Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

GATE students study the past

In the culmination of three years of archaeological studies, 19 sixth-graders from Mary Fay Pendleton School’s Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program traveled to the De Luz Ecology Center for a hands-on experience on April 27.

Because sixth grade history-social science standards require students to develop their understanding of history through archaeological studies of early humankind, GATE program coordinator Lee La Fave said he wanted to “provide an opportunity to apply standard archaeological practice to the historic native hunter gatherer population in the Santa Margarita River Watershed, which includes the De Luz area.”

At a mock dig site prepared by La Fave and center teacher Scott Gordon, the students used those practices to unearth and identify artifacts, kitchen midden (trash), and the remains of a Luiseño fire pit located beneath Engelmann oak trees near a seasonal creek.

The objects included pottery shards of an olla (ceramic pot) with smoky fire “cloud” patterns; authentic obsidian points (black lava rock); a pressure flaked piece of chert sedimentary rock used to cut and scrape; cordage (woven rope); cowrie shells; authentic grinding metates (large flat rocks) and a mano (hand stone), and acorns.

Sixth grader Alyssa Bragg learned “that discovering new things takes time and lots of patience; you can work all day and find nothing or a great discovery!” Alyssa also discovered that “Native Americans used their few resources and made many things with them. Indians were very smart and quick thinking.”

Dan San Nicolas learned “archaeologists dig layers at a time, not all at once” and “pictographs are drawings on a wall that tell a story.”

La Fave had also painted an authentic pictograph high above the dig site on a granite boulder last February so it would have time to become “weathered.” The students were thus able to analyze the cultural anthropology of Luiseño pictographs.

With the help of a field guide, the students also explored ritual plant use by identifying many native plants used by Luiseños for food and medical remedies. Andrea Nicaragua learned “new plants that [she] didn’t even know existed! [She] also learned you have to be exact about your discoveries,” while Zach Gaskill learned “that some plants are edible and that certain bugs are helpful.”

The first two years of the students’ archaeological studies involved the San Diego Archaeological Center. The first year, the center’s program director, Annemarie Cox, brought Project Archaeology to the students at their school with activities based on the regional pre-contact and historical periods for Native Californians including making clay pinch pots and cordage.

Last year, the students went to the center (in the San Pasqual Valley, east of Escondido) and viewed authentic artifacts in the museum there. They also went on a GPS (Global Positioning System) guided archaeological excursion in which they located both cultural and natural resources, such as trees (Oak, California Cherry and Pepper), plants (California Buckwheat), an historic cooking vessel, a food processing station (bedrock mortar), water storage, granitic boulder, and the monument to the Mexican-American War.

Teachers La Fave and Gordon started planning the project at the De Luz Ecology Center more than a year ago.

“Essentially, using previous classroom and archaeological field work, this sixth grade GATE field trip further developed and extends the prior learning with a hands-on, highly enriching experience and analysis,” La Fave said.

After the De Luz field trip, the sixth graders wanted to learn even more. Tyler Moravec wants to know “how old the artifacts [he] found were” while Jordyn Prouty would like to know “how native Americans came up with their language.” Molly Jay wonders “how long ago they lived there,” and Kianna Fortner wants to know “if you can camp there one day.”

The teachers said they consider the project so successful that they might repeat it for other sixth grade GATE students in the school district next year.

To comment on this story online, visit


Reader Comments(0)