The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith assisted Girls Inc. of Fort Smith with their “Girls Dig It” program by giving six girls a glimpse of archeological activity taking place at the Drennen-Scott Historic Site.
The girls visited the site, which is both a museum and educational facility for UAFS, and spent two days with Tim Mulvihill, research station archeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey research station at UAFS. The University purchased the Van Buren property in 2005 and received several grants to restore the property and the house, which dates back to the 1800s.
Participating girls were Julie Scott of Charleston, and Kaeleigh Harris, Madicyn Knott, Shannon Lott, Erika Nova, Alicia Schwinn, all of Fort Smith.
Mulvihill said three excavation units were open at the site for the visit by the girls.
“They learned about why we excavate and how we do it, which includes basic excavation techniques and record keeping,” said Mulvihill. “And they took a tour of the house itself.”
Mulvihill was assisted in supervising the girls at the excavation sites by Michelle Rathgaber of the Blytheville Research Station and Vanessa Hanvey of the Henderson State University Research Station. Also on hand were Girls Inc. employees, Sara Mazaheri, a student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and Shana McSweeney, a UAFS student.
“The Arkansas Archeological Survey often works with volunteers,” said Mulvihill. “It lets people see how the process of archeology actually works, which is much different than what people think or what is typically seen in movies.”
Mulvihill said the local chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Survey meets on the UAFS campus regularly and those members often help him with field and laboratory work.
“Allowing these girls to visit the site and actually do supervised work also gives them a chance to learn about a career opportunity they may not have thought of before,” said Mulvihill.
Sixth grader Julie Scott said she knew a little bit about archeology prior to her visit to the Drennen-Scott Historic Site.
“I have a friend who has done this before, and she has shown me things they have dug up,” she said. “I’d definitely like to do this again. I want to come back and take classes they teach.”
Seventh grader Alicia Schwinn said she enjoyed learning the different types of terms used in archeology, plus she enjoyed the digging.
Both girls liked the screening, where excess dirt is placed in a bucket and then put on a screen. The girls then wore gloves to move the dirt around on the screen, actually finding some artifacts left on top of the screen as the dirt sifted through it.
“We found some things we wouldn’t have found just with digging,” Alicia said.
Sixth grader Shannon Lott said she learned something she didn’t know about archeology prior to her visit to the Drennen site:
“It doesn’t involve dinosaurs,” she stated. “I’m enjoying finding the artifacts and learning the history of the pieces. I wish we could come back every day.”
Mulvihill said he also plans to have more volunteer excavation opportunities at the historic site next spring.
“I’ve already been working with UAFS students in the Introduction to Archeology classes at Drennen-Scott, but in the spring will be opening it up for volunteers for a few weeks as well,” he said. “In addition to allowing people to see the process of archeology and actually participating in an archeological research project, it gives visitors -- both the general public and school groups -- a chance to see on-going excavations for at least a few weeks per year.”
Mulvihill said the visit by the girls from Girls Inc. is only one portion of the “Girls Dig It” program, which has also included opportunities for the girls to work with Lexie Rue-Harris, archeologist for the Poteau/Cold Springs Ranger Districts of the Ouachita National Forest, as well as other activities to fulfill the goals of the national program.
Tom Wing, director of the Drennen-Scott Historic Site, said the archeological work taking place there is an important part of the site.
“The Arkansas Archeological Survey has been instrumental in helping us to better understand the site,” said Wing. “They have confirmed the existence of vanished structures, identified hidden stone walking paths and collected important historical objects. To gain this information with the help of UAFS students and Girls Inc. volunteers makes it a triple win for us.”
John Drennen was a founder of Van Buren, politician, Indian agent, landowner and businessman. Charles Scott was Drennen’s business partner and son-in-law. Charles and Caroline Scott inherited control of the estate after Drennen’s death in 1855.
The site is located at 221 N. 3rd St. in Van Buren and is open 1-5 p.m. on Thursdays and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Tours, which are free, begin at the Visitor Center.