Engaged Archaeology: Elementary School Math Night

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Dr. Ian Lindsay (ArAGATS co-director) and a Purdue University colleague assist students with a geocaching game at Cumberland Elementary School’s annual Math Night (West Lafayette, IN).

In an age where assisted navigation systems are available in every new car and standard in our mobile devices, it’s not hard to imaging how the spatial reasoning skills that humans have honed over our long evolutionary history might begin to decline. Indeed the weakening of wayfinding skills is a phenomenon that is being documented in ethnographic cases across the globe, and is part of a broader debate in society about the degree to which modern technology is enhancing human cognition or stunting it (see for example Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage [Norton, 2014] vs Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think [Penguin, 2013]). However, even as advanced satellite imagery and navigation technologies help archaeologists document ancient sites with increasing precision and accuracy, map reading and spatial reasoning remain fundamental skills in archaeological fieldwork and analysis. So who better than an archaeologist to instill the value of maps to young people?

With this in mind, I spent an evening at Cumberland Elementary School’s annual Math Night on September 25, using a simple geo-caching game to teach K-3rd graders about the importance and fun of map skills. First, I employed a mock pirate’s treasure map to teach the students about locating places using a set of spatial coordinates (i.e., latitude/longitude). Students were then presented with a map of their school overlaid with a grid and provided with three sets of coordinates that would guide them to secret prizes at each location, usually a classroom. It was an entertaining and rewarding way to enhance applied spatial reasoning and basic math skills relying on kids’ inherent desire to find stuff!

Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Project ArAGATS’ DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter (or, drone) on the table to spark their imagination!

Survey in the Kasakh Valley

This summer Project ArAGATS is continuing our preliminary survey of the upper Kasakh River valley, performing systematic pedestrian survey, aerial photography and photogrammetry, geophysical analysis, and test excavations between the villages of Alagyaz, near the Kasakh headwaters, and Kuchak, at the Aparan Reservoir.

Survey Walkers

Survey walkers in the upper Kasakh River valley. Mt. Aragats in the distance.

Survey walkers have been traversing the ridge tops and upland slopes of the Tsaghkunyats Range and Mt. Aragats, the broad Kasakh flood plains, and the river’s deeply cut gorge as it wends it way south, ultimately joining the Araxes River in the Ararat Valley. We record remains of human activity from the Paleolithic through the early 20th century, photographing and mapping architecture and cemeteries, collecting surface materials, and evaluating Soviet-era land management practices and their impact on the archaeological record.

Architectural Break

Surveyors talking a break amid some ancient architecture in the upper Kasakh River Valley.

The upper Kasakh Valley survey will be an ongoing project, so look for updates over the next several years!

Excursion to Tavush

This past Monday, Project ArAGATS performed its first excursion of the
season to Armenia’s Tavush Province and the alpine monasteries of
Goshavank and Haghartsin. Both complexes, built in the 12th and 13th
centuries AD, have either undergone recent restoration or are in the
process of receiving important conservation efforts.

Team at Haghartsin

Aragatsiner on their day off at Haghartsin Monastery.

Project members enjoyed the
ancient architecture, the beautiful highland settings, and the fog that provided
some additional dramatic background.

Tsaghkahovit Update: Getting the Band Back Together

A crack team from the village of Tsaghkahovit has started work this week in what is lyrically known as Burial Cluster 12, a remarkably complicated Late Bronze Age cemetery south of the main fortress.

Abbey Road, Tsaghkahovit Style?

Abbey Road, Tsaghkahovit Style?

The excavations, led by Maureen Marshall (UChicago) and Levon Aghikyan (Institute of Archaeology, Armenia) are exploring mortuary remains from a bioarchaeological perspective.  We will post finds and discoveries here as they become available.

Aragats 2015: New Season, New Sites

Project ArAGATS began its 2015 season last week, continuing excavations at Gegharot and Tsaghahovit and continuing a new program of survey in the Upper Kasakh river valley.  We also initiated a new program of excavations at the site of Aparani Berd on the outskirts of the town of Aparan.

The site of Aparani Berd seen from the south.

The site of Aparani Berd seen from the south.

These new excavations represent the first systematic efforts to explore the remains of one of the largest sites in the upper Kasakh river valley.  Stay tuned for updates.

