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  • Writer's pictureclovis23

Teaching the Next Generation

Occpaleo was recently contacted by the Portland, Maine public school system, for help in their mission to educate young school students on the prehistory of their region. Our vision has always been to provide tangible items to help in the teaching process, so we enthusiastically got to work to help accomplish this goal.

I learned years ago that a picture in a book is often not enough for understanding. When an object from history can be held in the hand and felt, it often comes to life. We knew immediately the best way to support this project was to provide artifact casts of ancient tools from their home region. Why artifact casts? Actual artifacts are often difficult to obtain and are not safely examined by children. With cast replicas, models identical in shape and feel to the originals can be handled and understood.

The school agreed, and the local archaeologist sent us 15 artifacts from the time of European contact all the way back to Paleoindian times after the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago. We wanted to put together a selection of artifacts that not only showed various time periods, but also answered several questions. How did they hunt, and with what? Did they have boats? How did they work wood without a modern axe?

A great example is the pottery fragments shown here. Several connecting pieces were cast, so that they fit together like the original cooking vessel. The teacher might ask how food was cooked, and then show a pottery fragment as shown in the archaeological record. By putting the pieces together like a puzzle, the students could then see a round vessel take shape, and imagine a pot similar to those found in their own kitchens at home.

The artifact above is a stone gouge for woodworking. It was used thousands of years ago in the local coast and waterways for scooping out large logs to make dugout canoes. With an example to hold in hand, and a comparison with a modern steel tool that has the same function, the students can begin to understand how ancient peoples made their boats, and see what materials were used before the age of metal tools.

The casting process for artifacts allows multiple copies, so that larger groups of students can have access at once. Holding the object sparks the most insightful questions. How did they sew clothing before modern needles? Why is the rim of the pot sherd round and blackened? Is there an edge on that little stone tool that could be used for cleaning animal hides for clothes? You can't feel the edge of a tool, or put together a puzzle from the pages of a book, and it's that level of learning that we hope will inspire the next generation of students to better understand our shared prehistory.

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