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Appalachian students and children find artifacts

archdig2_t.jpgBOONE – Children who play on an athletics field at Appalachian State University’s Camp Broadstone in Valle Crucis may not realize the history that lies beneath their feet. This summer, university students in Appalachian’s archeology field school found a 4,000-year-old cooking hearth and a small vessel nearly as old about two feet underground.

Clifton Hicks_t2.jpgAnthropology major Clifton Hicks carefully scrapes soil around what is believed to be the remnants of a stone cooking hearth from about 4,000 years ago. The feature was found during an archeology field school held on Appalachian State University property at Camp Broadstone in Valle Crucis. Samples were taken for further study in a campus lab this fall.

students in archeological field class.jpgStudents in Dr. Tom Whyte’s archeological field school at Appalachian State University learn excavation techniques and how to map, measure and record any evidence they found. A common phrase used by Dr. Whyte in his courses, students say, is “It’s not what you find, but what you find out.”

Derek Johnson_t2.jpgAppalachian State University student Derek Johnson pours soil into a screen for children to sift as they search for artifacts of early human life at Camp Broadstone. The children were learning the basics of archeology.

Katrina Kremer_t2.jpgAppalachian State University junior Katrina Kremer, far right, leads a group of children through the basics of archeology at the university’s Camp Broadstone.

Area children at a day camp got their chance to explore the archeological site, too, during educational programming for third through sixth graders at Camp Broadstone, the university’s 55-acre outdoor adventure and retreat center. “Do you know what archeology is?” asked Appalachian junior Katrina Kremer, who helped lead a group of about a dozen academically gifted children through the basics of archeology.

“Fossils?” asked one child. “Ancient stuff?” asked another. “You’re kind of right. It’s the study of past humans, what they did and the materials they used,” said Kremer. “When we’re in the field, we look for what may be artifacts and then we can go look at them in the lab.”

Like their college-age counterparts, the children carefully scraped soil from a 2-by-2-foot grid and sifted it through screens to find any evidence of early humans. About an hour into their work, they found a flake of quartz from the making of a tool and two rocks that appeared to have been burned – all worth noting in the outing’s archeology journal.

“Do you know what is the most important item in an archeologist’s tool bag?” Derek Johnson, another Appalachian student leader, asked the children. “A pencil, so you can write down what you found and where you found it.”

Encouraging students’ curiosity about science as well as technology and math, known as the STEM disciplines, is an important outreach for Appalachian. “Appalachian is committed to getting students interested in the variety of sciences that exist. If we don’t get in there early enough, children may not develop that interest,” said Dr. Anthony Calamai, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences which houses the Department of Anthropology and 14 other disciplines.

Anthropology professor Dr. Tom Whyte, who led Appalachian students in their summer archeology field school, said the artifacts found at Camp Broadstone this year are “just a sprinkling of what had been here before.” In 1977, the camp property between Broadstone Road and the banks of the Watauga River revealed a number of credible artifacts that showed human activity about 1,200 years ago, including arrow points and pottery.

The Camp Broadstone property, Whyte explained, has seen a number of “disturbances” over time – such as floods, farm plowing that started in the 1700s and heavy-machinery construction as late as the 1960s that built the camp’s existing athletics field.  Each time the ground was moved, stones and artifacts that depicted daily life of the early inhabitants were disrupted and scattered from their original location.

This summer, Whyte’s students found stones with old plow marks in the upper layers of the soil. Digging deeper, they found a cluster of reddish-colored rocks, characteristic of fire and most likely the site of an ancient cooking hearth. Further testing in Appalachian’s lab this fall in the students’ follow-up course will reveal details of the rocks.

Because the purpose of the field school was to learn how to interpret soil and study land forms in a variety of settings, the Appalachian students also visited a rock shelter further downriver in Valle Crucis and a cave on Mount Jefferson in Ashe County. In each setting they learned excavation techniques and how to map, measure and record any evidence they found.

The opportunity to learn the basic techniques of archeology “is a big deal for me,” said rising senior Clifton Hicks, an anthropology major. “Since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with prehistoric garbage – anything that’s old.” His most memorable part of this summer’s field school was finding a 5,000-year-old knife blade and an arrow point from around the 1300s in the rock outcropping where for thousands of years people have sought shelter. “That was super cool stuff,” he said. He looks forward to using his archeology skills working for a cultural resource management crew hired by corporations or government entities to study land to be impacted by road construction or other development.

Kremer’s work with the academically gifted children this summer gave her experience toward her career goal to teach anthropology and archeology to young children. “I never knew what anthropology was until college when I had to take a required general education class with Dr. Whyte, and I kind of feel cheated by that,” said Kremer. Originally intending to major in theatre, she loved the course so much she changed her major to anthropology.

“Ideally, it would be cool to teach anthropology and archeology in high school. That’s not really accepted now in public schools but there are some private schools that teach it now. I’d like to work with younger kids,” she said.

Appalachian’s Department of Anthropology offers a B.A. and B.S. degree in anthropology with B.A. concentrations in applied anthropology and archaeology and B.S. concentrations in sustainable development and biological anthropology. The department has 15 full and part-time faculty members covering the subfields of cultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. The faculty members are especially strong in theoretical anthropology, gender studies, Appalachian studies, applied anthropology, sustainable development and field archaeology.

Camp Broadstone is Appalachian State University’s year-round outdoor adventure and retreat center with a specialized summer camp for academically gifted youth in grades third through nine.   Broadstone’s summer program includes multiple day camp sessions as well as one-week and two-week residential sessions.  Its 55 acres of woods and meadows are located in the small community of Valle Crucis outside Boone.