The study of pre-history and archaeology assumed a hands-on approach Aug. 6 in the classrooms of Payson High School teachers Kathleen Alexander-Young and Kenny Hayes.
It came in the form of an archaeological dig that about 280 students in the two teachers' sophomore World Cultures classes participate in.
During the days leading up to the dig, the teachers purchased from an educational warehouse replicas of skulls and bones of four species of early man-- Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.
The students learned that Homo sapiens means "thinking man" because they were far more intelligent than their ancestors.
The teachers also came up with a species of their own -- homo modernus.
Weeks ago, Alexander-Young enlisted the services of Sunstate Equipment Co. to dig five trenches on campus where bones, skeletons and artifacts from the four species of man, and the made-up one, were buried.
In each trench, groups of students were assigned one of five digs. In searching for remains, the students used digging and excavating tools much like an archaeologist has at his or her disposal.
Some of the tools were provided by the Payson Archaeological Society.
As students uncovered skeletal remains and artifacts, their jobs were to identify the species they came from and make conclusions about their time on earth.
Holding up a small skull that had been uncovered, Alexander-Young asked the students, "how do you know this is not a monkey?"
Carlos Lopez, who had unearthed the Homo neanderthalensis skull, responded with the correct answer: "by the position of the spinal cord."
Earlier, the students learned that modern man has a point where the spine joins the base of the skull. They also learned modern man has a more rounded brain case, a steep brow ridge, smaller nose and teeth and a less jutting face.
The archaeological experience took on a humorous note when students unearthed Homo modernus artifacts: Legos.
In addition to studying skeletal remains, the students explored early man's culture, including law, religion, clothing, food acquisition, toolmaking and migrations northward.
When Alexander-Young's third period class returned to class Monday following the dig, students were eager to talk about their new found knowledge. Most of them said the detective-like experience was a rewarding one that made an often-boring subject come alive.