Class sends kids down in the dirt

By Regina Villiers. Originally published July 14, 1999 in The Suburban Life, added July 16, 2019.

Rebecca Hawkins, left, archeology professor at Northern Kentucky University, Sellman teacher Cindy Hopkins, center, Madeira student Betty Sun and Madeira Parks volunteer Sarah Evans discuss the artifacts found by Hopkins’ fourth-grade class.

     Leading kids to a pile of dirt and telling them to start digging is akin to installing them in a heavenly atmosphere.

     That’s what teacher Cindy Hopkins did to the 12 kids in her “Nature Detectives” science class in Sellman School’s 30-Day program a few weeks ago.

     Hopkins not only taught her fourth-grade students about archeology, but also gave them hands-on experience in doing actual “digs” under the guidance of a real archeologist.

     Rebecca Hawkins, a professor of archeology at Northern Kentucky University, was brought in to help instruct the kids in the proper way to dig for history and to help them identify their finds.

     Sarah Evans, a Madeira parks volunteer, also assisted with the class.  For their digs, she directed them to McDonald’s Commons Park, an area she knows well. She became close to this area when she helped lead a drive to preserve the 10 acres of woods belonging to the city when the city proposal was made for the city to sell the woods for building and subdividing.

     The class concentrated their digs at the old dump where Madeira once dumped its trash and garbage, before Rumpke and curb service. Sarah estimated that Madeira stopped dumping there about 50 years ago.

     Hopkins would lead her young “Nature Detectives” there, armed with digging tools and loads of plastic grocery bags.  The kids only dug the top layer, and they were allowed to retrieve intact items only.  No broken shards of glass.

     Mostly, the young archeologists found only bottles and glass items, which had survived the passage of time.  They carefully bagged up all intact treasures and carried them back to their classroom, keeping them stored, as they continued to dig.

     Finally, they scheduled an unbagging day.  They spread newspapers over desks and tables and carefully placed all items out for scrutiny and study.

     It was an exciting day.  Hawkins and Evans both came to help in the identification and to share in the kids’ joy of discovery.

     There were bottles and glass containers of every shape, color and size, from humongous to teeny.  There were bottles that once held distilled spirits.  There were all sorts of patent medicine bottles.

     Some of the most interesting bottles they found were medicine bottles from the old Braun Pharmacy in Madeira clearly marked with the store’s name and address.

     One unusual item held the students’ interest.  Their archeology leader explained that it was an ant killer. It was a small glass container with a metal cap still attached.  The metal cap had a small hole in the top so that ants could go in and eat the bait in the container.

     In addition to bottles and glass containers, they also found fossils and owl pellets.

     The class, of course, was not all fun and games.  The students studied archeology and did class work, which included writing reports and papers on their discoveries.  More than half the class were young writers who also were in the newspaper class.

     The young diggers learned that since they only dug the top layer, they had only discovered the newest items there.  The archeologist explained to them that the deeper the layers, the older the finds.

     This knowledge, of course, made them dream of the fantastic relics of the past they could have found, had they only been allowed to go deeper in the surface of the old dump.  They didn’t want to stop.

     But the experience made them aware of archeological treasures and whetted their interest in what the earth’s surface holds of our history.

     For a few weeks, they were encouraged to do what kids love to do most:  dig in dirt. They were in heaven.

Benjamin Woodhouse and Sam Morgan examine some of the items found by their fourth-grade “Nature Detectives” science class in Sellman School’s 30-Day Program