Project Archaeology Midwest director leads online curriculum


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Lynn Alex has spent the last 40 years digging into the past by researching, studying, and sharing her love for archaeology throughout the United States and most importantly, at the University of Iowa.

As a final way to educate others on archaeology before her retirement, Alex spent her last year teaming up with Project Archaeology as the director of the organization in the Midwest. 

Project Archaeology offers workshops for teachers to focus on how to use archaeology to teach math, science, social studies, language, and higher levels of thinking to upper elementary and junior-high students.

The curriculum took a year to develop after receiving a grant from the Resource Enhancement and Protection, Conservation Education Program of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The curriculum is first of its kind presented in the Midwest region. Investigating a Midwestern Wickiup will launch today on the Project Archaeology website.

“By understanding what happened in our past helps us cope with our world today,” Alex said. “I hope by taking what we know about archaeology in the Midwest to the public, it will help show the importance of archaeological sites and will help preserve those sites and areas of further research.”

John Doershuk, the current director of the Office of the State Archaeologist, met Alex in 1995 and began working with her on a daily basis when he became the director in July 2007.

“Archaeology is such a part of her being,” Doershuk said. “She has a genuine passion and knowledge that makes it so easy for her to talk to anyone about archaeology. It doesn’t matter if the person is a third-grader or a senior citizen.”

Alex helped develop the Investigating a Midwestern Wickiup curriculum as part of the Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelters. During the series, students will learn fundamentals of archaeological research and run their own investigation of a specific archaeological site with the use of maps, historical photographs and drawings, and oral histories.

Alex hopes the new curriculum will not only help students and teachers learn and appreciate the archaeological process but that teachers will be interested in using archaeological techniques in their future projects.

Doershuk said Project Archaeology is a powerful way to learn how the past is still present in our lives today and shapes how we perceive and interact with the natural and cultural world.

“Starting young with lessons in archaeology creates lifelong learners who really ‘get it’ and who continue as adults to be engaged with issues like preservation, sustainability, and social justice,” Doershuk said.

Although the program is just now launching, Alex retired last year because she believes she “said all I had to say.”

“I feel like I have put my best effort forward at the university’s [Office of the State Archaeologist], and that it’s time for someone new to take over,” Alex said. “I want to go back to doing some research now that I have more free time, but I am always open to helping out the university with volunteering.”

In addition to researching, Alex is also cowriting a new archaeological travel guide of Iowa with William Whittaker and Mary De La Garza, both State Archaeologist Office staff members.

Her husband, Stephen Lensink, who also works at the office as the associate director, is excited to see his wife get back into archaeological research again.

“She loved her job as outreach director, but I think if she had the choice, she would have wanted to spend her time doing field and lab work,” Lensink said. “She always told me she felt like she had unfinished research to do, but now she finally has the time to finish that.”

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