In Class News

August 31, 2015 at 10:47 am

A Summer in the Dirt, and Career Plans Taking Shape

Anthropology students dig up Ohio's past at a site in Wayne National Forest.

Anthropology students dig up Ohio’s past at a site in Wayne National Forest.

By Cecilia Ellis ’17

“Are you getting eaten alive? Welcome to Field School,” jokes Zack Matthews, one of Dr. Paul Patton’s interns on site at the Ohio Field School in Archaeology.

Music drifted through the forest as a dozen students and a swarm of mosquitoes welcomed me to the lively dig site this summer.

The ANTH 4911 course is a requirement for Anthropology majors specializing in archaeology. It’s a 15-16 week double summer session getting down and dirty Monday through Wednesday, 8 a.m. to noon — and every single student on site wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Run by Patton, the program is in the second summer of a five-year contract with Wayne National Forest, and Summer 2015 saw the largest amount of dirt unearthed in the history of the field school.

And the oldest remnant unearthed has potential to be between 9,000 to 11,000 years old.

A student sifts dirt from the dig.

A student sifts dirt from the dig.

Prepping for Cultural Resource Management Jobs

Patton started assisting with the course in 2006 and took over as director in 2012. He has made the class available every year rather than every other — something that has delighted countless students with its ready availability.

Two students in particular have found more than historical artifacts. Amanda Cumpston ’16 and Zack Matthews ’15, are both seniors who took the course last summer and decided to return this year as interns. Their internship was made possible through a collaboration between the Food Studies theme and Wayne National Forest.

Cumpston is a veteran, studying anthropology and Plant Biology (specifically, archaeo-botany working with prehistoric botanicals) with her G.I. Bill, on track to be finished this spring. Her post-grad plans are to pursue a cultural resource management job — a position that requires employees to test sites pre-construction to insure there isn’t any infringement on historical artifacts — and eventually go back to school for her master’s degree.

Cumpston eagerly drew me into their world, pulling out dozens of different materials in Ziplock bags for my appreciation.

“The key is documentation,” she says, demonstrating with stacks upon stacks of binders holding detailed drawings, measurements, outlines, and endless bags of collected samples and features. Her favorite part of the two-year experience so far, she says, is “teaching [the students] what I know from last summer, passing an archaeology knowledge — I learn through them, as well.”

Field School of Ohio Archaeology group shot in Summer 2015

Field School of Ohio Archaeology group in Summer 2015

‘Now with Archaeology, I Dig my Own Cubicle Every Day’

Matthews, an Anthropology major with a focus in archaeology (currently doing an independent study on animal bones in local caves), graduates this August. He’s clearly very comfortable in this environment, so much so that he plans to continue to do this work for as long as he can with a career working a cultural resource management job with a company in West Virginia immediately upon graduation. This is vastly different from his original plans, however, as he had wanted to study biological anthropology, but he credits the field course entirely for his change in direction.

Field School also includes work in the lab, analyzing and identifying samples.

Field School also includes work in the lab, analyzing and identifying samples.

“Three weeks into the program, I realized this is what I want to do forever.” He jokes, “I went into anthropology so I wouldn’t have to work in a cubicle, now with archaeology I dig my own cubicle every day,” he says.

The general consensus among all the students was the eagerness to come back whenever they can in summers to come. “It’ll always be cool to come back,” Matthews says.

Rachel Hutchison ’17, is an anthropology major taking the course for the first time, and she instantly fell in love with the site’s atmosphere.

“This is the coolest thing! Best summer ever – way better than vacation….We have fun out here,” she says. Her time spent in the dirt has confirmed that she wants to follow a similar path to her peers, with plans to pursue a cultural resource management job post-grad. As far as this summer project goes, she says the most interesting thing she’s found was a bead, a small insight into historical jewelry, as well as a hand ax (a palm-sized chert rock, worked to a point and used as a tool).

‘At the End of the Day You’re Exhausted, Covered in Dirt, But You Feel Good’

Johnny Yokum ’16 is another graduating senior who found a future in the forest. “Your office is outside. At the end of the day, you’re exhausted, covered in dirt, but you feel good. Everything no matter how insignificant is another piece of the puzzle that we’re putting together: a picture of what pre-history looked like in Ohio.” Yokum is earning a B.S.S. in applied archaeology, with a cultural resource management job lined up in West Virginia and a dedication to carving time out of his future summer schedules to come back to work with Patton again.

Patton says his favorite part of the experience every year is “watching the development of students. They were new, fearful. now they know what they’re doing. [It’s] seeing that independence and confidence develop.”

The Ohio Field School in Archaeology is crucial to understanding the past, just as it is vital to creating the future for the students who get to work there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *