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August 16, 2018 • Headline News
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Local students learn from BSU archeologists at Versailles park

Pictured is Kevin Nolan an archeologist from Ball State University. Students along the trail to the archeological dig site found some broken ceramic pieces that they excitedly brought to his attention. He used the students’ find to demonstrate how his team uses precise methods to map and record every artifact around their work zone.

Jared D. Rogers

Milan’s seventh graders and South Ripley’s fourth graders enjoyed what was likely their first field trip of the year on Tuesday, August 14, when they took a hike in Versailles State Park to check out an archeological dig happening at old home sites inside the park.

The digging project is funded through a historic preservation grant by which Ball State archeology professors and students hope to learn more about early Indiana settlers by finding artifacts near their old homes. Kevin Nolan, director and senior archeologist in the BSU Anthropology department, shared with students about his team’s methods and why their work is important.

At its most rudimentary, Nolan told the students, archeologists can learn a lot about the people they are studying by looking through their “trash,” or what they leave behind. Once they find artifacts, archeological scientists must document, research, and use specific techniques to fully understand what they have found and how it fits into the narrative of their project.

Local volunteer and historian Bill Dallman mapped over 40 home sites within the park that the digging team is using as their guide for this current project, which has been going on for about a week, and is scheduled to end later this week. Through thorn bushes and poison ivy, the archeologists dig about a one foot by one foot hole every 15 meters within a site and sift through the dirt in hopes of finding an artifact - whether a piece of glass, a utensil, or maybe even something bigger. When they do “strike” something, they narrow their digging radius to every three meters in hopes of finding more.

So far, Nolan shared that his team has uncovered remnants of home foundations, wells, cisterns, and privies, as well as items like ceramics and stone canning jars. Throughout explaining his work to the eager students, Nolan also answered questions. Even the fourth graders were curious as to how scientists use tools like radiocarbon dating to accurately place an age on the artifacts they find.

Although concepts like carbon isotope degradation may have not been completely understood by students (and certainly not by this writer), Nolan drove home the idea that archeology is important because it helps us learn about past peoples, preserve their cultures, and generally treat the land we live on with respect.

Beyond exploring the digging site, students also visited stations staffed by DNR interpreters and naturalists that demonstrated sifting methods and displayed cultural pieces from Native American tribes that once inhabited the area.

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