Hitting the Books

Our experiences in the field stay with us forever, sometimes with a bit too much clarity depending on the situation… Whether it was the kind of season you’ll share with anyone willing to listen, or your favorite on-site horror story, there has been many a moment when we’ve all promised ourselves in trenches, labs, and fields the world over, that if we were in charge, we would do things differently.  So, between the eight of us on staff, we have quite a bit of material to bring to the table when shaping the student experience of the LULP.

The challenge is always this: How do we immerse students in the physical components of archaeology (it’s not all racing giant boulders after all) in between sharing the realities of the investigative process, our academic mission, and our passion for the history of this region, all while conducting research ourselves? It’s a big question to ask, and this year, we have implemented a rigorous educational component to better answer it.

We’ve structured the season in such a way that our newly minted field archaeologists are getting up close and personal with as much of the research process as possible. As this is an upper division college course, reading plays a large part in the experience but, tying the kinetic to the mental gymnastics are the student journals. The Journal (capitalization intended) is an essential tool in field archaeology, and we introduce our students to it in daily questions aimed to tease out evidence of the knowledge we hope to impart.

IMG_20170703_154138Which is what exactly? We began week one with a crash course in phenomenology. Libarna is an excellent test case for this after centuries of piecemeal excavations and investigations all with very different goals to guide them. Since our students come from varying backgrounds (business, anthropology, and geosciences to name a few) a big part of the learning component in the first week is geared to orient them in the site armed with the methodological and theoretical tools to tackle what we might find.

In the following weeks, readings and discussions introduce students to the why behind what they do from eight to four every day. They get up close and personal with the science behind our fancy tools with articles discussing resistivity, remote sensing, and ground penetrating radar. Then it’s on to discussions of material culture analysis, osteology, community engagement, and more.

Daily, students practice the technical component of physically conducting survey. The basics of setting up a grid, operating a resistivity meter, GPS, and GPR unit are all important skills to this phase of the LULP, and the students start with Pythagoras and soon produce beautifully constructed grids that could bring a tear to the eye (trust me, it’s magical), which they then plot through GPS, and survey with our trusty resistivity meter and GPR unit.

IMG_20170711_112212And throughout each week we pepper them with question after question, challenging them to look beneath the surface (pun very much intended) of what they pour their blood, sweat, and tears into each day. Why is a strong relationship with the community so important to the LULP’s success? Why take so much time painstakingly surveying, both from the ground and air, before excavating? What kind of challenge does a site that has seen excavations here and there, but seldom a publication, present to those exploring it today? How can we target where to dig in future years all while being as non-destructive as possible?

Field school is a 24 hour educational experience, one which we hope our students enjoy, as exhausting as it might seem in the moment. There is nothing else quite like it, and at the very least, they will have quite the story to tell.