Archaeology Education at a Crossroads
by Sarah E. Miller This post began as a lesson in acronyms to explain SHA’s…
Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site in Milton, Florida provides a multi-disciplinary educational experience for people of all ages. Arcadia Mill represents the first and largest water-powered industrial complex in northwest Florida. Between 1828 and 1855, the industrial complex developed into a multi-faceted operation that included two water-powered sawmills, a railroad, bucket factory, shingle mill, textile mill, and an experimental silk cocoonery. In addition to the industrial facilities, Arcadia had an ethnically diverse community populated by enslaved African American laborers, Anglo American workers, and an elite Anglo American management class. In the late 1980s, local awareness and efforts made by the Santa Rosa Historical Society and the University of West Florida helped to save a portion of the Arcadia Mill site from residential development.
Today, Arcadia Mill functions as an archaeological site that is open to the public. Our facilities include an elevated boardwalk with interpretive signage, a newly renovated visitor’s center and museum, and an outdoor pavilion with working replicas. Arcadia hosts thousands of visitors annually including a large number of students on scheduled field trips. Our educational programming at Arcadia has made great strides over the last few years, but we are always looking for new ways to reach our younger audience.
During the summer months when field trips have tapered off, Arcadia hosts a portion of the University of West Florida archaeological field school. This gives our visitors a chance to see an active archaeological dig; however we are missing part of our audience and the opportunity to use the dig as an educational tool for school children. With a little brainstorming, we came up with the first of several steps to take in order to beat the summer time slump.
A year ago we launched a pilot summer camp, Explore Arcadia Mill, as a new way to provide educational programming when school is out of session. The weeklong camp features a multi-disciplinary approach that is designed for upcoming 4th through 6th graders. Campers learn about geography, history, archaeology, and historic preservation through lessons that feature hands-on educational crafts, group projects, and outdoor activities. Arcadia Mill is a case study for many of the lessons such as understanding the landscape, how to use historical documents, and how historic preservation has helped to save the site.
The archaeology portion of the camp involves lessons and activities focused on principles and ethics. The campers learn about fundamental concepts such as the Law of Superposition and then test their knowledge on our stratigraphy canvas. We also teach them about the different tools that archaeologists use followed by a seek-and-find exercise using real photographs from our field school. Once we have completed the introduction to archaeology, the campers are taken to the field school excavations where they can visualize everything they’ve learned. The campers do not participate in the actual field work, but they observe and document the visit in their field books.
The campers really enjoy the archaeology lessons and activities in the classroom, but the crowning achievement is the ability to incorporate an active archaeological dig. Aside from being an excellent visual aid, the ability to visit the field school helps us to educate the campers on ethics, stewardship, and professionalism. At the end of the week the campers combine everything they’ve learned and create a primary document, but for fun sake it is really a scrapbook! The parents or guardians of each camper are invited to come view the scrapbooks and learn about what went on throughout the week. Therefore, the campers become the teachers and the camp directors stand by with pride.
With one successful camp season behind us and another just around the corner, the possibilities for activities and lessons have become endless. The camp was giant lesson for us as professionals since we quickly learned what worked and what didn’t work. It will get much easier with time, but now we are ready to implement additional programming. Where do we go from here? The camp was such a great experience that we are now looking at large scale or year round programming. The idea of an after school program came into question, but is that too much? There’s a fine line between educational programming and babysitting. It would be a large undertaking, but it could be very rewarding and worthwhile. Have you tried an after school program or a similar concept?