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Children dig up the dirt on archeology

Update: December, 08/2014 - 15:22

Budding scientists: Two boys work at the archaeological site. — Photos courtesy of Thang Long-Ha Noi Conservation Centre

by Le Huong

It's Saturday morning. Eleven-year-old Pham Viet Manh didn't sleep late as usual. Today, he joined his classmates for a special work at an "archaeological hole" at the centre of the Thang Long Citadel's remains in downtown Ha Noi.

The students are all excited and follow the guidance of two researchers from the Thang Long – Ha Noi Conservation Centre, which has initiated the extra-curricular programme that offers children a chance to play the role of archaeologists.

Manh carefully removes thin layers of soil at the site, along with his friends, with the help of small hoes, so that their digging will not damage any antique objects that may lie beneath the surface. Some of them carry pails of soil excavated from the hole to dump them in a nearby area. Digging and carrying soil are surely not easy tasks for urban children. Yet, they try to fulfil them with joy.

The whole site is bustling with laughter, chatter and sometimes screams when some boys accidentally step on their neighbours' feet. They all sweat and their cheeks turn red, even in the cool gusts of wind in early winter.

Suddenly, a girl screams with joy when her hoe touches a line of bricks. The whole team immediately surrounds her to gaze at the trace of an ancient civilisation.

With great care and under the guidance of the two researchers, some of the children clean the brick line with small brooms and water.

A girl is assigned to measure the brick lines and trace it on a large sheet of paper, while another girl carefully notes down the results of the whole team's work.

They then move to a room to draw decorative patterns on bricks and then colour the patterns with printed frames. Most of them also try to play a game of assembling replicas of typical antique objects and architecture at the citadel between 1010 and 1945.

The objects include a flag pole, the remnants of a dragon staircase at the Kinh Thien Palace and a dragon-head sculpture, as well as a phoenix-head sculpture and a blue-and-white ceramic bowl with dragon patterns.

"I had heard a lot about the site. Today I got a chance to visit and work at the site like a real researcher," said Manh in excited voice. "I do not feel tired at all. I will share this interesting story with my parents later today."

Expert touch: A boy cleans an ancient brick line with a small brush and water.

Nguyen Nhat Minh, who is reporting on the whole teamwork, said she did not know that an archaeologist's work involved so much careful note-taking.

"It's a task that requires a lot of patience, diligence and accuracy," she said. "An archaeologist's work is a combination of the work of a labourer, a historian and a mathematician, as well as a secretary."

Nguyen Ky Nam, who guided the children at the site, said the two-hour "exploration game" aimed to help the children understand the relic site and archaeologists' work better.

"They will remember more what they learn here when they themselves discover things beneath the earth surface," he said.

He added that the centre has been co-operating with the nearby Hoang Dieu Primary School to organise the extra-curricular activity during weekends since June 2013. Nearly 200 pupils from the school and even younger children have participated in the "game".

Nguyen Cong Truong, deputy director of the centre, said that it was a realistic activity to draw the youth to the heritage site and help them become aware of the importance of conserving and developing cultural values that have been handed down the generations.

"We will first try with the nearby schools and will then offer the 'playground' to other schools in the city," he said.

Tran Thi Thuy Hao, a parent who accompanied her six-year-old daughter to the site on another day, revealed that her daughter had never been so excited before.

"She likes drawing ancient decorative patterns the most as she is good at painting," Hao said.

"I don't think she understands much about archaeologists' work, but she surely had lots of fun painting the antiques that had been unearthed," she added.

According to Prof Tong Trung Tin, chairman of the Viet Nam Archaeologists' Association, the programme has much in common with the methods of teaching community archaeology that has succeeded in Japan.

"The children themselves dig at a site, discover and assemble things and explore traditional decorative patterns," he said, "They will remember the knowledge they learn at the site longer with real feelings." Interested children and parents can send email to emlamnhakhaoco@gmail.com to register for the programme.

Nam added the centre was designing more diversified games at the site to suit more age groups next year. — VNS

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