Fayette County

Learning gets dirty at Raven Run

Henry Wolf and Howard Ball are seventh-graders from Sayre School in their regular lives, but on Wednesday they were archaeologists, picking through dirt and rocks for clues to the past.

Their dig was not some ancient temple, but the back yard of a house that Baruch Prather started building more than 200 years ago. The house stands on what is now a corner of Lexington's Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, which is not a bad place to be on a warm, sunny March day.

As fellow students Danielle Little, Elizabeth Parkes and Christina James carefully scooped up dirt with trowels, the boys sifted it to find old nails, a piece of ceramics and what probably was part of an old medicine bottle.

"It's pretty cool finding all this stuff from way back when and comparing it to what we have today," Henry said.

"And it's better than a day at school," Howard said.

They were among a group of students from Sayre and other schools who are working alongside professional archaeologists this week and next. On March 29, the program will be opened to the public.

Lori Stahlgren, a staff archaeologist with the Kentucky Archaeological Survey and the Kentucky Heritage Council, began by assuring the students that they were working on a real archaeological site.

"The things you're going to find were not put here by us, they were put here by other people hundreds of years ago," she said.

Work on the Prather house was started in the late 1700s, with the main portion constructed from bricks made in Lexington. The kitchen was made from stone quarried nearby and was completed in 1812. After the huge New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, iron braces were put on the walls.

The students were digging around what might have been the foundation of an outbuilding.

The artifacts they found would be examined in a laboratory, Stahlgren said, and could end up in a museum at Raven Run's nature center or in the Prather house itself.

She explained that an imaginary grid had been laid across the area so that everything that was found could be cataloged. She also cautioned the students against digging around old houses elsewhere without a professional to guide them, and around their own homes, lest their parents be perturbed.

Besides helping the archaeologists with their work, Stahlgren said, the students got something valuable from the experience.

"There's so much that isn't written in books, and archaeology helps us to think very critically about what is written," she said. "I think having critical thinking is one of the most important resources someone can have."

The students obviously thought the experience was worthwhile.

They worked at several stations with different archaeologists, then rotated. At the end of a session, the archaeologist in charge sometimes got a handshake — or a hug.