ArchaeoBus volunteers enjoy the Georgia National Fair: Story and photographs

Submitted by Kelly Woodard (

The SGA’s new website content editor Kelly Woodard compiled this story of the memories SGA volunteers took home after working at the ArchaeoBus during the Fair. Click on thumbnails to enlarge those photographs.

“Abby” the ArchaeoBus is Georgia’s mobile archaeology classroom, and one of the SGA’s most prized possessions. The ArchaeoBus is a wonderful tool for the organization to gather members from all local chapters who, in turn, teach the public about Georgia archaeology. Recently, the ArchaeoBus visited the Georgia National Fair October 7–17, 2010, in Perry, Georgia, where there was a great turnout of visitors and volunteers.

Volunteering for the SGA is not a daunting task as one might think, being at a county fair all day smelling livestock, eating fatty foods, and dealing with rowdy kids. After receiving feedback from the ArchaeoBus volunteers it seems that they had a great time and all said they would do it again.

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Daniel T. Elliott says:

sometime back in 2009, I made the foolish recommendation to Rita Elliott that Abby the ArchaeoBus should visit the Georgia National Fair in Perry. This month I completed my seven day sentence manning the ArchaeoBus fair booth with early release for time served. So how was it? We had a lovely plot of real estate tucked between the camel rides, sea lion show, Mennonite buildings, portable saw mill, and RV display, and just far enough away from the Tea Party booth, Robinson’s Racing Pigs and the petting zoo to be amusing. It was wonderful weather throughout my term, but I never did get a corndog. We processed so many thousands of families and individuals on the do’s and don’ts of archaeology. I gave away lots of Native American seeds and finally learned how to play all of Rita’s archaeology torture devices. All in all, it wasn’t so bad. But I want to tell you about my honesty test. Part of our display included some examples of materials used by Native Americans. Included were four actual prehistoric stone tools.

Rather than put them under a secure case, we decided to leave them out for visitors to fondle and appreciate. I thought, surely, these tools will walk away from the table by the end of the first day. Things were pretty hectic and we could not watch them constantly. But nope, I was wrong, none were taken. Nor the second day, third day, etc. day. Could it be that people interested in Georgia archaeology are actually honest? Congratulations Georgians for passing my test! Our closest brush with being violated was late one night when an older woman tried her best to stuff all of our supply of precious squash seeds into her tiny ziptop bag. I had to make her dump them out. Must have been her medication. Maybe I should have let her take them.

So was it all worth it? It was worth seeing those sets of young eyes glowing with interest about the world of archaeology. Was one of them my future boss? Maybe so. While explaining phytoliths to one young Brainiac, he understood the concept and proceeded to tell me a forty-one-syllable word for the biochemical process, which I am unable to repeat (due to lack of space, of course). If only I could get those inane Sea Lion songs out of my head.

2011? Call my agent.

It seems that Rita managed to twist quite a few arms to get volunteers to the Fair, as Jack Wynn says:

in a weak moment several months ago, the Dynamic Diva Rita Elliott talked me into volunteering to work on the Archaeobus at the Georgia National Fair in October. After an 8-9:30 AM class in Dahlonega, I drove down to Perry and got onto the fairgrounds to work at the SGA exhibit. There I met Tom Gresham and other volunteers. Together we talked to anyone and everyone who ventured into the ArchaeoBus and around the tent outside. Talking to people is something that never bothers me, so that was fun!

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Two things stick out in my mind about the Fair experience. One was the enthusiasm with which some of the kids reacted to the exhibits. One class of red-shirted 5th graders, about 25 kids led by a single tall, lanky instructor with a floppy hat, was particularly memorable. Each child tried out each activity under the tent: assembling pottery sherds, connecting the electrical contacts to identify the seeds, plants, flowers, pollen and phytoliths, then learning about domesticated seeds, pottery patterns and stone tool types. They didn’t exactly come through in a line—they were kids after all—they bunched up, but gave each one a chance to try everything. They were very well-behaved and seemed to be genuinely interested in everything we had to offer!

