The Beaches Museum’s History Park once again played host to an educational day of play with its third annual International Archaeology Day celebration, held Oct. 15.
Braving winds and the threat of rain were families, educators and museum members browsing booths displaying archaeological lessons and activities, all aimed at bringing the past and the future together.
“Our goal today is to help people learn what archaeology really is and what it’s about,” said Brendan Burke, a maritime historian from the St. Augustine Lighthouse archaeological maritime program. “People don’t realize how important archaeology is to modern culture. By teaching others about it, we’re essentially blending two cultures: the past and the present.”
That lesson was heard loud and clear with events and attractions illustrating often overlooked aspects of archaeology beyond dinosaur bones. Throughout the park, children were encouraged to participate in archaeological activities and create their own “ancient” finds. Stations replete with arts and crafts, containers filled with layers of “aged” sand and prop foods and instruments beckoned visitors. Young archaeologists enjoyed a day of creating their own pottery, painting their own masks and participating in mock digs, wherein they were given spoon “shovels,” paint brushes and logs with which to clean and record their findings in the field. Visitors were also treated to a lecture by Charles R. Cobb of the Florida Museum of Natural History and local artifact identification by Dr. Keith Ashley, research coordinator of sociology and anthropology at the University of North Florida.
According to Museum Master Gardner Lee McDonald, the day was meant to inform kids of more than just the typical teachings of archaeology; in keeping with the curriculum the museum is establishing, the day’s schedule also included lessons on the evolution of food staples, gardening practices and artifacts of Floridian Native Americans from the Ice Age through the Renewal era.
“One of the most important things we can teach children today about the past is how to take care of the environment,” he said. “Our hope is that they’ll learn more about the environment, about food, the history of local cultures and artifacts and how to sustain them. Those practices will last them a lifetime and preserve (our history) for generations.”
Stacy Hale, who brought her daughter Graciele to the event, participated in the pottery and mask making activities in the park. She said by doing so, she hoped the experience would encourage her daughter to treasure the unique history in the community.
“I would really like for her to learn more about the history of where we live and to help her understand the cultures of its past a little better,” she said. “Having her work with her hands and seeing what that history looks like is a great way to do that.”
Throughout the day, the theme of preserving knowledge of the past while looking toward the future prevailed – and McDonald is hopeful that the annual celebration will encourage generations eager to learn more.
“The people and cultures we’re studying today lived very resourceful, healthy and sustainable lives and we could all stand to learn from them,” he said. “Our ultimate hope is that we can teach kids that discoveries are constant and never ending. There will always be new things and new discoveries about these time periods to learn that will help us in the future.”