Friday, April 29, 2011

Forensic Science at Susquehanna High School

This week we're taking a break from the alphabetical archaeology theme to highlight efforts by one local high school to take archaeology out of the classroom and into the field for some hands on experience.

This Thursday and Friday, staff from the Section of Archaeology at the State Musuem of Pennsylvania assisted with a simulated forensic investigation being conducted by Mary Pat Evans, a science teacher at Susquehanna High School. This program offers Ms. Evans' students an opportunity to learn proper archaeological survey, excavation, and recording techniques that would be required for scientific evalutation of an archaeological or forensic site.

Ms. Evans and student at the "crime scene" excavation

The open excavation is 100 square meters in size, in an area of the athletic field just outside the high school building.The site, dubbed 36Da231, has been planted with artifacts such as animal bone, car parts, cell phone fragments, personal objects, and several bullet casings to simulate a crime scene. Approximately 100 high school 11th and 12th grade students worked together to establish an alpha numberic grid of 1x1 meter squares across the excavation site, and then selected units to excavate based on any artifacts visible on the ground surface.

Working in teams of two and three students, surface artifacts were mapped and placed in bags with the appropriate provienience information, and hand excavation of level one began using mason trowels. Soils were then collected in five gallon buckets and screened through 1/4" hardwear mesh to recover smaller artifacts initially missed during excavation. Back in the classroom, Ms. Evans will have her students compile all their mapped artifacts to see if any spacial patterns are present that may yield clues about the events that took place at the "crime scene".

Unfortunately, the recent stormy weather had left the site fairly waterlogged, but the students made the best of the situation, braved the very muddy conditions, and now have first hand knowledge that archaeology can be a dirty job indeed.

Thanks to all the students for their hard work, and good questions, and a very special thank you goes to Mary Pat for inviting us to take part in her "groundbreaking" program teaching high school students about the methods of archaeology.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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