Digging for clues

Archaeology Research Assistant Sam Coffman and Collection Manager Scott Shirar have been working hard the past few summers, teaching kids about the secrets behind the science. 

Their popular Alaska Summer Research Academy module lets high school-aged kids get their hands dirty digging for artifacts while learning the techniques and principles of archaeology. They also get a taste of local history.

Students explored the prehistoric Simpson site, located along the Tanana River near the Rosie Creek subdivision outside Fairbanks. The site was discovered in the 1990s when the previous land owner turned up some chipped stone flakes while  digging post holes for a woodshed.

The family  called the university to report the discovery and reached a professor in the UAF anthropology department who did some tests and confirmed that it was an archaeological find. It was recorded by the state, which keeps a database of sites across Alaska.

The ASRA crew returned to the site in July to open up more ground, said UAMN Archaeology Collection Manager Scott Shirar.  "We want to get a bigger artifact assemblage to give us a better idea of what’s going on out here. We’re also hoping to find some organic material and get some radio carbon dates for this site."

The students took six daily trips to the field site, where they used excavation tools such as trowels, screens, GPS technology, and mapping techniques to document the finds. Next, the team will work in the archaeology laboratory at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Using a range of computer software and scientific methods, they’ll decipher clues from artifacts, animal bones, soils, and plant remains to understand the activities that occurred at the site and how people lived in the past. 

The students found maybe a hundred artifacts, including a bi-facially flaked knife, which got everybody fired up to do some more digging. 

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