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The Adventure of Archaeology

Seventh grade students at Middle School East filed into the auditorium unaware of the mesmerizing presentation they were about to experience. Standing at the podium, waiting to share his passion with the students, was archaeologist Dr. Benjamin Dolinka who had recently returned from Jerusalem where he spent the last eight years working for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Dr. Ben told the students that his passion for archaeology began with a small yellow plastic pail and a shovel when he was five years old. “When I was 5-years-old, I actually dug all the way through the little sandbox in our backyard, until I came upon the dark dirt below the sand and I kept on digging!”

Before he was 10 years old, Dr. Ben read the entire Time-Life book on Early Man, and it inspired him to learn more. In sixth grade, he wrote his first long essay on the Phoenicians, and found himself hooked on the ancient Mediterranean world.

Dr. Ben earned an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in history, classical studies, and anthropology, with honors in history, from Eastern Michigan University. He explained to the students that you need to have an interdisciplinary approach to study anthropology.

He told the students about the summers he spent abroad during his undergrad years. “I had already studied these places, so it was like opening a textbook and seeing these places come alive!”

As Dr. Ben’s presentation continued, he traced his travels and excavation adventures throughout the world. In addition to showing incredible photos, he explained the various processes that he and his fellow archaeologists would have to follow and the challenges they may have encountered at a particular site.

Although not many of the students had seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dr. Ben showed the students Petra: The Nabataean Capital, where part of the movie was filmed and where he had spent some time.

After reviewing his work, Dr. Ben explained the tools that an archaeologist uses and what it is like to work on an archaeological project. This part of the presentation introduced students to the paperwork, permissions, and grant applications involved in archaeology.

Dr. Ben concluded his presentation by answering questions from the audience. The students had great questions, including:

  • “Have you ever found a dead body?” (Yes, and it was very scary. He and his team stumbled upon a fifth to sixth century cemetery.)
  • “What were the worse conditions you have worked in?” (56 degrees centigrade. Their boots were sticking to the rocks!)
  • “What was the most beautiful place you excavated?” (Petra. Seeing the sun rise over the temples was magical.)
  • “What was the coolest thing you have found?” (In a barn that was destroyed by nomadics in the third century AD, he found a skeleton of a horse. He spent three days excavating and documenting the skeleton, and when Dr. Ben and his team tried to move the skeleton, it disintegrated!) 
  • “Do you replace what your take or share it with other archaeologists?” (Yes, we write reports and share with others. We keep important pieces that will tell us something.)

The social studies faculty at Middle School East would like to thank Dr. Ben for bringing to life the classroom lessons and textbook pictures for their seventh grade students.