Engaged Archaeology, Ithaca Edition

From Assemblages:

Elementary school students dig archaeology | Cornell Chronicle.

The week of June 15-19, professors Adam T. Smith, anthropology, and Lori Khatchadourian, Near Eastern studies, led a mini-course on archaeology at the Elizabeth Anne Clune Montessori School of Ithaca. Nine children ages 5-8 spent five mornings exploring aspects of archaeological research.

“It was an opportunity for students to learn about the research being done by archaeologists at Cornell’s Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies and begin to understand the importance of studying and preserving humanity’s deep past,” said Smith….

The excavations in plastic tubs were a highlight! More at the link.

Project ArAGATS, Aragats Foundation, and Engaged Archaeology

The Aragats Foundation is committed to utilizing Armenia’s heritage as a basis for educational initiatives both in the US and in Armenia.  When you teach archaeology, you teach not only history, but also mathematics, language, architecture, materials science, zoology, botany, economics, anthropology….  The list goes on.  Any subject can be taught through the lens of archaeology.
Last summer, under the auspices of an Engaged Anthropology grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Aragats Foundation Advisory Board member Maureen Marshall led a workshop in the village of Tsaghkahovit that brought the results of her analysis back to the community where her research had been conducted.

Dr. Maureen Marshall working with students in the village of Tsaghkahovit

Dr. Marshall conducted her PhD research in Armenia under the auspices of Project ArAGATS, receiving her degree from the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology in 2014.  Upon completion, she was eager to return the results of her work back to the communities in Armenia where we work.  In her workshop, Dr. Marshall was joined by two other members of The Aragats Foundation, Dr. Lori Khatchadourian and Dr. Ian Lindsay.

The 2014 workshop in Tsaghkahovit was an important first step in our mission of promoting an engaged archaeology that brings the benefits of research directly back to the communities that live amidst Armenia’s extraordinary ancient heritage.  The Aparan Heritage Center, when it is a reality, will become a center for teaching heritage to communities throughout the region.

Gegharot Shrines, in the News

The Late Bronze Age shrines at Gegharot discussed in the recent American Journal of Archaeology article by Adam T Smith and Jeffrey Leon have made it into the mainstream scientific (and not so scientific) news.

West Terrace Shrine at Gegharot

LiveScience originated the article–thanks to Owen Jarus for a thoughtful, accessible piece.

The article was picked up by YahooNews, DiscoveryNews, Fox News, NBC News,  and the DailyMail.  The latter news outlet gave the shrines its own unique spin, proving that even the Bronze Age can be sensationalized!

UPDATE: Sensationalized headlines from the Late Bronze Age:

DailyMail: “How Bronze Age rulers got HIGH to predict the future: Armenian shrines reveal bizarre practices of fortune tellers 3,300 years ago”

Ancient Origins: “Despite possible efforts to alter the future, a greedy ancient polity went down in flames”

UPDATE 2: An additional story ran in the Cornell Chronicle

Project ArAGATS in the AJA

Congratulations to Adam Smith and Jeff Leon, whose article “Divination and Sovereignty: The Late Bronze Age Shrines at Gegharot, Armenia” appears in the current issue (and on the cover!) of the American Journal of Archaeology.  

AJA cover

Project ArAGATS and “Drone” Archaeology

Ian Lindsay and Alan Greene pilot the Project ArAGATS drone.

The use of remotely controlled aerial photography platforms (or more sensationally, “drones”) has received a lot of press in the last few weeks.  The New York Times ran a story on the use of drones in archaeology last week focused primarily on work in the Andes.  This summer, Project ArAGATS deployed a DJI Phantom 2 to help document sites within our study area in central Armenia.

Cornell has posted a brief note about this work on their tumblr feed.  And now Purdue has released a more extensive story profiling our project pilot, Ian Lindsay.  In the article, Lindsay notes:

“It’s a good alternative to kites, balloons or sitting in the bucket of a crane with a camera trying to visually document these ancient sites. Drones offer a detailed aerial perspective that we’ve never had before, and by leveraging this technology archaeologists can be more efficient in the field as drones give us an immediate sense of spatial science scale useful for planning excavation.”

The first video project is now posted online on the vimeo feed of The Aragats Foundation and below:

Ancient Aragats: An Orientation from Aragats Foundation on Vimeo.