Posted by: Kirsten | Wednesday, 19 December 2007

National (P)archaeology at Hopewell Culture NHP

Peanut Butter and Jelly Archaeology
Adapted from the Hopewell Culture Nat’l Historical Park (Ohio) website…


Objective: Your kids will discover how time can be recorded in layers in archaeology.

Method: Examining stratigraphy through building an edible archaeological site.

Background: This may be your kids’ first experience with stratigraphy. Stratigraphy is defined as the arrangement of rocks or materials in layers. As layers are deposited, the oldest is usually on the bottom and the youngest on top. By examining materials found in these layers and their relationships to each other, archaeologists can determine which are older or younger than others.

Materials: For each “junior archaeologist”:

  • 3 slices of any type of bread
  • 2 tablespoons of jam or jelly
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • raisins
  • sprinkles
  • hard candies or M&Ms
  • paper plates
  • plastic knife
  • plastic spoon
  • large straw

Suggested Procedure:

  1. Place one set of ingredients per child onto a paper plate. For younger kids, you may want to have a set of ingredients for yourself to demonstrate, and then have the kids copy your steps.
  2. Announce to the kids that they’re going to conduct an experiment in archaeology — and then it eat!
  3. Use the following narrative to tell the kids what’s happening. 

    * Here we have a field somewhere in southern Ohio. (Lay down a slice of bread.)

    * Along comes a flood and leaves behind a layer of mud. (Spread the peanut butter.)

    * Shortly after the flood, a group of Archaic peoples camp in the area and build a fire. Their fire leaves behind charcoal and rocks that cracked from the heat. (Slice raisins in half and arrange them in a circle on the sandwich, and sprinkle chocolate sprinkles about inside the circle.)

    * The Archaic peoples leave and through time, a layer of dirt and rock forms over their campsite. (Lay down another piece of bread.)

    * Eventually another group, this time of Hopewell peoples, comes to the same field. The Hopewell build shelters. (Gently cut small indentations or holes in the last slice of bread. These represent the holes dug to hold posts for the shelters.)

    * The Hopewell make fine pottery, but some of the pottery gets broken. (Dig two more small holes in the top of the bread, one on each side [this will prevent later arguments]. Into these small holes, they throw the broken “pottery” (broken M&Ms or candies).

    * The Hopewell leave the site and because it is close to the river, the site is flooded. (Spread jelly, which may cause some redistribution of pottery, a situation which can also occur on a real site.)

    * Through time, other layers are laid down until the present and final layer of dirt covers the site. (Put on top layer of bread.)

  4. After the kids finish making their “sites” or sandwiches, have them exchange sites. Tell them as time passes the land changes hands to other American Indian groups and to the European settlers.
  5. In 1997, an archaeologist suspects this field was a prehistoric habitation site and conducts random core samples and surveys. (Push large straws randomly through the sandwiches. If they find a sprinkle or hit something, they may have found a habitation site.) The archaeologist conducts a test excavation at the site. (Cut a square into the sandwich and remove layers, one by one. If something is seen, they have found the habitation site.)
  6. From the test unit, students can see their layers. This is stratigraphy. Ask the students to identify the oldest layer. Which habitation site is older? This is similar to what happens when archaeologists examine a site.

Evaluation: Ask the kids if they could read their layers if they put the sandwich in the blender. Explain to students that this is what happens when we plow, loot or bulldoze a habitation site. To fully excavate this site, students would have to remove each layer, one at a time. Would they have the sandwich then? Excavation is a destructive process.

For the final excavation, divide and eat the sandwiches layer by layer, or all at once!

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