Armchair Archeology

Feb 8, 2007 by

I’m writing this post during my usual afternoon “downtime”, that time of day when my energy is low and I’m going to fall asleep and crash into my keyboard. Forgive me then, if this post rambles a bit.

I’m a fan of archeology. I took a couple of anthropology courses in college, I love watching documentaries on ancient Roman and Hellenistic dig sites, and I own every Indiana Jones movie (still working on finding the perfect fedora). Joking aside, I’ve found that many of my students are most engaged when they get a chance to actually see what archeology is, rather than just read about it. I used to bring in large roasting pans filled with different “artifacts” (nails, screws, bits of plastic, etc.) covered in dirt and let them dig through it, carefully mapping and recording all of their findings. With Google Earth however, it’s possible to be an armchair archaeologist, and explore dig sites around the world, without getting your hands dirty.

Roman VillaThe recent post about a mysterious sunken Roman Villa in Spain on the Google Earth blog is what really got me excited about posting today. Unfortunately, after a few comments on the original post, it’s more likely that the lines and shapes are the result of dredging or fishing nurseries, but I was still excited about the prospect of using Google Earth to bring archeology into the classroom in a meaningful way. So I followed a link to a BBC News report that explains how one man in Italy actually did find the remains of a Roman villa by looking at pictures of his home town.

Which got me thinking. Using information from textbooks and other sources, students could search southern areas of the U.S. in Google Earth to look for remains of the Mound Building Native American civilizations, or get a closer look of ancient ruins in Greece, Italy, South America, and Asia. I know pulling up Egypt and letting my 6th graders explore the pyramids last year was an instant hit. They spent the entire lesson searching for other familiar landmarks like the Sphinx, the Nile River, and the secretive Valley of the Kings. Google Earth allows even the simplest of learners to engage in Aerial Archeology, something that has taken place for many decades, without the need for an airplane, expensive equipment, or proper funding for the expedition. As armchair archaeologists, students can BE Indiana Jones, rather than just wait for someone else to take up the whip. Although, perhaps it would be best to just let the kids use Google Earth, and save the swashbuckling for Hollywood.

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