For two weeks in June 2013, five North Central College undergraduate students and Marisa Fontana, adjunct assistant professor of sociology, traveled to steamy Alabama to participate in a rural archaeological dig.
“We got our hands dirty excavating artifacts, worked in an archaeology lab and processed the materials we excavated,” says Fontana, who teaches Introduction to Archaeology and Physical Anthropology classes at North Central. “Students had the opportunity to put into practice at an actual dig the principles they learned in the classroom and consider whether this is something they want to pursue.”
Sydney Pacha ’14, Andrea Sakleh ’15, AnnMarie Bachmann ’15 and 2013 graduates Jessica Pantel and Rachael Petro received independent study credit for their field experience and worked alongside faculty and students from Auburn University in Alabama and Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
Fontana had previously worked with some of the faculty at the Macon County site and knew her students would uncover many kinds of artifacts used by Native Americans dating from A.D. 1000 to 1500. “Students were exposed to different cultural perspectives and challenged to look beyond the piece of pottery and ask ‘What does it tell us about the people who used it? How was it made? How do we take care of it now?’” Students helped clean, process and inventory the excavation artifacts in the Auburn University Archaeology Laboratory.
In addition to the field work, the group visited and toured important cultural and historical locations in Alabama, such as the Civil Rights Memorial Museum run by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Fort Toulouse-Jackson National Historic Park. They also visited the Moundville site, a large regional archaeological park run by the University of Alabama. “Here students could connect what they found in the ground with what was on display in the Moundville Museum,” says Fontana. “They saw the human connection. The pieces weren’t just broken pottery, they represented a culture, a story.”
Field school experience like this summer independent study is an important step for students wanting to pursue archaeology. Pacha is majoring in art history while the others are majoring in anthropology. Sakleh is also majoring in sociology with a focus in criminal justice. All are interested in graduate school in their area of study.