Becoming an Archaeologist After School

Becoming an Archaeologist After School

A Westside education doesn't end when the bell rings. Many students participate in athletics and enrichment classes after school. After school, students are able to dive into unique learning opportunities ranging from science and math to Dungeons & Dragons, chess, the arts, music, and everything in between. 

Three 3rd graders digging and smiling

During Winter/Spring 2023 Enrichments, students had the opportunity to become archeologists with Westside Instructional Assistant Heidi Lennstrom. Heidi has spent time as a professional archaeologist, both teaching at the university level and adapting archaeological research for museum exhibits and the classroom. Her fieldwork experience spans a range of locations, such as the Great Basin, Northwest, Hawaiian Islands, and South America.

The class followed a sequence of activities and skill-building that mirrors the training and steps that archaeologists go through as they investigate the past. Students started with an understanding of surface artifact scatters and then dove into interpreting the layers within sites. They discovered techniques to uncover changes in foods, tools, and styles over time. In their underwater unit, they found out what it is like to use mechanical arms to retrieve Titanic-style materials.

Girl holding up hand drawn "Cave Art"

Students worked with plant and animal specimens to reconstruct past habitats and had a visit from Dr. Don Grayson to help us identify tiny rodent bones. Their investigation of packrat middens helped them discover habitat changes since the Ice Age as well as the dietary choices of early twentieth-century Basque sheepherders. They used tree-ring data alongside historical documents and photos to figure out the construction date of a historic stump house from Edgecombe, WA, that had belonged to some of their teacher's ancestors.

Sessions on experimental archaeology helped students understand how ancient peoples were able to produce beautiful objects and art. They made cave paintings in the style and materials of the famed Lascaux Cave in France. They also decorated Mimbres-style ceramics, which they were sad to learn, are commonly looted from sites in New Mexico. Broken pots had to be restored by the students, as most archaeological materials are not in pristine condition.

Boy showing dad his archeology work

Putting it all together, the class wrapped up with the recovery, identification, and interpretation of assemblages of artifacts from the Pacific Northwest. Students reported their conclusions about site function and discussed the data that backed them up. Their final project was to make displays of different materials, which they then used to curate a pop-up museum for family and friends.

These budding archeologists now understand that an important role of archeologists is to share their findings with the broader community.