Experience the past



Children at Experience Children’s Museum got to make hand artwork that resembled cave drawings.

Jordan Pendel, Staff writer

Portal to the Past Cave at the Experience Erie Children’s Museum may be a recent creation, but it is full of thousands of years of history. It came about almost by accident with a little help from Allison Byrnes, M.A., Lithic Technology Specialist and Director of the Lithic Analysis Laboratory.
Byrnes has always done public outreach with different organizations around Erie. She had future plans to set up a project with the Children’s Museum, but her ideas came to life early when she proposed that she had an opportunity for a crowdfunding project to the museum’s assistant director. The assistant director was hoping to turn the museum’s old cave into something more educationally focused.
“What archaeologist is gonna turn down a cave?” Byrnes said.
Byrnes has a positive relationship with the Children’s Museum, and she has been helping with various events at the museum for a while now. Super Science Day on Oct. 14 was her second year volunteering for the event where she helped children create their own stenciled Paleolithic cave art.
In past events, Byrnes has done flintknapping demonstrations and “excavations” where kids got to pick and brush their way through clay to find various artifacts. The museum tends to call her in for a number of different things.
“It’s nice to maintain that relationship,” Byrnes said.
Last September when raising money for the portal began, they specifically reserved money for supplies needed for periodic outreach events. It is a way to keep Mercyhurst University involved with the Children’s Museum.
When dealing with children between the ages of 2 and 6, which is the most common age group Byrnes has been involved with, she wants them to understand what archaeology is.
“One thing I did to subliminally get across the message of what archaeology is, is that when we did the Portal to the Past cave I made everything on the right side of the wall archaeology, and I made everything on the left side paleontology,” said Byrnes. “They can maybe subliminally separate those in their minds.”
When she did the flintknapping for the children, she wanted to show them that people lived a very different way from the one we do now. Finding fun ways to introduce basic archaeological concepts to the children can help them in case they cannot get the content. Byrnes wants them to remember the experience as it can be the first step in being interested in the discipline.
Byrnes and the Children’s Museum do not want the Portal to the Past Cave to be too stagnant, but the size of the custom-built cases in the cave may give them limitations in what they can do in the future with the cave. The plan is to keep the artifacts in their current location for approximately a year, and with the creation of a year loan artifacts can be switched out if need be.
Occasionally when Byrnes does maintenance on the cave, parents will talk to her about how great the cave looks. She thinks the parents enjoy it just as much as the kids do.
“I’m so proud of the way it (the cave) turned out,” Byrnes said.