A large group of children and parents are looking on in quiet anticipation. All that can be heard is the “clink, clink” of stone striking stone. Suddenly a shard of flint is flicked to the floor, an example of how flint tools such as arrowheads, spears points, hide scrapers, and knives are made.
It’s “Moccasins and More: Archaeology Family Day” held this past weekend at CU’s Museum of Natural History and children of all ages accompanied by curious adults are learning about various aspects of the discovery of ancient cultures, from flint knapping to studying footwear and weaving porcupine quills to burrowing in a simulated excavation site. The day features a selection of nine different demonstrations led by volunteers including high school students, undergraduates and Ph.D. candidates, and even community organizations.
Says Cathy Regan, Education Coordinator at the museum, “Archeology Family Day is one of our monthly themed educational events that we offer families and the public to engage them in creative, hands on educational demonstrations; introduce them to our regularly rotating exhibits; and inspire them to learn more about the natural world. Archaeology Family Day was specially developed as part of our series celebrating National Archaeology Day, dedicated to putting us in touch with the discoveries and studies of our past connections to the Earth.”
In another room, a table is crowded by children and parents asking about a display of Native American footwear including ancestral Pueblo woven sandals made of grass, reeds, and bark. Of particular interest are two crumpled, dusky leather objects filled with straw placed on a white box. Event volunteer Jesse Dutton, an M.A. student in museum studies and anthropology, explains that these are 3,000-year-old deer- and beaver-skin moccasins discovered in the 1930s in Mantle’s Cave, a famous excavation site in Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado. The sense of awe is palpable. A youngster exclaims, “They even have shoelaces!”
Nearby, the Egyptian Study Society, a group of Egypto-philes who arrange lectures and educational events about ancient Egyptian culture, has traveled from Denver to exhibit a photographic array of types of Egyptian footwear including reed and wooden-soled sandals, leather booties, and the gold-woven sandals of Queen Nefertari. They explain the importance of the historical development and social stratifications revealed by footwear.
Downstairs it’s all about feet as a volunteer points to parts of an anatomical model of a foot and children scrutinize its physiological characteristics to learn how the development of muscle, bone, and ligament, and elevation of the heel, for example, can tell scientists what kinds of shoes people wore. Meanwhile, longtime volunteer Dean Wilder, a retired geography and earth science professor who received his M.A. and Ph.D. from CU Boulder, carefully shows two children how to weave Native American quillwork using real porcupine quills, a painstaking method of interlacing patterns into moccasins as he elucidates the practices of moccasin makers. Across the hall, a boy uses an iPad-turned-microscope to analyze moccasin beadwork, while a family surveys the museum’s treasured collection of over 40 pairs of moccasins spanning the southwest to the Arctic.
Surrounded by an exhibit room filled with dinosaur skeletons and fossils, young children don goggles and safari helmets as they press their shovels into rubber “dirt.” One girl finds a stone tool, another a pot sherd. They mark their grid paper, a map of the dig site.
Dig demonstration volunteer, Ph.D. candidate Laura Grace Beckerman, challenges the older children to think about the location and types of artifacts, and what they might reveal about the spaces of the excavation site, whether the area might have been used for burial, religious observances, or living quarters.
Beckerman also animatedly describes her interest in volunteering at the CU Museum of Natural History, “I’ve always been passionate about working at museums. I love teaching kids and when I received an email inviting students to volunteer, I jumped at the chance. I’ve had an amazing time volunteering during family days and summer camps. I’ve helped teach kids themes around dinosaurs and swarming insects. I love the many creative projects; my favorite was making grasshoppers out of clothespins that could leap.”
Also contributing to the event is Feet on the Earth, a local nonprofit that teaches adults and children earth-based living skills and rites of passage to cultivate a nature-connected community. They are training participants on how to make cordage, that is, twine, rope, string — things that bind — using yucca, grasses, and fibers in the surrounding environment, which are basic and critical tools for survival. Visitors are able to make connections between this activity and the people who created the “shoelaces” for the 3,000 year old moccasins seen upstairs.
Another tool-maker, Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and flint knapping expert, Jakob Sedig, is wrapping up his demonstration. Sedig explained that he became interested in flint knapping in field school, learning it as he sat by the campfire. He says that as a lithic analyst, or an archaeologist specializing in studying stone tools, “I spend most of my time looking at the debris from refining raw stone. It is the debris that can tell you the most about the function of the tool and how it was made.” Sitting on a blue tarp next to a variety of obsidian and flint implements, he hands a boy wearing latex gloves a large, fresh bison femur. The boy gingerly scrapes at it using the flint knife. As he does, Sedig encourages him to dig deeper.
Don’t miss these exciting upcoming family events at the CU Museum of Natural History:
November 15 – Exhibit Opening: Steps in Stone, Walking Through Time, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
December 6 – Natural History Ornaments Workshop, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
For more information, visit: http://cumuseum.colorado.edu/
Learn about participating organizations:
Egyptian Study Society: http://www.egyptstudy.org/
Feet on the Earth: http://www.feetontheearth.org