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May 16, 2011

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thirty-five high school juniors from the Piedmont Governor's School for Mathematics, Science and Technology on Friday summarized the archaeological research findings they recorded this school year.

The group presentation was held at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Family, teachers, school administrators, mentors, and museum staff watched as the students demonstrated their new understanding of the scientific research process.

The year-long project allowed the students, who came from Bassett, Magna Vista and Martinsville high schools, to put the scientific research process into practical application with the help of VMNH Curator of Archaeology Elizabeth Moore.

Students learned the steps of literature review, forming hypotheses, gathering and interpreting data, and putting that knowledge into practice through hands-on research in the museum's archaeology lab.

The overall research project centered around the examination and analysis of plant remains taken from an Indian village archeological site in Pittsylvania County. Students were divided into groups to study different samples from the site and analyze them to determine how the site's inhabitants lived.

Students were able to identify plants used for food, medicines, fuel, and tools, determine whether the people living at the village were sedentary farmers or mobile hunters and gatherers, as well as examine evidence of horticultural techniques.

From analyzing the data, the students were able to determine many attributes of the people who once lived at the site. Their identification of the domesticated crops corn, beans and gourds allowed the students to conclude that the site was a permanent settlement and the people there relied heavily on growing at least part of their food from domesticated plants. Students also identified several wild resources, including hickory nuts, acorns and persimmons.

Before beginning the research, Nina Huff, instructor of the Research 11 and 12 classes at the governor's school, wanted to provide a context for her students to get a better understanding of what they would be researching for the school year.

The students participated in field trips, including a preliminary trip to the Monacan Indian Village at Natural Bridge, and listened to experts in the field of ethnobotany who provided guidance on the plant material the students would be studying. The students also had the opportunity to listen to experts on Native American history, giving them a broader context of the lives of those who produced the samples they would be studying.

"It was important to immerse them into the culture they would be examining throughout the year," said Huff. "Looking at their research findings through the eyes of the culture would give them a better understanding of exactly how people from a different time lived."

The presentations culminated a year-long project in which the students were immersed in technical research.

"It's hard to put into words," said Huff. "The students had the best time doing the best work. They were so dedicated to the project. The combination of their dedication and hard work, with their fun and humor, was so gratifying."

Much of the project was funded through a grant provided by Dominion Foundation as well as an in-kind gift from URS Inc.

Editor's note: A story on research projects by governor's school seniors is planned later this week.

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