Digging for history
What can you tell about a civilization from it’s trash? 6-7’s and social studies teacher James Lizardo are finding out.
The 77acre Parker property was once a farm and a few years ago students began finding artifacts from the old farm dump – or kitchen midden. Digging at recess became an obsession and as students found pottery shards and rusted farm implements, Lizardo called in an expert. Parent Aaron Gore is an archaeologist at the State Museum and agreed to help the students organize a dig site.
A social studies unit evolved that includes a dig, analysis and cataloging artifacts, researching their identity, and creating a class museum. The lessons from the here and now tie into a study of ancient civilizations, famous digs and how we learn about the past.
This year Gore told students about his work on the Lake George Million Dollar Beach site where artifacts from an 8,000 year-old Native American camp were discovered. He helped students identify the time period for the Parker dig site where items mainly from the mid to late 19th Century have been found. Pottery from Albany and Troy factories, shards of transfer-ware china, bits of clay smoking pipes and a monogrammed silver spoon are some of the items students found. There was excitement around a chauffeur’s license badge from 1923. Research on E-bay revealed a similar one valued at $450! But the Parker find more closely resembled the badge valued at $1.50.
Maybe best of all has been the visit of Art Ferguson, born in 1928, who lived on the farm property until the 1950’s. He arrived with his daughter, told stories about his former home, and showed photos of the farm as it looked then. Remarkably the fields and tree lines are very much the same.
Ferguson was excited to see the home he fondly remembers. Like a general with a sword, he pointed his cane north and exclaimed, “That’s where you want to dig!” He was pointing to the woods where the dump from his own day was located, and almost immediately students found 20th Century artifacts there, even a rusted toy gasoline truck that may have been a childhood toy of Ferguson’s.