Justin Hartman, 13, of Manheim Township, left, Josh Nell, 12, of Dover Township and Zach Wherley, 13, of Manheim Township, sift through dirt at Penn Park
Justin Hartman, 13, of Manheim Township, left, Josh Nell, 12, of Dover Township and Zach Wherley, 13, of Manheim Township, sift through dirt at Penn Park in hopes of finding some Civil War artifacts. The boys are part of a collaborative effort between the York County Heritage Trust and York County Parks to teach kids proper techniques by doing a real archaeological dig on the site of a former Civil War hospital. (Steven Goeller photo)

There's some serious history at Penn Park.

Once the site of one of the largest Union hospitals during the Civil War, the York City park is now home to local efforts to unearth the artifacts beneath it -- albeit by a bunch of kids.

During Archaeology Week, a camp that runs through Friday, students ages 10 to 13 are digging for artifacts and learning about archaeology, said Jeri Jones, program coordinator for the York County Department of Parks and Recreation.

The department partners with the York County Heritage Trust to set up the excavation camp, which is in its 20th year.

The campers also visit the Agricultural & Industrial Museum to learn more about history. They've learned about the printing press, made homemade ginger ale and will go on more adventures later this week.

Digging up history: Armed with trowels, brooms and careful eyes, the team of 23 students scrapes, brushes and sifts through six four-by-four-foot digging sites, hoping to find a piece of history.

So far, the students have discovered the mundane: oyster shells, coal, marble, brick and shards of broken glass. But there have been some interesting finds, as well, such as a rubber bullet, a small military button and a large pipe that could have been used for the hospital's drainage system.

Although they've just hit a span of hard clay, making for slow progress the rest of the week, their supervisors are impressed. They're paying attention and digging in layers, said Kevin Brown, the site's principal investigator.

The program: This is the program's second year at Penn Park. Before that, it was held at P. Joseph Raab County Park in North Codorus Township.

Sheltered with white tents and with a jug of water close by, the students and volunteers withstood the 90-plus degree heat with smiles.

"It's just really fun," said Miranda Pinder, 13. This marks the Dallastown Middle School student's third year at the camp.

"It's really exciting to find artifacts from long, long ago," she said. "And knowing history now can help us in the future."

Annie Hebel, 11, a student at Shrewsbury Elementary, wants to be an archaeologist, even though it's a lot of work.

"It's very slow," she said. "You can't dig straight down; you have to dig sideways, so you don't damage any artifacts."

It's also laborious, said Patrick Bochy, a museum educator for the Heritage Trust.

"Archaeology is a lot of fun," he said. "It's the perfect blend of science and history. It's the perfect blend of mental and physical labor. At the end of the day, you feel like you've been farming all day."

Volunteers: And the camp has a hold on its volunteers -- some of whom have been there for several years.

"It feels really good to help out and make it better for the kids," said Jared Zimmerman, 15, a York Catholic student.

There's a clear rapport between the volunteers and staff.

"You can't just quit on them," said Tanner Aldinger, 15, of Dover High School. "I'll probably keep coming here in my 20s."

Although service is mandatory for high school students, volunteers agreed that they come back each year for fun.

"I've been here since I was 9. It's fun to come back and have those same experiences years after," said Brynn Kelly, 15, a student at Lancaster Catholic.