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Virtual Archaeologist is one element in a broad-scale effort by
the Cotsen Institute to connect with the larger community. The Friends
of Archaeology, for example, is a support group of more than 300
members and volunteers, many of whom assist in the laboratories
and on digs. Funds raised through Friends of Archaeology dues provide
grants and fellowships to UCLA graduate students.
Cotsen Institute has also launched the Archaeology Outreach for
Educators program. The program, a joint project with the Corinne
A. Seeds University Elementary School with funding from the Ahmanson
Foundation, brings as many as 200 K-12 teachers to UCLA each year
for in-depth archaeological training that they can then impart to
other teachers and their students.
are drawn to the allure of going to some exotic location and digging
up tombs filled with gold objects," says Julia Sanchez Ph.D. '97,
the Cotsen Institute's assistant director. "Of course, that's not
really what archaeology is about. We care more about what the objects
tell us about people and the way they lived. So although students
are drawn in for these other reasons, we're able to build on that
excitement and make it even more interesting for them."
we're explaining that archaeologists are looking at the broken bits
that people have left behind," says Rita Shepard '83, M.A. '88,
Ph.D. '97, the institute's outreach coordinator. "We piece together
clues, along with what we already know, to paint a picture of how
people were living."
the end result of archaeological pursuits is often fascinating,
the process is far less glamorous than suggested by popular depictions.
Far from the romantic, action-packed treasure hunt of the Indiana
Jones films, real-life archaeology is slow-paced and often tedious.
Researchers typically spend two to three years formulating their
questions and then a season or two poking around to determine where
they can best hope to find answers. The excavation itself can take
years, requiring huge teams and buckets of sweat, not to mention
dirt. Using tools that can be as delicate as dental picks, team
members carefully dig down a few centimeters a day, bagging all
conceivable artifacts for laboratory analysis. Every sample must
be documented in three dimensions, and the running narratives that
comprise the field notes create mountains of paperwork. Once the
excavation is complete, archaeological researchers may spend years
analyzing, comparing and interpreting their data.
moments that make it all worthwhile are the discoveries that unlock
previous mysteries about ancient societies, or rewrite existing
interpretations. "I'll be testing an idea and nothing is making
sense," says Stanish. "Then, after being stuck for weeks, it all
starts to come together. It's like having trouble with a crossword
puzzle, and then solving one clue helps you solve the whole puzzle."