Make Your Own Sifting Screen

Part of the Petra exhibition.

Educator's Guide: Activity

Time required: 2 periods

Age level: grades 1-6

Note: This activity requires teacher or other adult supervision. Please review in advance the "Do's and Don'ts" listed at the bottom of this activity.

Archaeologists use screens to sift dirt to look for small artifacts. In this activity students will practice observation skills while learning to identify artifacts within the soil.


  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Duct tape
  • Sturdy cardboard box at least 1' square
  • A section of wire mesh screen (5 mm is the size commonly found in hardware stores) 2" larger than the box on all sides


Cut out the bottom of the box, leaving only the sides. Fold the screen around the edges of the bottom of the box and staple firmly in place. Cover the edges of the screen on all four sides with tape.

Go outside and shovel some dirt into your screen. Shake the screen back and forth to sift the contents. What's left when all the dirt has fallen through the screen? Do you see anything that could be an artifact?

Do's and Don'ts When Digging

  • Make sure that you plan to dig in a place where you have received prior permission.
  • Make sure you dig under adult supervision.
  • Contact a city or state archaeologist if you find something that appears to be a significant artifact.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time looking. Digging and collecting data can take lots of time and patience, but what you may find is worth the wait!
  • Wrap any sharp or fragile artifacts in aluminum foil to protect them and protect yourself. You may choose to wear gloves.
  • Make sure you fill in the excavation area once you're finished digging.


  • Never go digging alone.
  • Never climb into dangerous areas.
  • Never touch wild animals.
  • Never dig too close to a tree, because you could damage the roots.

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