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Students dig through Anne Arundel County history

Wednesday - 5/14/2014, 4:46am  ET

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Ruth Cooley and Alanna Craig, sixth graders at Rockbridge Academy, sift through the dirt at Tuesday's dig. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
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CROWNSVILLE, Md. -- It was blazing hot, and a group of sixth graders, some of them knee-deep in dirt, worked slowly and meticulously to uncover small bits of glass and metal. Suddenly, there was a gasp.

"Look! This is a nail head!" Two girls brightened as they picked out the artifact.

Alanna Craig and Ruth Cooley, sixth graders at Rockbridge Academy in Millersville, Md., were part of an archaeological dig in Anne Arundel County Tuesday. The two girls were on land that had once served as a vacation spot for Francis Scott Key.

They stood sifting through bits of history dating back to the days of Key's great- grandfather, John Ross. There were beads of sweat on their foreheads as they shook a sieve filled with soil to uncover bits of metal, pottery or brick.

They'd been at work for hours, but they were having a blast.

"It's cool to be out here and getting your hands dirty," Craig said.

Craig added that she enjoyed handling objects that people had touched hundreds of years ago.

"When you're actually out here and all, it kind of makes the stories that you've heard less cliché," Cooley said, and added that suddenly the historical figures she'd read about in books seemed much more real.

Nate Bailey, director of advancement for Rockbridge Academy, said the dig -- a joint project of the Maryland State Highway Administration and Anne Arundel County -- was a natural fit for the type of hands-on learning that's a hallmark of the small private school.

"You know, we are firm believers that no child should be left inside," he joked.

The students had help from some avid amateur historians, including Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch. After working alongside the students as they worked samples of soil through sieves, Busch said he was struck by the kids' enthusiasm.

"They worked very hard; they found a lot of artifacts. They played a tremendous role here -- I think they've become part of history," Busch said.

The land sits along General's Highway, an important historical corridor where a study is under way that includes possibly converting a railway right-of-way to a trail. As their work came to a close, the kids, who'd been plied with water throughout the morning, got a snack and prepared to head home. Before they did, they were asked to describe the experience.

Some of the artifacts the kids from Rockbridge Academy found. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

"Awesome!" they shouted. "And dirty!" several added, laughing. Would the experience inspire them to go home and read up on the history of the site? "Maybe," one student called out. "First a shower, then history!" added another.

Bailey smiled as the kids headed for home.

"There were no i-things," he said, referring to gadgets and electronics that are so much a part of the lives of kids, "and our kids had a great time."

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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