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Digging up bones

Digging up bricks was interesting. But searching for skeletal remains changed summer camp to a rattling good time this year.

"It's a lot of fun," said Steve Foster, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime scene specialist. "This is definitely a unique camp for kids. It's not your normal subject matter for summer camp."

For the past three years, young archeologist-wanna-be's have attended summer camp at Hickory Hill in Thomson to learn the proper techniques of archeology. The children also had the opportunity to practice what they'd learned by excavating sites where old buildings once stood on the Watson-Brown properties.

A few select camps in the past have included a presentation by a forensics specialist of the GBI. This year, special agent Foster is visiting each camp to teach the students quick and simple ways to locate a corpse, identify gender, race and age of skeletal remains, how the time of year and temperature affects decomposing time, how to begin an investigation based on the information at hand, the differences between forensic anthropology and forensic pathology and websites about each subject.

"The recovery work that we do is the same as the archeology excavation that y'all are learning," special agent Foster told the students at last week's camp. "That way, you can use it 10 years down the road if you ever want to get into this line of work."

Watson-Brown curator Michelle Zupan, educator Sydney Peden, and intern Courtney Calvio, boned up the forensics theme this year by purchasing a plastic, life-sized skeleton, burying it on the property, and creating a murder-mystery for the campers to solve on the last day of camp.

For each mystery, campers were assigned to skeleton crews of crime scene investigators or crime lab technicians.

"We learned how to find a body with coat hangers," said 11-year-old Kellie Crawley of Thomson. "It's fun because we get to dig and get dirty. When I go home, I have to take a bath."

During the first week, they were presented an evidence file that contained a footprint, a ring, hair, pictures, and a crumpled piece of paper with "carpe diem" written on it.

"We wanted the kids to have to do a handwriting sample, so we needed a note written by the killer," Ms. Calvio said. "Carpe diem is Latin for 'seize the day,' so it was just fitting because it was a crime done in the heat of the moment."

The second week's mystery was even more scandalous than the first because it involved an alleged love triangle amongst the staff at Hickory Hill. The evidence file contained a bloody t-shirt worn by the killer, hair, a missing person's report and a baseball bat with blood on it.

"They figured it out both weeks. They are very good detectives," Ms. Calvio said.

Although each topic had its own skill-building activity, solving Friday's mystery was a culmination of all the information learned in classes throughout the week. In addition to forensics, the archeology campers learned history, mapping, excavating, compassing and proper trowel techniques. Wayne Roberts taught flint napping and Native American tools, and Lou Peden taught Native American effigy pottery.

"It's awesome," said Seth Carpenter, 12, of Augusta. "I liked mapping the best."

Most of the budding archeologists were from the Thomson or Augusta area. But last year's camp brought one student from Greenwood, S.C. and there were two who came from Burgaw, N.C. this year.

"Our school requires us to attend four camps each year, and this one was the closest to us that had anything to do with archeology," said Tori Brady, 17, from North Carolina. "I definitely like archeology, and it's been enlightening to learn how to properly use a trowel."

Sponsored by the Watson-Brown Foundation, the camp, called Dig History!, is a week-long day camp specially designed for students ages 11-17. Students work alongside professional archeologists to learn archeology skills and participate in excavating a real site. Cost is $50 per student per week.

The next camp is from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, July 7-11. An advanced camp for those who have completed the first camp will be July 14-18. Call 706-595-7777 or e-mail for registration and information.

WHAT: Archeology camp

WHEN: Monday, July 7-Friday, July 11, Monday, July 14-Friday, July 18 and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily

HOW MUCH: $50 per session

MORE INFO: Call 706-595-7777 or e-mail

Web posted on Thursday, July 03, 2008

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