Bones flesh out the curriculum

Brush with death … students excavate ''bones'' and artefacts in a replica Minoan temple.
Brush with death … students excavate ''bones'' and artefacts in a replica Minoan temple.

Burying skeletons on the back oval is not the most conventional teaching method. But Lisa Pearce is hardly a conventional teacher.

And for the ancient history buff, archaeology is serious business.

To inspire her year 7 students at Northern Beaches Secondary College's Cromer Campus she hired a Bobcat to dig a four-metre by four-metre pit between the art building and the basketball courts.

Six weeks ago, the teacher and her students buried three full-size skeletons they made from clay, along with an assortment of artefacts, including a sword, pottery, glasses and floor tiles.

They laid them to replicate the scene of an ancient Minoan temple, which was toppled by an earthquake around 1700BC.

This week they started excavating.

Approximately 500 students were invited to take part, including from a number of local primary schools.

"Usually we learn sitting down reading out of a text book, maybe a little documentary,'' said year 12 student Adam Finch.

''But, with [Ms Pearce], it's like she's doing a documentary in front of us and we're in it."

Ms Pearce, who was wearing an Indiana Jones outfit, has worked on archaeological digs in Israel and Jordan. She taught the students fieldwork methods, using shovels, trowels and brushes and also gave pit-side lessons in scientific sketching.

She even brought along some of her own treasures to share.

''I've got cups from Middle Kingdom, some mummy wrappings, offering bowls, nozzles of oil lamps, a flint spear head, drinking cups from 1500BC,'' she said.

For 13-year-old student Valencia-Emma Campbell, the three hours she spent in the pit was the highlight of her year.

"It's been an absolutely amazing experience being out here with an archaeologist in the hot sun with the wind coming through and getting dirt in your eyes and up your nose,'' she said.

She was imagining the story behind the scene they uncovered: ''You know they were running, the earthquake happened, the roof fell in and they were trapped.

''And, you see, without archaeology we wouldn't have found out any of this," she said.

Miss Campbell now hopes to study archaeology at university. In the meantime, she's looking forward to next year's dig.

Her favourite teacher is already envisioning a pirate wreck.

This story Bones flesh out the curriculum first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.