As I was “digging” around my calendar, I came across a fun fact: October 18 is International Archaeology Day. Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about it, but as a family we had a unique experience with archaeology this summer and we’ve been interested in it ever since.
On a recent trip to Spain we visited the ruins of Italica, a Roman city founded in 206 BC. It’s remarkably well-preserved. We marveled at the beautiful mosaics; its amphitheater seated 25,000 spectators! But the coolest part of our visit was the opportunity to participate in a real, live archaeological dig! Sifting through a sample of dirt from the excavation site, we came across pottery shards, mosaic tiles, and stone playing pieces from a game children played thousands of years ago.
We’re aware that archaeology uses history, social studies, and science. But did you ever think about the math involved in excavating dinosaur bones or ancient civilizations? Just like the tiny artifacts buried in a dig site, there’s math in there, too!
If you dig edible activities, try your hand at our last snacktivity.
Get a piece of graph paper or draw a grid on a blank sheet of paper. Unwrap a granola bar and set it to the left of your grid sheet. Draw the shape of the granola bar on your paper – this is the shape of your “dig site.”
Slowly “excavate” your bar by taking it apart gently (toothpicks make great excavating tools). As you separate the bar into pieces, plot the location of your artifacts – the nuts, marshmallow bits, dried fruit, or chocolate chips. Older children can add numbers along the top and side of the map to act as coordinates, while younger children can simply map their finds.
Before any actual digging can begin, archaeologists put their math hats on. You see, one of the most important pieces of information they must collect about their finds is the exact location of the uncovered objects.
That information is crucial to fitting the puzzle pieces of their finds together to learn the whole story of what they’ve uncovered. In order to do that, they begin by creating a grid system of equal units.
Guess what comes in handy when trying to recreate a perfect square for the grid? The Pythagorean Theorem! At the site, the crew measures and sets stakes into the ground at a set distance. Then they tie strings to the stakes, forming a series of squares. When they’re finished, the dig site looks like a giant checkerboard!
Each square is numbered, and as archaeologists excavate artifacts, they must measure and record the exact location of their finds and plot them onto a map of the grid. Archaeologists also use math to collect and interpret data. They measure artifact density, or how many of each kind of artifact are found in each plotted square, as well as the average size of the artifacts. So besides all that digging and shaking, there’s also a whole lot of measuring, estimating, plotting, weighing, and calculating going on!
Photos courtesy of Angie Six