Social Studies Fair Guidelines

Special Award: Georgia Archaeology

Sponsored by the Society for Georgia Archaeology and the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists

Award: $50 cash in junior division and $50 cash in senior division

Background and Guidelines

Human cultures have existed for tens of thousand of years. Our own culture is only the most recent of the many cultures that have existed in the past. Our lives in the present are greatly influenced by the cultures of the past. Learning about the culture of earlier people, including our recent ancestors of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, as well as those people living thousands of years before us, teaches us about ourselves and how we came to be the way we are. Studying the past teaches us about the present. Archaeology is a way to study this past by looking at artifacts, or things people left behind. Archaeologists excavate, or scientifically dig up, these artifacts and study the relationship of the artifacts to stains in the ground, or features, and to various layers of soil. They analyze artifacts, study maps, research other archaeological sites, and research old documents in order to understand how people lived in the past.

Most people think that archaeology is just digging up old things. While archaeology involves excavation, it is a much more complex and intriguing science! Because of its complexity, only archaeologists who have a degree in anthropology, or a related field, and extensive field training should conduct actual excavations. While you might assist a trained archaeologist, we strongly encourage you NOT to excavate without the direct and continuous supervision of an archaeologist.

Archaeology is the science of recording, interpreting and recreating past life. The position and relationship of material remains in the soil is of key importance to archeologists. They carefully record contexts within which artifacts are located prior to removing the artifacts. Then artifacts are bagged, labeled, and identified. Finally, the story of the site is told in a written report. Reporting is the way archeological information is shared.

Nevertheless, digging and excavating a site is destructive. Once a site is excavated it will not exist in the same way ever again. Even with careful record keeping, some information may be missed because of human error or shortcomings in then-current methods. Therefore, some sites and portions of sites are left intact in order to preserve them for future generations.

When artifacts are collected without careful records, information of the past is not shared, but lost forever. A part of the puzzle is removed and the picture of that moment of history cannot be completed. This collecting or “looting” robs present and future generations of an understanding of our common history. Therefore, no excavation or removal of artifacts should be done unless under the supervision of a professionally trained archeologist.

Project Ideas:

Native American Indians have lived in what is now Georgia long before tribes such as the Creek, Cherokee, Yuchi and others. These Indians lived during times archaeologists call the Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods. Discover the date ranges for each period and how these periods differ by examining how house construction, food, tool and pottery making, travel, trade, religion, and government changed. Make models, drawings, sketches, or diagrams to illustrate these changes.

Research some of Georgia’s Indian mounds, such as Etowah, Ocmulgee, and Kolomoki. Find out when they were made and why. Discover why they were located where they are. Did the environment (rivers, fertile flood plains, hills, food resources) and political location (a certain distance from other mounds of the same period, from communities that are trading partners, from enemies) play a role in this location? Make a model of two different types of mounds in Georgia. Make maps to show the distance and relationship between mounds. Find examples of raw materials that people during these periods of time may have been trading. Locate areas where these materials are found. Research trade, travel and marriage during this period to study how such materials would get from one location to another.

Research the difference between historic and prehistoric archaeology. Provide examples of prehistoric and historic archaeological sites in Georgia. List, draw, photograph, or make a model of at least five different resources that a prehistoric archaeologist and a historic archaeologist might use. Interview a prehistoric archaeologist and a historic archaeologist, asking the same questions from a list you make up beforehand concerning where they work, what kinds of sites they study, how they do research, what types of things they try to discover about a site, what they like and do not like about their work, and other questions.

Examine how marriage among different groups of prehistoric Indians might affect pottery making. Make accurate reproductions of different pottery styles from different periods and try to discover where these types were found across what is now the state of Georgia.

Research the Mississippian period of prehistory. How long did this period exist before Europeans arrived in North America? How do archaeologists know that people during this period participated in widespread warfare? Make a model to illustrate some of your findings.

Archaeologists like to examine dishes to learn more about how people lived in the past. Broken pieces of dishes (sherds) survive in the ground for thousands of years. Often dishes can indicate if people were rich or poor and what kinds of foods they ate. Research how historic archaeologists use maker’s marks, vessel shape (bowl, plate, cup,etc.), pottery type (based on decoration and paste), and price inventory documents to discover this information. Study your family’s ceramics like an archaeologist would do so. Count the number of plates, bowls, cups, glasses, platters, serving bowls, and other tableware in your kitchen. Make a note of the number that match in each set. Note what material they are made of (ceramic, glass, plastic). Note any “maker’s marks.” Put your data into a large table. Illustrate examples from the table. Make interpretations from your data (example: hardly any dishes are missing out of the set of fancy dishes, so you may deduce that these dishes are rarely used and rarely broken; there are lots of small plastic cups and bowls, so you may conclude that there are young children in the household, etc.). Compare your data to a friend’s data from his/her kitchen. What interpretations can you make when you compare the two households?

Find a copy of an old Sears or J.C. Penny catalog from the late 1800s or early 1900s. Find five items that are no longer used today. Draw pictures of them and describe how they were used. Find five items that we still use today. Draw what they looked like in the past and describe what has changed and what has stayed the same about them. Look at all ten items and list what you would expect to find if you were an archaeologist excavating an old old house site containing these items. Remember, often only parts of things survive after being buried in the ground. Make a list of what parts of each item would not survive. Explain why.

