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Archaeologists Seek More Than Bones

August 13, 2000

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (AP) _ Somewhere in the 3,600 acres of Valley Forge National Park, archaeologist Janet Six sat in a ditch, scooping dirt into a bucket, like a child in a sandbox.

Across the dig site, archaeologist Julie Steele shook the dirt through a large sifting box. Something caught her eye. ``Oh, look! I got a bone!″ she said. On second glance, ``I got a tooth!″

With youthful excitement _ and the help of some young volunteers _ four Valley Forge archaeologists are conducting the park’s largest dig ever in hopes of discovering the intimate details of the lives of George Washington’s Continental Army.

The park is encouraging children to volunteer at the site to make it an all-ages learning experience. Recently, a group of 14 children, including a troop of boy scouts, helped out for a day.

``The kids learn so much, so fast,″ said Doug Campana, Valley Forge’s senior archaeologist. ``Older people are more set in their ways.″

The children are given instruction on how to use the trowel, a hand-held shovel that is the archaeologist’s basic tool. They learn to scrape away at the ground so they won’t damage any artifacts that may be below the surface. The soil they scrape is put into a bucket, which gets transferred to a large, boxy sift, which helps separate the trash from the treasures.

David Perner, 15, and John Morrow, 11, plan to volunteer for the entire project.

``It can get a bit tedious,″ said David, who wants to pursue archaeology as a life-long hobby. ``But it is rewarding when you find something.″

John was 5 years old when he decided he wanted to become an archaeologist. His mother, Chris Morrow, said she is not sure how John developed an interest in archaeology so early, but she has encouraged it.

``A few years ago, we got him a metal detector,″ she said.

``I like digging in the dirt,″ John said. ``My mom won’t let me dig at home.″

John said he hopes to go to Africa or Asia someday to dig for artifacts.

``I hear they’re finding some cool things there,″ he said.

The dig at Valley Forge is rare because of a lack of funding for such projects and a desire to preserve historical sites. The project got under way as part of a partnership between the National Park Service and Aurora Foods.

More than two centuries earlier, the Continental Army of the newly formed United States of America settled at Valley Forge for the winter, sleeping in huts and eating near a large oven that was embedded in the ground. Now, it is an indistinguishable patch of woods inhabited by deer and squirrels. But deep in the dirt, there is evidence of Washington’s army.

``Good things come to those who wait,″ said archaeologist Cory Rosentel.

John shook his head. ``Bad things come to those who wait too long,″ he replied.

But, a few minutes later, John found a piece of window glass. It was identifiable because of its greenish tint and bubbly texture.

So far, the biggest discovery has been an old fireplace that likely belonged in a hut. Around the fireplace, the team of professionals and youngsters have found animal bones, glass and redware, or the ``Tupperware of the time,″ as Steele calls it.

Today, the fireplace is just a formation of stones, but Six gets chills thinking about what used to be there.

``We can imagine that a guy was chewing a cow bone, threw it in the fire and left the hut,″ she said.

Six said the job of an archaeologist fits her perfectly. ``I like to be outside and put puzzles together,″ she said. ``Once you dig, you get bitten by the bug.″

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On the Net: http://www.nps.gov/LogCabin

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