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Dig This!

Wouldn't it be cool if even a few of the old stories were true? Legends say that giants walked the Earth; Atlantis vanished under the sea; and Greece and Troy fought a devastating war over a beautiful woman. Amazing, but true: all these stories are based on facts.

Archaeologists digging in China discovered the fossils of Gigantopithecus, a giant ape standing 9 or 10 feet tall. These huge but probably gentle apes died off 500,000 years ago. Traditionally, villagers collected their bones and made them into medicines. They called their finds dragon bones. Some have wondered whether pockets of the animals may have survived into later centuries, giving rise to the legend of Big Foot.

According to archaeologist Peter James, the lost city of Atlantis may have been the lost city of Tantalis, located in ancient Anatolia (today's Turkey). High above ground wracked by earthquakes over thousands of years, the sculpture of a mother goddess watches over a lake which engulfed a legendary city, discovered again through a careful reading of different histories and the principles of archaeology. Or, it may not. An archaeological expedition would help find out the truth.

What Is Archaeology?

It might be better to say what archaeology is not. Archaeology is not:

  • Treasure-hunting with a metal detector
  • Taking a giant bulldozer and dumping out lots of dirt and sifting through it quickly
  • Stealing pots and other artifacts from historic sites

Although archaeologists might use tools such as a metal detector or special photography to help find interesting sites, they would never take a shovel and just dig out whatever one thing was there. Most of the story of a place is only revealed when the dirt is removed carefully, inch by inch, so that the whole history becomes known. Instead of only looking for shot and other metal bits at colonial Jamestown, recent archaeology revealed the early fort that most people believed had been washed into the James River. Thousands of small artifacts give the details that make the past lives of men, women, and children truly come to life.

Want to be an archaeologist? Many colleges offer degrees in archaeology or its sister studies of anthropology and classical studies. Archaeology students can spend their summers at digs throughout the world while getting college credit. But, there's no need to wait for college to get your hands dirty. You can learn about archaeology right here in our area. Ferry Farm, a part of George Washington's Fredericksburg Foundation, has year-round educational programs that introduce children to the techniques of archaeology.

Archaeology: Read All About It

Getting Started

Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke.
Like the Magic School Bus series? Give this one a try. Kids discover the detective work of the dig with friendly archaeologist Sophie.

Archeology by Jane McIntosh.
Great photos give glimpses of fantastic finds and the ways archaeologists preserve them.

Under the Sea

Exploring for Shipwrecks by KC Smith.
The sea has dragged down countless ships through the centuries that were carrying trade goods, treasure, and other clues to history. Learn about underwater archaeology's special techniques to find and explore these ships.

Ghost Liners: Exploring the World's Greatest Lost Ships by Robert D. Ballard and Rick Archbold.
Explore the Titanic and four other great ships that sank beneath the waves, including the Empress of Ireland. Learn about ships, their passengers, and what ultimately doomed them, then take a tour on a mini-submarine to discover the eerie remains.

Shipwreck by Richard Platt.
Stories of famous shipwrecks, rescues, and methods of underwater archaeology. Very detailed photos.

Cities in the Sand

The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China by Jane O'Connor.
Thousands of life-size statues were created to be entombed near an ancient Chinese emperor. They lay hidden beneath the earth for more than 2000 years until they were uncovered in a state of perfect preservation. 

In Search of Troy: One Man's Quest for Homer's Fabled City written and illustrated by Giovanni Caselli.
Over a hundred years ago, Heinrich Schliemann had a hunch that he knew where to find the lost city of Troy. Schliemann was a rich man, and he could afford to travel halfway around the world and finance his own expedition. At first, everyone laughed at him, but he kept digging and discovered the legendary home of Helen of Troy.

Lost Cities by Joyce Goldenstern.
Check out the lost cities of Bonampak, Troy, Machu Picchu, Mohenjo-Daro, and Herculaneum. Part of the Weird and Wacky Science series.

Masada by Neil Waldman.
The destruction of the Jewish-held fort of Masada by the Romans in the first century AD is retold from first-hand accounts and what remains in the archaeological record.

Stones, Bones, and Petroglyphs: Digging into Southwest Archaeology, an Ultimate Field Trip by Susan E. Goodman.
An ancient Pueblo people, sometimes known as the Anasazi, built their stone dwellings in the canyon walls of the Four Corners area. Go along as a school group helps to excavate a village and visits a cluster of 600 cliff dwellings.

Hidden History

Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad by Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan.
Discover the lifeways of freed slaves at Ft. Mose, "the first settlement of freed men and women in America," through artifacts, old laws, and slave narratives.

Who Discovered America? Mysteries and Puzzles of the New World by Patricia Lauber.
Before Columbus, there was almost certainly European contact with the Americas. Read about the visitors and perhaps settlers from Vinland, Ireland, and England who came to these shores before 1492.

Secrets of the Ice Man by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.
The body of "Oetzi" was mummified and frozen in the Alps over five thousand years ago. His amazing state of preservation tells us much about the lives of ancient Europeans.

Oooh, Gross!

Yes, there is a yucky side to archaeology and physical anthropology. Enjoy!

Bodies from the Bog by James M. Deem.
The Iron Age bodies pulled from the bogs of Northern Europe are often perfectly preserved and perfectly horrid to gaze upon. Some may have been sacrificial victims to an old god, and some may have been ritually killed as punishment for their crimes. All give a window to a world not recorded in written history.

Frozen Girl by David Getz.
In 1995, a girl's body was found on a mountain in Peru. She lived 5,000 years ago, and her death was made as a sacrifice to the gods of her people. In this century, "Juanita" teaches about the past without ever saying a word.

Mummies, Bones & Body Parts by Charlotte Wilcox.
Dead bodies show a lot about the way people lived. Scientists can often look at a bone, a hank of hair, or better yet, an entire body, and tell how people lived and what their societies believed regarding life after death. Gruesome, yet fascinating.