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Area artifacts bring history to life

JME students learn about past societies

POSTED: October 7, 2011 9:09 a.m.
Danielle Hipps/

Fort Stewart Curation Manager Jessie Larson shows Joseph Martin Elementary fourth-graders a pottery replica after her archaeology presentation Monday.

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About 100 Joseph Martin Elementary School students saw the meeting of art, science and social studies during an interactive presentation Monday.

With both replicas and genuine artifacts on hand, Fort Stewart Cultural Resources Management Curation Manager Jessie Larson spoke to the fourth-grade students about archaeology and its role in decoding history.

She began by defining archaeology and explaining that archaeologists study items altered and used by humans more than 50 years ago.

“Has anyone touched a marker today?” she said. “You have clothes on, you have shoes — if you’ve altered it, or picked it up and moved it, you’ve made an artifact.”

She even quizzed the students on some myths about the discipline.

“Do archaeologists study dinosaurs?” she asked. Many children raised their hands and uttered, “Yes, they do!”

To their dismay, Larson explained that archaeologists study items that were in some way used or influenced by humans, and that paleontologists are charged with studying dinosaurs.

“A lot of adults don’t learn the difference, so you’re learning way ahead of the time,” she said.

She briefly explained how items from digs are tagged and preserved so they can be identified in the future.

“Before you dig, you have to figure out what you want to dig and why you’re going to dig it,” she said. On post, her team goes out to do ground surveys and shovel tests to ensure that potential construction and even field exercises will not disturb possible remnants of Liberty County’s past.

“We’ve had (written) records since 1733 here,” Larson said. But the artifacts found in the ground can paint pictures that predate court documents and deeds.

She highlighted previous societies and discussed how the area’s climate has influenced society — and how the clues buried in the dirt shed light on the lives they led.

For example, during the Paleo-Indian era between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago, the climate was much drier and cooler, and people were nomadic hunters who wielded large spears and did not have pottery.

“If you’re hunting and you’re moving all the time, you don’t want to be in charge of carrying one of those ceramic vessels with you,” Larson said.

During the Woodland Period, about 3,000 to 1,200 years ago, societies began to settle down, and arrows became favored over spears while pottery became more widely used and its designs more refined.

“Their pottery gets fancier — you can see that you have different decorations. … It gets progressively fancier and they’re doing even less hunting and more art,” Larson said.

She tracked the developments through the more recent Mississippian Period, about 1,200 to 560 years ago, where farming arose, and then through the Historic Period, where Native Americans began to emulate the European styles of pottery that were brought to the country.

Larson also discussed the importance of analyzing finds after a dig to interpret the utility of the artifacts.

“If you don’t know where they came from and what they are, then you’re just having fun digging in the dirt,” she said.

After Larson’s question-and-answer session was over, the students gathered to inspect the artifacts in display cases and even could feel the textures carved into Native American pottery replicas.

“Archaeology tells the story of human culture, and it’s especially important because it wasn’t all written down,” she said. “The story is still incomplete, so we’re trying to find more and more stuff to finish the story.”

Art teacher Carol Lemke, who coordinated the presentation, said she hopes students came away with the understanding that the Coastal Georgia area is both rich with history and has been inhabited for such a long time.

“I know the kids didn’t realize what rich resources we have in this area,” she said, adding that feedback from the students mostly was positive. 

The school’s principal, Sue Tolley, said such events help teachers present the mandatory education standards in ways that maintain student attention.

“Hands-on lessons are always more engaging,” Tolley said. This event in particular demonstrated how different disciplines, such as art and social studies, are related. 

“I think they understand — because of the way we teach — that everything goes hand in hand,” Lemke said.

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