Stepping into the realm of the likes of Indiana Jones, except without the hat, whip, jacket and danger, Sherman elementary school students simulated an archaeology dig this week armed only with trowels.

Stepping into the realm of the likes of Indiana Jones, except without the hat, whip, jacket and danger, Sherman elementary school students simulated an archaeology dig this week armed only with trowels.

During this week, fourth grade students in the Challenge Program, the special program for gifted and talented students, visited Neblett Elementary School to dig in a special sand box, roped-off into sections and filled with archaeological goodies such as pottery shards, animal bones and other items indicating signs of pseudo ancient life. Classes from the seven Sherman elementary schools visited Neblett on different days and on Thursday, students from Sory Elementary School had their turn to put into practice the skills they’ve been learning all year.

"Like a real archaeologist, they have to put the pieces together — the clues to figure out maybe what happened in that area," teacher Jenniefer Parker said. "There are a lot of thinking skills and inference. It’s like a culminating activity for our year."

Parker said throughout the year the students have been learning about ancient civilizations like those of the Egyptians and Mayans and how scholars discovered information about theses societies through archaeology. Recently, the students learned about the Anasazi, the ancient native tribe from the four corners region. The archaeology simulation was designed to be representative of what an Anasazi archaeological dig would look like with specially made artifacts similar to what has been found buried in the sands of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Searching for remnants of a life long ago, the students were assigned a grid section in the sand and with trowels in hand they started digging.

"They’re not going to dig, they’re going to scrape because you don’t want to just dig, you might ruin 1,000-year-old artifacts," Parker said.

By scraping layers of sand away, the students found various artifacts, which were items students previously made and the teachers buried. The students then marked the location of found objects with flags and took out a paintbrush. They gently brushed the sand away to excavate the object without moving it or damaging it. Then, pulling out a tape measure, the students recorded the depth to give an idea of the object’s age. Older objects are usually buried deeper. The miniature archaeologists then ran over to a table several feet away and recorded their findings in a notebook log.

Parker said while the students aren’t documenting the items to the same extent as a real archaeologist, they’re getting pretty close. Besides learning the process, she said, the ultimate goal of hands-on activities like this is to make a real connection to learning.

"If they’re this passionate about learning about archaeology, that can translate over to other subjects, other areas they want to learn more about," Parker said. "We can teach them all the topics we want, but if they learn to love learning, that’s really our biggest goal."

After finding potsherds, charcoal and beans, 10-year-old Aiden Bates determined the area he was excavating was probably a kitchen. He said his favorite part of the simulation was discovering how the objects they found related to how the Anasazi lived.

"This could have been real life," Bates said. "Some of this could have actually been real. It’s like what they used."

Ten-year-old Aedan Rice said what made the event special to him was seeing how old the objects could have been and realizing just how long ago that actually was.

"I learned you’re more likely to find potsherds than anything else most of the time," Rice said.

Rice did find a fully intact pot, and not just pieces. "I thought all of it would be broken up," he said.

Martin Wells, Austin College assistant professor of Classics, guided the students through the process. Wells is no stranger to archaeology digs, having worked on archaeological sites in Greece, Israel and Turkey. He said he hoped the students got excited about archaeology and got a sample of what it feels like to discover and touch history.

"When I was telling them about archaeology and the kind of things we find and why we do it, they had questions and answers," Wells said. "It’s really engaging for them."

Wells said activities like this help fire up imaginations and provide a real world example to what the students are learning. He said the students were well prepared coming into the activity and he was surprised by their knowledge.

Cyndi Petray, the elementary program facilitator, said Red River Sand donated $600 worth of sand and American Bank of Texas donated money to help make the activity happen. She said this kind of experience provides the students a way to grasp what archaeology is really about.

"It’s something they never forget. Hands-on learning is the best way to learn without a doubt," Petray said. "It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another to get out there and do it."