Educator How-to: Teach archaeology with edible excavation

It’s time, once again, for our monthly Educator How-To! Today we’ll help you teach kids to keep track of what they find — just like an archaeologist does.

Archaeologists keep careful records, as do all scientists. One important way to keep track of their work is by mapping where each artifact is discovered. Show your students how to plot artifact locations onto a grid with this tasty activity!

Materials
• Large chocolate chip cookies with lots of chips
• Toothpicks – 1 box
• Waxed paper sheets
• Cookie grid
• Markers
• Masking tape
• Ziploc baggies – 1 per child

Screen shot 2012-07-26 at 7.40.37 PMA printable cookie grid just for you

Procedure

1. Tell the students that they are going to be excavating a chocolate chip cookie. And just like a real archaeologist, they must record where each “artifact” is found. In addition, they must be as careful as possible to get each “artifact” out of the “dig site” with the least amount of damage.

2. Supply each student with a cookie, a piece of waxed paper, a toothpick, a pencil, and a cookie grid worksheet.

3. Students should carefully draw a grid on their cookie using a black marker. It should match the grid on the worksheet cookie as closely as possible.

4. Students should then carefully excavate the “artifacts” out of the cookie trying to cause as little damage to the “artifact” (the chips) or the “dig site” (the cookie).

5. When they retrieve an “artifact,” they must assign it a number and plot it on the cookie grid. When an “artifact” is removed, it should be put on a small piece of masking tape and numbered.

6. Give each child a baggie to put all of their “artifacts” in.

7. When the time is up for this activity, count each child’s “artifacts” and look at the condition of their “dig site” to determine the most successful archaeologist for the day.

While we are working with cookies here, we do not advise eating the dig site or munching on your priceless artifacts — extra cookies are recommended!

Live from the field – New Discoveries

Dr. Bakker (right) and Chris Flis
dig the “Uma” site in Seymour.

Our paleontology team – led by Dr. Robert Bakker – is back in Seymour, TX this week, digging for Dimetrodon at a site they’ve now been working for several years. (You can read more of what’s been found already in our daily blog from the field in 2007).

Chris Flis sent the update on yesterday’s progress – the day was filled with new finds which you can hear all about in the podcast below.

In the podcast, Chris also talks about “jacketing” several fossils – this is done when a site yields so many fossils that they can’t safely be excavated in the time the team has available. So, the team digs a trench around the site, covers it with many layers of plaster and burlap to stabilize it, and flips it to cover the bottom. You end up with a giant slab of plaster-encased dirt that can be brought home for further excavation and study.

And when I say giant, I mean it – our team has brought home jackets weighing up to 500 pounds. The jacket made for Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur that was found in Montana (which is now on display here) weighed 6 tons!

The team’s 2007 blog has a great video of the end of the jacketing process – and a bit more detail in how it happens.


More from the field tomorrow! Until then, you can also check out earlier updates from this dig trip:

Day One: Live from the Fossil Field
Day Two: The Smoking Gun