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  School Program

The day is kicked off with an explanation of the paperwork the students will be filling out throughout the day

Johnson's Island Experiential Learning Program is based upon years of experience in presenting archaeology to students. This program is open to students in grades five through twelve. The program runs from September through June, with the months of December, January, and February off. The program consists of two separate but integral components: the Pre-field visit and the Site Excavation.


A student drawing of the excavation siteHeidelberg Universityís Center for Historic and Military Archaeology (CHMA) has developed this experiential archaeological learning program available to all Northwest Ohio area primary and secondary schools to be conducted at the Johnsonís Island Civil War Military Prison Site. This literature outlines the components of the program as well as providing some background on the Johnsonís Island Civil War Military Prison. All investigations conducted through the CHMA are research driven, and all materials excavated become part of the archaeological record available for scholars to study.


The CHMA has created this program utilizing the Johnsonís Island Civil War Military Prison site as the focus of an archaeological experience involving primary and secondary schools. Through this program, area schools will participate in an actual archaeological study of the site of an American Civil War prison used throughout the war for confinement of Confederate Officers by the Union Army. Students will receive a "hands on" learning experience of the type usually only available at the college level. The program is unit based, appealing to a variety of curriculum needs; for example American history, Civil War history, archaeology, scientific method, social science, and math. Students will be participating in the excavations of portions of the prison compound which fit into the greater research questions being asked of the site by the CHMA. Students will learn first hand how the POWs of the Civil War survived their captivity. They will discover materials related to the daily activities of the prisoners, hear from the prisoners diaries, and finally learn how scientists search for patterns in material culture to help explore human existence.

CostsAllison Gase receives help from Dr. Bush of how to document her discovery

The fee for participation in this archaeological experiential learning program is $375.00 per field day per group of students (Maximum of 24 students). This cost will include the Pre-field Visit and Site Excavation. To ensure adequate instruction, safety and enjoyment, groups will be limited to a maximum of 24 students for each excavation session. Significantly larger groups can participate in other portions of the experience.


There are only so many opportunities Two students carefully document their discoveries from the dayavailable for field experiences each season. Therefore, priority will be given to schools that have participated in previous years and on a first come, first serve basis. The CHMA will make every attempt to accommodate all interested schools.

For a schedule for the Experiential Learning Program in Historic Preservation sponsored by Heidelberg University, click here.  Additionally, the summer Archaeological Field School is noted as well as the Teacherís Workshop.  If you are interested in volunteering for the Experiential Learning Program activities, please contact Dr. Bush for information on the time the schools will arrive at the site.  Your participation is welcomed.

Pre-field Visit

The pre-field visit prepares the student for the adventure they are about to undertake by introducing them to the background of the site, explaining the purpose for the excavation, and showing various types of cultural materials (artifacts) which might be encountered. The best way in which to facilitate this portion of the program is to have all participating students assemble in one, or possibly two large groups. (This depends upon how many classes or students will be participating in the program.) A school auditorium works well for this purpose. A representative from CHMA, usually the site director-Dr. Bush, addresses the assembled students with a slide presentation. Commonly encountered artifacts, previously excavated from the site are also on hand to be shared with the students. A question and answer period follows.

The CHMA provides the participating teachers with a manuscript that covers what their students should learn prior to the site excavation portion of the program. The manuscript provides background information on the site, definitions of archaeological terms, and basic archaeological methods (excavation techniques, artifact interpretatSifting is fun and easy for these girlsion, and site etiquette rules). Another part of the pre-field experience can include having the students practice excavating using a prepared "dig box." The dig box consists of a large box (2í X 2í) filled with soil and samples of artifacts which the students use to practice excavation skills and removal of artifacts. Teachers are given instructions on preparation of the dig box.

I have also created a list of historic archaeological vocabulary words in a Microsoft Word Document that teachers may want to print out and distribute to their classes in order to familiarize their students with unfamiliar terms before their visit.

Site Excavation

Experience has shown that a maximum of 20-25 students can be accommodated at the site during the site excavation. Transportation to and from the site is the responsibility of the school system. Students arrive on JohnsoA few students are hard at work, looking for buried treasuresnís Island in the morning, stopping at the cemetery first. The site supervisor will greet the bus and escort the bus back to the drop-off point for the site. Students will receive a short review of what is expected of them as part of their visit. Site safety procedures will be reviewed as well as site protocols. After the introductory comments, students will be divided into small groups to begin excavating. Typically, four to six students will be assigned to each excavation unit. It is helpful if these team assignments are made prior to the students arriving at the site, giving consideration to creating teams where students will be most cooperative in this learning experience.

Each team will be assigned a particular excavation unit in which they will work for the day. A minimum of one supervisor provided by the CHMA will be assigned to monitor the activities of each group. It is also advisable that the school provide one adult per excavation team to assist the team supervisor. Interested parents may be a good source for these assistants. Supervisors provided by CHMA will include professional archaeologists, undergraduate anthropology students, and trained volunteers.

Students will excavate until lunch time (whatever the school suggests) when the bus will transport them back to the cemetery. During lunch, students will have the opportunity to hear actual diary entries for the day of the excavation from 1862 through 1865. Additionally, a sampling of prisoner of war writings from Johnsonís Island will be read. After lunch, students will resume their excavation of the site.

The excavation at the prison compound will consist of exploration of the plow zone associated with the structures that housed the prisoners. Students will scrape the soil with trowels, collect the excavated soil into buckets, screen the excavated soil, and identify and bag all recovered cultural material. All excavation equipment will be provided by the CHMA. A supervisor will examine all screened soil prior to emptying the screen. Students will excavate the unit (2 meter square) through the plow zone until the subsoil is reached. Students will not expose the final floor of units due to the skill needed to insure that the interface with the subsoil is properly identified. Students at the screen will collect all cultural materials and place into the appropriate bag. Certain finds are considered of special interested (termed Field Specimens) and if found, the student gets their name permanently associated with the artifact in the site catalogue for all time.

Near the time the students need to depart the site, students will complete their daily field note forms and have them ready for collection at time of departure. Unit supervisors will assist the students in completing these forms. Finally, students will be brought together as a large group to discuss their experiences. All interesting findings for the day will be shared with the group. The site excavation provides the students with the rare opportunity of hands-on participation in an actual archaeological dig. In addition to learning basic archaeological techniques, the studeArchaeology is hard work!nts will experience working cooperatively and communicating their findings both orally and in writing.


All participating teachers will receive an evaluation form at the time of the pre-field visit. Completion and return of this form is greatly appreciated so that the CHMA can continue to improve the program. Student comments are also encouraged.

Working Conditions

The CHMA will have the site prepared for excavations prior to the students arrival. In the advent of adverse weather, portions of the site will be covered allowing excavation regardless of the weather. The excavation of historic cultural materials includes the recovery of glass sherds. Therefore, students will be required to wear gloves during all excavation procedures. Students will be required to have gloves and need to be instructed to wear clothing appropriate for working in the soil. Port-a-johns will be available on the island for student use.

For more information about Johnsonís Island:

David R. Bush, Ph.D.
Heidelberg University, Center for Historic and Military Archaeology
310 E. Market Street
Tiffin, OH 44883
(419) 448-2327 (office)
(419) 448-2236 (facsimile)

Rebels on Lake Erie by Charles E. Frohman

"Rebel Fire/Yankee Ice" (The Johnson's Island Story) produced by T.R. Koba & Co.

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Friends of Johnson's Island | Last Update: 03/21/2010 DRB