It’s a cold and dreary morning at Hammond School, and 11-year-old Sydney Lanham is working to skin a deer leg, or at least what’s left of it.
Using the toe of her brightly-colored rain boot as a kind of a clamp, Sydney presses down on the hoof to hold it in place. She then works the sharp edge of a flint rock along the length of the deer’s lower leg, separating tendon from bone as she goes.
“If it were me, I’d pull this apart here,” says school volunteer Jamie Walker as he points to the end of the bone where the ligament is still attached in several places. “I’m not going to do it for you, but I’d look to see where it’s still joined and cut there.”
The primitive toolkit, as the leg and hoof will ultimately become, is just one of several hands-on projects that make up Early Technology Week at the private school in Columbia. Simply put, Early Technology includes any tool or technique used by early civilizations before the advent of metal.
The weeklong program, something all of the school’s fifth-graders participate in, has become a favorite of Hammond students.
“It’s sort of a rite of passage,” says Cissy Pope, Hammond’s communications director. Pope, who had two sons of her own go through the program, says her boys still talk about it. “They can light a fire with virtually nothing. That can be good or that can be bad,” she says, laughing.
First spearheaded by Hammond natural history teacher Tom Mancke and history and language teacher Rene Bickley, the program was a way of combining history and science with Native American studies, part of the fifth-grade curriculum.
“I went to Tom and said how can we connect what they are studying,” Bickley says. “That conversation led to this.”
Now in its 20th year, the program brings in experts from a variety of fields. In addition to making a primitive toolkit, students this week learned to carve and design gourds, make a paint kit, fashion a flute out of river cane, rope together jute cord for holding containers and use a burn and scrape method early Americans employed for everything from making a cup or bowl to fashioning a long canoe.
But most importantly, students learned why the tools were important to early civilizations.
“These natural resources were what early man had to draw from,” Mancke said. “They were what made things bearable.”
For the fifth-graders who were experiencing what the earliest people went through, getting over the initial “ick” factor was all part of the fun.
“First I thought it was disgusting,” says Sydney, sitting on a wooden beam examining her handiwork. Save for a bit of hair around the top of the hoof, the bone was almost completely clean. “But once I got my hands on it, it wasn’t so bad.”
Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.