THE TURTLE STONE
A one-hour video co-produced
by NJN-TV and the New Jersey
Highway Department

 


THE TURTLE STONE is the story of Abbott Farm, near Trenton, New Jersey, which emphasizes the archeological research that occurred there to discover why the Lenape Indians had left so many artifacts at the site. Accompanied by a study guide, THE TURTLE STONE was distributed to all fourth-grade classrooms in New Jersey.

Our story begins thousands of years ago when a stone with a turtle carved on it-a manito or spirit stone to the Lenape Indians-is truck by lightning, breaks in half, and is covered by the sands of time.

In present-day New Jersey, George Muncy sits fuming, impatiently stuck in traffic on I-295 near Trenton. George is impatient because he is a committed disciple of the "go get 'em!" world of the 21st century, and he has all the necessary technological gadgets to prove it. Unfortunately, he has abandoned many aspects of his "true self" along the way, including his Oklahoma heritage and the easy-going fishing trips he used to take with his son, Alex.

Alex and five schoolmates are stuck in the car with George, 40 and divorced, on their way to a class expedition to Abbott Farm to learn about archeology. George thinks the expedition is a stupid idea, thought up by their teacher, Mrs. Baker, whom he envisions as an old hag. Increasingly frustrated, George begins rubbing an old stone he has kept since childhood, a stone that has some strange markings on it. As he rubs it, he is suddenly and mysteriously transported by in time to the study of George Abbott, America's first archeologist.

Abbott begins to teach George about archeology and his theories about what happened at his farm centuries before. George, of course, believes he must be in some sort of dream, and there is humorous by-play between the two men from two different centuries. George learns about the controversy that caused the eventual discrediting of Abbott's theories. Later "transported" to the 1930's, George learns about the work of Dorothy Croft and her WPA project. And he begins to surprise himself-and Dorothy-with his seemingly innate knowledge about animal bones, spearpoints, and other archeological artifacts. He seems to have a personal connection with these objects.

Back in the present, the group arrives at the archeological dig, where several archeologists take them through the process of discovering just why Abbott Farm was such a gathering place for the early Indian tribes. They discover clay pots and charred stones, Clovis points and atlatls-and George instinctively uses an atlatl to hit a bullseye. The children slowly learn that "Artifacts are the pictures; surrounding them is the text." They learn how to learn from the past.

Finally, the mystery is solved. So many Indians came here year-after-year because of the abundance of fish that came up the Delaware River to spawn near Abbott's farm. It was a trading place. But what made it even more special is the discovery that the fish that came there were particularly oily, and the Indians used to heat the fish, let the oil rise, and gather it for their lamps and skins and other necessities of Native American life. There is 10,000 years of history, right there at Abbott's Farm. In fact, New Jersey's name really should be "Old Jersey."

In this journey of discovery, George also is drawn back to his Native American roots in Oklahoma, where his ancestors had been forced to remove themselves at the U.S. government's insistence. He and Mrs. Baker strike up a friendship. He and his son go fishing again. And, having discovered the other half of his turtle stone along the way, having been guided by his manito back to his true self, George can go confidently into the future having learned he benefits of studying the past.

THE TURTLE STONE is told with great humor, to engage the minds of its young audience. The kids are a diverse lot, full of the energies and idiosyncrasies of youth. George's tendency to suddenly be yanked back into a connection with his Native American roots causes all sorts of embarrassment-as when he suddenly finds himself stabbing for fish in the middle of the river. A great deal of the fun and excitement of archeological research is communicated in this step-by-step solving of the mystery of Abbott Farm. THE TURTLE STONE is a wonderful way to introduce children to archeology and to the joys of learning from our past.