Some of Tallahassee’s newest female scientists may have found their calling last Friday. For the fourth year in a row, National Park Service archeologists from the Southeast Archeological Center were honored to spend a day with the SciGirls summer camp a two-week program for girls entering 6-9th grade designed to inspire middle and high school girls to pursue careers in science.
The camp is held in Tallahassee, Florida around the corner from SEAC in Innovation Park at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (the Mag Lab) and co-hosted by WFSU. SEAC archeologists Alexandra Parsons, Kathryn Miyar, Satin Bowman, Hillary Conley,
and Mercedes Harrold, and Florida State University anthropology graduate student Megan Merrick taught the SciGirls about archeology and the importance of preserving archeological sites.
A major theme for this year’s archeology day at SciGirls Summer Camp was unauthorized excavation of archeological sites – looting.
The girls spent the next few hours in the lab analyzing faux artifacts and casts of human skeletal remains. Part of the focus was to help them develop and understanding of how removing artifacts from their context in the earth makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to answer certain questions about the past.
The human remains had been recovered from the back of the looters’ truck as part of the hypothetical looting situation that framed the lab. The SciGirls learned how to calculate the Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) in a skeletal assemblage and used a complete, articulated skeleton as a comparative tool for identifying different bones.
During the lab exercises, the girls learned how archeologists use ceramic typologies to determine date ranges for sites, how the timing of tooth eruptions can be used to determine the age of subadult skeletal remains, and how features of adult skeletons can be used to determine whether the remains belong to a male or female. The SciGirls also took a look at several reproduction and real artifacts and learned what kinds of research can be done on these items and what methods are available to archeologists. Lastly, the girls wrote a report documenting the site and the artifacts and considered how illegally removing artifacts from a site impairs our ability to learn about the past.
Unauthorized excavation and looting are serious problems in the practice of archeology. While federal and state governments have been intensifying their enforcement of laws protecting archeological sites and punishing perpetrators, one of the best ways to combat these kinds of violations is through education of the up-and-coming generation. The SciGirls camp was an excellent opportunity to reach out to the future leaders of tomorrow to instill a deeper respect for our cultural heritage and the recognition of the irreversible damage caused by looting.
This year the SciGirls worked really well as a team. We were especially impressed with their questions about archeological and osteological methods! We also lucked out and had no rain. The girls got a little dirty, but stayed dry. We’re already looking forward to next year’s Archeology Day at SciGirls summer camp!