree non-invasively.

And now for something completely different…

Archaeological Funnies (via Funny-Jokes.com)

Archaeologists are fickle. They’re always dating other people.

Most mothers tell their daughters to marry doctors…
I told mine to marry an archaeologist because the older she gets, the more interested he will be in her.

Two archaeologists were excavating a tomb in Egypt.
1st Archaeologist: I just found another tomb of a mummified pharaoh!
2nd Archaeologist: Are you serious?
1st Archaeologist: No bones about it!

Q: Why did the archaeologist go bankrupt?
A: Because his career was in ruins.

Q: What do you get in a 5-star pyramid?
A: A tomb with a view.


 

 

 

STEM Tuesday — Digging Up History/Archeology– In The Classroom

I love both science and history, so I was really excited to read books on this month’s list. I confess to being a bit grossed out by some of the mummies, but these books didn’t disappoint. I saw many different aspects of the field of archaeology and learned a lot about the societies and people the archaeologists studied.

Mummies Exposed! by Kerrie Logan Hollihan

This book covers many different types of mummies. While many were purposeful, some were accidental. Through the examples, we learn about the science behind the creation of mummies. Analysis of the Items buried with the mummies gave clues to the type of people they had been and how they spent their time when they were alive.

 

 

 

The Whydah by Martin W. Sandler

The search for the pirate ship Whydah required the study of historical maps and records. These records, along with the artifacts discovered on the shipwreck paint a very different picture of pirates than we’ve come to expect.

 

 

 

Forgotten Bones by Lois Miner Huey

This book looks at what archaeologists have learned about a segment of society whose history has gone largely unwritten. I was fascinated by how much information they were able to glean from the bodies. Customs that left permanent marks on the body helped identify those who grew up in Africa versus those that grew up in America. Scars from injuries helped indicate what types of jobs the people performed. Most amazing was the ability of an artist to create a possible representation of each of the skeletons found using DNA analysis and the structure of the skulls.

 

Suggested Activities

In true “me” fashion, my brain went into overdrive thinking of activities that would fit well with these books. Here are a few…

Become an Artifact Detective

Archaeologists have to be detectives. They need to use the clues they’ve unearthed to figure out who these people were, how they lived, and what caused them to die. Challenge your class to be detectives, too.

First, have each person represent themselves with things. Have them pick 5 to 10 items that are often found with them. They could be things they carry around with them or wear every day. They could be favorite items or games we might find in their room at home.

To include science in this exercise, have the students describe the items as a scientist would. What is the item made of? What color is it? What are its measurements? Include a sketch or photo of the item. You could even pretend that these things have been buried for centuries. What would degrade and what would stay whole? If it broke into pieces, what would a defining feature be that might give a clue to what the item is?

For the next part, make sure each list doesn’t identify who the items belong to. Instead, use a student number or a nickname like the archaeologists did in the books.

Provide the set of lists to the class. This could be done by posting them around the room or through a virtual message board. Challenge the students to identify which of their classmates belongs with each of the artifact lists.

Once everyone has attempted to identify their classmates based on their artifacts, have each person present their artifacts and explain why they picked the items they did. The students will not only practice deductive reasoning, they’ll also get to know each other better.

Do Some Research

The discoveries described in The Whydah and Forgotten Bones relied upon historical research to help identify what was discovered. In the case of The Whydah, historical records like maps and diaries helped provide the location where excavators should look for the lost ship.

Use these examples to look into where historical records can be found and what kinds of information different documents can provide. This could even include a field trip to a local historical library or National Archives location and a lesson on how to use microfiche.

So many people use these resources – authors, archaeologists, genealogists, historians, lawyers, and more. To make this exercise more relatable, perhaps tie it to research into a local historical figure or genealogical research.

Debate the Issue

In Mummies Exposed! and Forgotten Bones, archaeologists faced cultures that believed burial grounds should remain untouched. After reading one or more of these books, have your students join the debate. Does the knowledge gained from archaeological research outweigh the beliefs that burial grounds should not be disturbed? Is it enough to rebury the bodies once they’ve been studied?

Other Ideas

Time Capsule

It occurred to me that each archaeological dig described in these books is like a time capsule. They capture what life was like for that person or people at the moment in time when they became buried or lost at sea. There are some good ideas here: http://www.timecapsule.com/time-capsule/how-to-make-a-school-time-capsule

Decoding the Past

The Smithsonian Learning Lab has a lesson about how archaeologists interpret artifacts called “Decoding the Past.” If you download the PDF, you will find an article on the subject and worksheets for some related activities. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/decoding-the-past-the-work-of-archaeologists/AUq5scPw1RXKYyNy

Archaeology Activities

The Society for American Archaeology has a ton of activities for students, including a few about the Iceman (featured in Mummies Exposed!). https://www.saa.org/education-outreach/teaching-archaeology/k-12-activities-resources

 

I hope you and your students enjoy exploring these books and activities. If you have any suggestions for how you make archaeology and history come alive, please share in the comments below!

