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Archaeology at the International Science and Engineering Fair

Michael O'Hara


This past May, I had the honor to be a judge in the Behavioral and Social Sciences Section of the 47th International Science and Engineering Fair in Tucson. This event, which is for high school students from eighth to twelfth grade, was sponsored by Science Service, a nonprofit organization founded in 1921 to promote science education. There were 55 impressive entries in the section that I judged, and among the cognition and perception experiments were three reports of students' archaeological research.

Reiko Ishihara, a senior at Lubbock High School, Lubbock, Tex., presented her analysis of burned caliche collected from a 1-m2 feature at the Lubbock Lake Landmark. The pieces of caliche were characterized by weight, Munsell color scale value, and percentage of the surface burned. The spatial distribution of these variables in the feature led to the conclusion that the burned caliche represented a hearth that had been repeatedly used. Analysis of the caliche color indicated that it had been gathered from up to three different sites and that the feature may have been remodeled once. Ishihara gained this research opportunity through the Texas Tech Museum, where she has volunteered for two years, and she was assisted by Eileen Johnson, the museum's curator of anthropology.

Kyla Elizabeth Tew, a senior at Enterprise High School in Enterprise, Alab., reported on the analysis of lithic artifacts from the Evie site, a Jersey Bluff (A.D. 800-1200) occupation on the lower Illinois River. The lithic analysis revealed the existence of two spatially distinct activity areas, while related ceramic evidence suggested that the areas were not contemporaneous. Tew participated in excavations at the Evie site as a National Science Foundation scholar at the Center for American Archaeology and was mentored by Matthew Purtill, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati. She plans to attend Birmingham-Southern College in fall 1996 and major in anthropology. Her display was graced with three examples of her flint-knapping skills.

Ann Seiferle-Valencia, a junior from Farmington High School in Farmington, N.M., presented her study of high-frequency processes (HFP) and low-frequency processes (LFP) among the Chacoan Anasazi. Data on construction, subsistence, demography, health, and mortuary practices were analyzed and presented graphically. It was found that large sites followed HFP trends, while small sites and outliers followed LFP trends. Changing adaptations over time favored HFP, leading to population growth, the development of a complex social system, overexploitation of the environment, and, ultimately, systemic collapse. Seiferle-Valencia has another year in high school (and another year to do another science fair project), yet she is already considering studying archaeology in college.

All of the students presented outstanding projects and are to be commended. Also to be commended are those who assisted the students in their research. Every year high school students across the country compete in science fairs for class credit and, most importantly, for college scholarships. Encourage any high school students that may be participating in archaeological programs to undertake research for a science fair project. If any student seeks research opportunities for or advice on a science fair project, help nourish the next generation of archaeologists.

Michael O'Hara is a graduate student at Northern Arizona University.


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