WESTMINSTER — Searching for buried treasure, nine county students carefully dug around the site with a trowel and sifted the soil.
But, to their disappointment, the future archaeologists found only a broken plate, some pieces of pottery, chicken bones and lots of coal.
"The parts of the plates, those are the things we really jump over," said Chris Smith, a 13-year-old freshman at South Carroll High School. "We thought we'd find some little bigger things."
The students, members of a class on archaeology sponsored by the Historical Society of Carroll County, met daily last week to learn about research techniques and help investigate the yard behind the society's offices on Main Street.
Historical Society members said they wanted to digup the property for clues about previous owners of the Shellman House before reconstructing a porch on the back and installing a bake oven in the yard.
Last week was open to students entering the eighth and ninth grades; students entering grades six and seven are participating in a similar class this week.
"We wanted to offer an educational experience to school-age children, and we needed to do the archaeology here," said curator Jay Graybeal. "This combines a teaching experience with work we needed to do."
For the first few days, the students watched videos about archaeological techniques and practiced drawing maps of the site -- including cross-sections of what they would find in the ground.
Then they were ready for the field, pickingout two 2-by-3-foot sites, cataloging and cleaning the objects they found.
"Every step of the way, we've allowed the students to make the decisions," said Joe Getty, society director. "We outlined a method and an archaeological approach, given them guidelines and allowed them to make a decision."
Students dug right against the house andalso at a site near the future bake oven.
A blue and white plate with gold trim -- circa 1880 -- was found next to the house. The students said they identified its age -- with a little help from their instructors -- by the plate's pattern and the layer of dirt it was in.
"I think it was someone's family heirloom, got broken and was thrown out back," said Stephanie Wilmsen, an 11-year-old from East MiddleSchool in Westminster who was among several younger students allowedto join the older group.
However, John Hale, a 12-year-old from North Carroll Middle in Greenmount, had a different idea.
"I feel that back in the 1880s, it was broken and just swept off the porch," he said.
The students digging in the yard didn't have as much luck,finding mostly coal and building debris.
Unlikely items were found next to one another, since the ground probably was disturbed while Shriver Auditorium was being constructed in 1966, Graybeal said.
"Usually the older stuff is deeper, but we found a chunk of Styrofoam with this old piece of pottery," Smith said.
The artifacts then were washed and placed in plastic bags to add to the society's collection.
Most students said they were attracted to the $100 per person program -- advertised in local newspapers and through the schools -- because they were interested in history and archaeology.
"I've wanted to be an archaeologist since I was in the fourth grade," said Annie Werner, a 13-year-old Mount Airy Middle School student. "It started when I watched this show on TV about Indians, and then I went to the library and found out about it."
Getty and Graybeal said they hope to offer a similar program for students next year, possibly relocating it to property the society owns in Uniontown.
Plans also are being developed to offer classes on measuring buildings and other archaeological techniques next year for high school students and adults.
For information on this and other Historical Society programs, please call 848-6494 or 848-9531.