 


Janet pointing to Slingerland drum head of Chicago drummer Danny SeraphineJanet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and – well, everything – which she then turns into a book. She especially loves visiting living history museums, where the past really comes alive. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com

You never know what you’ll find in a museum. Here’s a pic of Janet at the Musician’s Hall of Fame in Nashville, where she found a Slingerland drum head.

STEM Tuesday– Digging Up History/Archeology — Book List

 

This month we dig into the science of archaeology. By getting down and dirty, these scientists discover long forgotten civilizations, locate sunken ships, and solve puzzles. These books introduce readers to archaeologists and their findings and highlight how improvements in technology help make these discoveries possible.

Digging into Archaeology

 

Archaeological Discoveries of Ancient America by Frank Joseph
One way to understand the history of America is through examination of artifacts archaeologists uncover. This book examines the use of DNA and carbon dating to explain out of place artifacts (Viking ruins), debunk frauds, confirm lost cities, and explore the truth of our past.

 

Archaeology: Excavating our Past edited by Heather Moore Niver
An in-depth examination of the field of archaeology. Discusses the types, training, techniques, history, and recent discoveries. It includes sidebars of important archaeologists and their finds.

 

 

Mummies Exposed! by Kerrie Logan Hollihan
New technologies, such as such as X-ray imaging, carbon-dating, and DNS analysis, help scientists uncover fresh facts about the dead. This book explores desert mummies, ice mummies (the oldest cold case ever!), bog bodies, a princess, and mummy medical mysteries.

 

 

Two books by Lois Miner Huey who works as a historical archaeologist for the State of New York:

Forgotten Bones: Uncovering a Slave Cemetery
In 2005, the installation of a new sewer in New York became an archaeological treasure trove with discovery of a hundred-year-old skull. Follow the scientists who piece together the colonial history of a forgotten cemetery and slavery in the north.

 

Children of the Past: Archaeology and the Lives of Kids
Children of the twenty-first century have a lot in common with kids from long ago. Their clothes looked different and they ate different foods, but children living thousands of years ago did household chores, played with friends, and created art.

And for arrrr-chaeologists of the deep:

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked and Found by Martin W. Sandler
Ahoy, mateys! If ye be looking for a combination of pirate adventure and marine archaeology, this be it. The Whydah is the only pirate ship found and excavated. [Sept 19 is Talk Like a Pirate day; link: http://talklikeapirate.com/wordpress/how-to/]

 

 

Modern Technology Meets the Past

 

The impact of technology in history and archaeology by Alex Woolf
From metal detectors to computers, technology has transformed archaeology. This book examines satellite surveys, LIDAR, SONAR, and dating techniques beyond radiocarbon that help scientists analyze artifacts and human remains.

 

 

Digging deep : how science unearths puzzles from the past by Laura Scandiffio
Examine discoveries about life in the Stone Age, lost cities, Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage, the grave of King Richard III, and ancient art. It’s cool how the stuff archaeologists discover affects the way we view history.

 

Archaeologists at work

 

Robert Ballard: Explorer and Undersea Archaeologist (Makers of Modern Science) by Lisa Yount
Ballard combined his passion for archaeology and the submersible, Alvin, to discover the RMS Titanic, Bismark, Isis (Roman Ship), and others. His work, and his mapping of the ocean floor, changed science.

 

Archaeology: Cool Women who Dig by Anita Yasuda
Explore archaeology through the work of three women working in the field. From historical archaeology to marine archaeology you’ll learn more about women pioneers in field research, various methods of investigation, and possible career options.

 

 

The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer Who Dug for Troy by Laura Amy Schlitz
Quick, engrossing look at the “archaeologist” who inadvertently discovered Troy. Full of mistakes to avoid and “fake news.”

 

 

STEM Tuesday book list prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. A long line of ants marching across the kitchen counter generated one of her first articles for kids. When not writing, you can find her committing acts of science from counting native pollinators to monitoring water quality of the local watershed. Her most recent book is Diet for a Changing Climate (2018).

 

Maria is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She was a round 2 judge for the 2018 & 2017 Cybils Awards. And a judge for the #50PreciousWords competition since its inception. Two of her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2016 and 2014-2015 anthologies. She is the parent of two amazing adults and lives in the Pacific Northwest with two Pixie Bob cats. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at www.mariacmarshall.com