Trip on a Tank: Program at Historic Deerfield is for budding archaeologists

By Lori O'Brien


DEERFIELD If you've ever wanted to be an archeologist for a day, check out Historic Deerfield's new program "Family Archaeology Day," part of its Hands-On History Family Series.

The program, which allows children and adults to become part of an archaeological dig for an afternoon, is slated from 1 to 4 p.m. on July 31 in two locations in the center of Old Deerfield the Frary House/Barnard Tavern Archaeological Site and the Archaeology Activity Center at the White Church Community Center.

Visitors will work side-by-side with researchers from the University of Massachusetts Field School in Historical Archaeology to learn the fundamentals of archaeology. Hands-on activities will include sifting dirt for artifacts, mapping the site, drawing soil profiles, taking pictures, and washing artifacts in the field lab, according to Claire Carlson, program coordinator. In addition, visitors can play the "Dating Game" to find out how old an object is, piece together shards of broken dishes, and make a redware clay plate to take home.

"The program is designed to teach kids about the entire process of archaeology," said Carlson, who is also an archaeologist. "Visitors will learn about the importance of protecting archaeological sites, and what they can do to become good stewards of the past."

Carlson stressed that the program is most suitable for children ages seven and older.

What might one find during an archaeological dig?

"You never know what you will find until you begin to look," added Carlson.

In addition to the hands-on activities, visitors can view the film Doorway to the Past by renowned historical archaeologist Ivor Noel Hume. Screenings will take place throughout the afternoon in the Hall Tavern Orientation Theater.

For persons unable to attend the July 31 event, there is still an opportunity to witness first hand the discovery of artifacts during an archaeological dig at the Barnard Tavern and Frary House on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Admission to the site is free. Carlson explained that each summer an archaeological dig is conducted in collaboration with the UMass Field School. The program also features archaeology walking tours and opportunities to be part of the dig team.

"The site was chosen because the curatorial staff at Historic Deerfield are going to re-install the Barnard Tavern in the next few years," said Carlson. "Archaeology will help everyone to understand more about the site's history."

The Barnard Tavern is connected to the Frary House, so the field school will be looking at the entire site, not just the Barnard Tavern site, according to Carlson.

The field school, which is directed on alternating years by Dr. Robert Paynter and Dr. Elizabeth Chilton, involves approximately 12 students from UMass. Students will be looking for information on three different topics. First, evidence of the original Frary House that was burned during the Indian raid of 1704, then clues related to the operation of the Barnard Tavern at the end of the 18th century, and lastly, an investigation into the landscape changes made at the turn of the 20th century.

The archaeological dig is one of the more popular summer programs at the museum.

"Many visitors are very interested in the dig," said Carlson.

As part of the program, Dr. Paynter will offer free archaeological walking tours of Old Deerfield Village on July 30 and Aug. 6 at noon starting from Hall Tavern. There are also a limited number of volunteer opportunities that require preregistration for anyone interested in helping to excavate and sift at the site or clean artifacts in the field lab.

Admission for the Hands-On History program is $7 for adults, $5 for ages six to 16, and children under six are admitted free. Tickets for the program can be purchased at the Hall Tavern Information Center. Tours of the museum's 13 period houses, which range from 1730 to 1850, and the Flynt Center, are free with admission.

For more information, call (413) 775-7214 or visit

The next program in the Hands-On History Family Series is "Back to School" on Aug. 21, where children can experience a 19th century education in an afternoon at the Wapping Schoolhouse. The series continues with "All About Animals" on Sept. 25; "Supernatural Sunday" on Oct. 30, and a "17th Century Celebration" on Nov. 26.