Archaeologists study people’s trash. Usually this trash is anywhere from 50,000–10,000 years old. What people throw away tells us about their life. Study your schools’ trash the way an archaeologist would. Choose three different rooms in your school and ask permission of the teachers or adults who supervise those rooms. Try to select rooms that function in very different ways (music room, younger kids’ class, older kids’ class, etc.). Make a form that has a place to record what the object is made of, what its function might have been, and how many of that object you recorded. Every Friday, for two weeks, go through the trash and record what you find. Make sure you record the order you find it in also. For example, if there is a spelling list on top, candy paper in the middle, and someone’s homework on the bottom, make sure you record that on the form. Then you would know that whatever was at the bottom of the can was thrown away first, and what’s on top was thrown away last. That is ‚“stratigraphy” and how archaeologists discover more information. After two weeks look at the forms. Analyze what you found in each trashcan, does it reflect an entire week of trash? How do you know? Whose trash is it? How do you know? What did they do during that period of time? How do you know? Was there more, less, or the same amount of trash from the second week? Why do you think that was the case? Compare the forms from each room. How are they similar or different? Why? Explain how you project reflects what archaeologists do at a site.

Archaeologists often uncover old medicine bottles from sites. Research 5-10 types of 18th or 19th century medicines and discover what ingredients were in them. Were there ingredients in them that we no longer use? Are there some ingredients that continue to be used in medicine? Why or why not? Research the Pure Food and Drug Act and learn how it affected the ways medicines were made. Go to the library or use the internet to try to find examples of old advertisements for medicines. Do these ads use the same types of marketing that ads use today? Look at any ads that show pictures of the bottles. Find out how archaeologists use the bottle’s color, shape, size, and way it was made to determine how old the bottle is. Make a display of your research including drawings of bottles, descriptions of your research, and any advertisements you found. Include modern day advertisements of medicines to compare and contrast to your research.

Archaeological sites exist almost everywhere in Georgia. Name some places you might find sites. Explain why. Research and make a list ways in which archaeological sites can be harmed. Illustrate your list with drawings, photographs, or models. Examine why looting of archaeological sites is harmful. Find out what does your community or state does to protect archaeological sites. Discover what the federal government does and make a list (in your own words) of federal regulations that protect sites. What can you do to help protect sites?

Research the area in which you live. If it is a subdivision, does the name reflect the area’s history? (Examples: “Plantation Trace” or “Indian Trail Ridge.”) Try to find out who lived in the area in the past 5; 10; 50; 100; 5000; and 10,000 years. To do some of this, talk to older residents in the area and visit the local library and historical society. Find a topographic map at the library or on the internet and try to locate the area where your house stands. Is it a good place for a house? Why or why not? Would it have been a good place to live 100 years ago? Why or why not? How about 5000 years ago? Explain. Make two clay models of a close-up of part of the topographic map. On one model include your house, roads, and other human-made features. On the second model include only things you think may have been there 5000 years ago, such as rivers, springs, trails, and Native American homes or villages.

Discover documentary (historical accounts, diaries, photographs, etc.) evidence about an old house site in your community and the people who lived there in the past. Interview people in the community who may know about the history of the house and families associated with it. If you have permission from the landowner, make a map (to scale) of the house (or house ruins), outbuildings, yard, and associated plants. Try to use the documentary evidence, oral history, and map to search for clues about life on that archaeological site.

Find out what different ethnic groups of people have immigrated to Georgia during the past 200 years. Make a map that shows where different groups settled in the state. Get a world map and show where each group came from. Write a description of each group of people, including what types of food, clothing, religion, and technology they had in their native land. If possible, interview one or more person from one or more groups of immigrants. Make a list beforehand of the things you would ask, including questions about if and how they have adapted to the place they now live and also what customs or traditions they maintain from their native land. Draw or photograph examples. Later, make a list of things archaeologists 200 years from now might find on the house sites of these people living in Georgia. Would they find any artifacts relating to food, technology, religion, or clothing that might be different from artifacts on other sites? Would archaeologists be able to determine that the people living on these sites were from another country? Why or why not?

If you know of an archaeological site in your community, or know someone who has a collection of artifacts from a site, fill out a state site form for it. Obtain a site form from the Georgia Archaeological Site File in Athens (part of the Anthropology Department at the University of Georgia). If you have permission from the landowner who owns the site, visit the site and make a sketch map of it for the site form. (Don’t collect any artifacts. Just note on your map where you found them.) Make a copy of the form to keep and send the original to the Site File.

If you have the opportunity to work with a professional archaeologist help him or her in the interpretation of a site. Study things such as settlement patterns and inter and intra site patterning. Compare the site to other sites on a local and regional level. Try to find patterns of human behavior.

Web Resources:

Native Technology: here or here
Geology: University of Georgia and Weinman Museum
New Georgia encyclopedia
Georgia history/prehistory: National Park Service and Southeast Archaeological Center.
Radiocarbon dating