July 24, 2009

Where can kids dig in Washington?

On four Saturdays this summer the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is hosting a series of "Kids Digs." These 2-hour mock digs for children ages 8-12 give kids the hands-on experience they need to really understand what it means to be an archaeologist. Digs for kids are a rarity in the Pacific Northwest and the Burke Museum Archaeology Department has hosted a number of those few.

Our annual Archaeology Day often supports a mock dig and the Courtland Place Street Dig in Seattle was a class favorite. The Burke even ran a public dig on Vashon Island that resulted in a research publication. But the question remains, why are these digs so rare?

There are numerous reasons why an archaeological dig might be closed to the public. First and foremost are concerns about maintaining the scientific integrity of the site. Archaeologists go through years of education and hands-on training before they are let loose on an archaeological site and thus even the most well-intentioned amateurs can make mistakes at a dig that are all but impossible to correct.

Other considerations including safety, land ownership, tribal sensitivity, staffing, looting prevention, and excess costs are all reasons that most archaeological sites remain closed to the public. But for those of you interested in an archaeological adventure there are some options.

The USDA Forest Service Passport in Time program and the Earthwatch Institute both provide opportunities to get hands-on field training in archaeology. The National Park Service sometimes also offers volunteer opportunities in the field and maintains a comprehensive list of other opportunities. These intensive experiences are generally only available to adults or the teen crowd, but it is worth checking the websites of your nearest National Park or Forest to see what kid's events might be available.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Fort Vancouver “Kids Digs.” These events are being held at the Fort on July 25, August 22, and September 26 and at the McLoughlin House in Oregon City on August 8. Kids Digs begin at 11am and run for 2 hours. Visit the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site website to learn more.
Posted by: Stephanie Jolivette, Archaeology Public Outreach
Photo (top): A Burke Museum archaeologist teaches kids about proper digging techniques at the Courtland Place Street Dig in 2004.