Ten Utah elementary students will begin working as archaeologists a week from today, braving heat, bugs and dust near Point of the Mountain to unearth a site dating back at least 3,000 years.

They are volunteers who signed up for the annual Archaeological Field School for Kids, sponsored by the Utah Division of State History. All openings are filled this year, but interested students should keep in mind that the field school probably will be operating next year, too.

"I'm looking forward to seeing all the older things and seeing what the older things look like," said Casey Koldewyn, about to go into sixth grade at Escalante Elementary School, 1810 W. 900 North. These artifacts, she said, should be "different from the newer things at the Mushroom Springs site."

Like some other student volunteers chosen for the dig, Casey is a veteran of last year's field school, held at the Mushroom Springs site on Antelope Island. That location dates to the Fremont Culture, which is relatively recent.

The "Prison Site" where they will be working — called that because it's not far from Utah State Prison in Draper — dates back to the Archaic Period. Workers found it around 1991 during a highway survey.

"The site is quite ancient. It is probably 3,000 to 4,000 years old," said Ron Rood, the assistant state archaeologist who will be supervising the dig. He believes it may be the last unexcavated Archaic site along the Wasatch Front.

Besides digging, screening dirt, mapping, photographing and other archaeological chores, the students will study mathematics, zoology, botany, wetlands, creative writing and art — skills that an archaeologist needs.

They will work alongside a couple of professional archaeologists and volunteers from the Utah Statewide Archaeological Society, Rood said. After two weeks in the field, the youngsters will help out for about a week in the section's lab at the old Rio Grande Depot, 300 S. 455 West.

During preliminary examinations, "We found a little bit of bone in our work so far," Rood said. The bones apparently indicate the food that the ancients fed on: "large mammals and maybe some birds," he said.

With luck, some sort of plant remains may be discovered among hearths, and "I wouldn't be too surprised if we found some fish bones. ...

"We've been working on the site for a couple of weeks, just sort of doing some testing," Rood added in a telephone interview. The researchers have found many other artifacts, including chips and flakes of stone left over from making stone tools.

"The area where I'm going to be working with the kids, we've been finding lots of grinding stone fragments and burned rocks," he said. The rocks would have been heated for cooking.

Carbon on the stones was radiocarbon-dated to just over 3,000 years ago, according to a note Rood sent to participants.

No arrowheads or potsherds have been found so far, another indication that the site is from a period preceding introduction of the bow and arrow and pottery.

"The projectile points were all like the kind we'd expected to see with the use of spears and atlatls," Rood said. Atlatls were notched spear-throwing sticks that in effect extended a hunter's or warrior's arm, hurling the spear with great force.

Kerstin Koldewyn, Casey's mother, said the 10-year-old had such a great experience last year at Antelope Island that she was excited about returning to the field in 2007.

Rood made the field school "interesting and fun for the kids," she said. "They were thrilled with everything they could discover, and they loved getting filthy dirty, and they loved learning about everything they could discover about the site."

Casey agreed: "I thought it was really fun, and it was really cool to be able to do hands-on things.

"We got to see what the Fremonts used to use, and the fire rocks. We got to look at what they used to eat. And we got to look at the spearheads and we had a lot of fun, too."


E-mail: bau@desnews.com