West Point Ind. students join professionals to dig up a little history about their town; artifacts will be studied through rest of school year

News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown, Nov. 6, 2016

Just dig it: West Point students unearth history
By Anna Taylor

James Jones forced his shovel into the ground Thursday behind West Point Independent School as classmates Hunter Robison and Kayla Hibbard sifted a growing pile of loose dirt. After every few scoops of dirt, one of the eighth-grade students would catch sight of something potentially exciting.

“Look, another piece of brick,” James said.

The group sat pieces of red brick and coal aside once they were inventoried. Within minutes they would come across another piece of one or the other. A few feet from their location, a group of fifth-grade students had found something different.

“I found a nail,” Jacob Sohl shouted.

Before it was the end of the period, his group had discovered a plastic bottle cap, a nail, a piece of glass from a bottle and hit a layer of coal and cinder.

“We’re hoping to find more,” Jacob said. “I want to find a belt buckle or something.”

The school rotated classes outside Thursday and Friday to dig for artifacts, or anything made and used by mankind. They were supplied with shovels, gloves, sifting screens and trowels.

Archaeologists from the Kentucky Archaeological Survey jointly administered by the University of Kentucky Anthropology and Kentucky Heritage Council were present to lead the students with the dig.

“We want to look for places that haven’t been disturbed much,” Jay Strottman, archaeologist from the University of Kentucky, said Thursday.

The students dug areas behind the school library, near the tennis courts and next to student play areas.

“The kids don’t understand how historically significant the town is and I thought this would be a good way for them to learn a little bit about the history of the town and also see that, ‘Hey, there was stuff going on hundreds of years before we were ever here,’” Principal Karl Olive said.

“Back in the 1920s and 1930s, Camp Knox was across what is now 31W and it had moved from here because this was Camp Young,” he added. “When they moved Camp Knox from the site it was on up to the present-day Fort Knox, they donated the officer’s canteen to the school and it actually sat where the footprint of the tennis courts are.”

Olive said a large barn sat in the 1800s where the current preschool playground is. The family who owned the barn built their own water cistern. A slight depression in the ground indicates where the cistern is believed to have been and that area could be a location for unique artifacts.

The middle school students helped build a grid of digging locations using the Pythagorean theorem and wooden stakes in the days leading to the dig. Third-grade through eighth-grade groups helped with the dig and the school will continue learning about its history throughout the year based on what they found.

“With this program, they are doing everything that an archeologists does,” Strottman said. “When we dig, this is only 25 percent of what we do. We don’t spend all of our time digging.”

Strottman said when the archaeological group returns in the winter, they will help students wash, identify, catalog and create a database for the artifacts.

“They’ll do research on the artifacts, they’ll do research on the site,” he said.

Students also will create a presentation for a community event at the West Point History Museum before the end of the school year to share what they found and learned. The artifacts also will be donated to the museum.

The dig was paid for through a Kentucky Association of School Administrators Impact Grant. The purpose of the grants are to use problem-based learning to give back to the local or global community.

“I can talk until I’m blue in the face in the classroom and show them pictures and videos and have guest speakers come in, but this is how we really learn,” said Michael Bell, a middle grades math and science teacher. “I love the hands-on stuff.”

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