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Whenever we had teachers in the bus or under the tents, we tried to give them as much encouragement to include archaeology in their courses as we could. We gave them handouts, posters, seeds, SGA business cards, and most anything they would carry away! We assured them they could find lots more information and many other resources on the SGA web site. That was more of the fun!

The other unforgettable thing was the “Sea Lion Splash” exhibit right across the street from us. A half-hour before each of their shows, they turned on very loud rock music, to attract people to their water show. When the lady began her show, she turned up the volume of her PA system even more! She might have a hundred people sitting in bleachers right in front of the Sea Lion tanks and her presentation, and no one could miss a single word. We could not escape the wall of sound coming straight at us. Closing the five little windows in the Archaeobus helped some, but it was still a powerful force. Talking to people during that show became pretty difficult, but we struggled on. Fortunately, they only had a few shows a day—not a constant stream of them!

The rest of the volunteers who worked the rest of the week probably thought I wimped out on them. I’m sorry, but I seem to have worked the two easiest shifts (Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning) of the week (Thanks, Rita!). We actually had time to sit and talk quietly together under the tent or in the bus occasionally between visitors and groups. However, we were told by the maintenance people that Thursday would have masses of school classes, and that Friday and Saturday, they were expecting in excess of 80,000 people each day coming through the gates. Volunteers on those shifts really had to hustle, and were probably worn to a frazzle at the end of every shift! They should receive special awards for endurance such as something for sore feet, throat lozenges, and hot tea!

A truly unforgettable experience! Thanks, Rita, for arranging, organizing, and coordinating it all!

Dan and Rita Elliott with Abby the ArchaeoBus at the Georgia National Fair.

Stephen Hammack says:

I was at the fair two evenings with Abby, and had a great time helping with the tent activities and the bus. The kids loved the ceramic puzzle (and not just my own two boys, who loved it!), and adults (and especially farmers) were generally more interested in the 3 sisters display and the Indian pottery and points. I also had the Robins AFB Cultural Resources Display on hand for those two nights, and met a number of locals interested in the fact that Robins manages 58 archaeological sites and 26 NRHP-eligible buildings. One final note—fair food rules and so do Rita’s ArchaeoBus snacks!

Another volunteer, Mary Craft put it simply, saying “Abby is a wonderful tool to teach people of all ages about Georgia archaeology.”

Graduate students from the University of South Carolina affiliated with the SGA had a memorable time with their volunteering experience. Maggie Needham says they got themselves into a few shenanigans including one incident involving a camel. Maggie says that volunteer Brooke Brilliant got really excited about the opportunity to ride a camel because her husband had already ridden one and she hadn’t. That same day, Amy O’Brian, a mutual friend from the university came to the fair to visit and she and Brooke rode the camel together. They said it was totally worth it.

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Another thing they enjoyed was the fair food. Maggie said that she and “Brooke split both a funnel cake and an elephant ear, which took a really long to get because of the long lines, but would have to say that the funnel cake was the best fair food, hands down.” They also tried fried vegetables, deep-fried Oreos and roasted corn.

Maggie’s favorite experience “was interacting with the younger children who were determined to match phytoliths to their respective plants, even though they had no idea what they were or how to identify them. Children are amazingly diligent.”

Although his experience was short-lived, Allen Vegotsky says:

It was my pleasure to spend one day with Abby, the ArchaeoBus, at the Georgia State Fair in Perry. I arrived in the early morning well before the hordes of visitors and was greeted by Tom Gresham, Sammy Smith (read her story about the Fair here), and JC Burns, all experienced presenters making it much easier for me to participate in a great learning and teaching experience. Before visitors arrived, I had time to explore Abby and all that she has to offer with her wide range of activities. It was a lot of fun for me to view the exhibits, try the electronic quizzes, put together pottery sherds, and so on.

Allen continued, “It got to be even more fun when kids with teachers or parents came on board later in the morning. They found the whole thing very compelling and some hung around for a half hour or more and tried everything! I don’t know who was more excited—the kids, the teachers, or the parents. I’m surprised at how many home schoolers came to the exhibit. In retrospect, I can’t think of a better way to give people, young and old an inkling of what archaeologists do. I know the visitors will remember the experience.

If you’re looking for the Three Sisters seeds handout, click here.

Where to find it