From the Field – AU Student Digs In to Anthropology Degree

Ask an AU student what the best thing about distance learning is, and one of the answers you’ll hear most often is ?flexibility,? especially the flexibility to create their own learning environment.

That’s something that AU student Barb Rielly knows all about?She’s just spent six weeks learning Cultural Resource Management (CRM) at a field school, an experience that found her digging test pits and field-walking a Paleo-Indian site.

A student in AU’s four-year Anthropology BA, Barb says the adventure started when a friend of hers ?got to go on a field school a while back. Last August I was sitting there wishing I could go on such a wondrous trip, getting frustrated and feeling left out until it occurred to me to Google ?field school?.

?There are lots of them out there! I decided to go with a Canadian university for ease of credit transfer . . . so I got some applications out there (one cancelled out on me) and in the end Trent came through and here I am, learning how to do Cultural Resource Management.?

It sounds simple, but the hard work started long before the first excavation. ?There were tons of forms filled out,? Barb explains, ?money spent, and fingernails chewed to the quick. I cleared off my schedule, took a leave from my job (AUSU), and left my home university texts on the shelf for the duration.?

A typical day at the field school involves meeting at the archaeology center at eight in the morning. ?We are divided up into groups depending on what we will be doing that week,? Barb says. One week, for example, she was assigned to do surveying, ?which includes field walking (looking for surface artifacts), and doing test pits (digging small square holes to see if there is anything manmade inside).?

Another week found her ?doing mapping and the week before [was] excavation,? she continues. ?It changes because the field school is about learning a cross-section of necessary skills. We take short midmorning breaks, an hour at lunch, a midday break, and we finish at four p.m.?

It didn’t take long for her workboots to become one of the first things she reached for every day, and the experience was definitely hands-on, including ?jumping on shovels and digging 30 cm by 30 cm holes down to subsoil.?

?I also helped with some squares that showed coursing (stone foundation for a building),? Barb adds. ?After a while, as the holes got deeper, if someone said they found something cool the heads would pop up like that old viral video ?Badger Badger Badger?.?

Other finds included ?Onondaga chert flakes and chunks, Collingwood chert flakes, a largish bird talon, and what may be the broken-off butt end of a ground stone tool. Of course, the field super found the ground stone axe and the projectile point,? she adds.

At the end of a long day in the field, modern comforts were never far away. ?Because this is a field school located in a city, most of us head back to our lodgings for the evening (or home for local students) and sometimes we get together for meals,? Barb says.

Besides artifacts, one of the most important discoveries she made was that ?no matter how careful you think you have been it is really easy to miss stuff, even pretty big things, because you can lose sight of the bigger picture.?

A major benefit of the field school experience is that it enabled Barb to meet a lot of people who are either in (or will be in) her chosen discipline. She also believes the field school will be an asset if she decides to pursue a master’s degree, as well as when it comes to a career?one of her final assignments is to ?write a report such as ones that are submitted to the Ontario government after a stage 3.?

?I know it is directly applicable for getting work,? she says, ?even as just a ?shovelbum.??

For other AU students who might be considering field school, Barb offers this advice: ?Get a passport; there are a lot of cool overseas field schools and that way you can be ready should the possibility arise. Apply to several schools, as not all field schools get enough students to be run. Be prepared for a lot of paperwork, lots of emails, and frustration as the various hurdles crop up. Field school is expensive so save lots of money.?

In Barb’s experience, taking part in a field school is more valuable during the later stages of a degree.

?Definitely towards the end,? she advises. ?Much of the stuff I am doing I have read about and written exam questions on. Being familiar with techniques, tools, and theories comes in really handy.?

There are plenty of field school opportunities to suit a variety of degrees, but Barb is definitely sold on her chosen area.

?Archaeology is the study of past peoples through the study of their cultural remains,? she says. ?Anthropology is the study of people. People do things for a reason, whether It’s clearing a field, building a pyramid, making gold and jade jewellery, or piling stones at the side of their fields. I like to try to figure out where people do things, why they did them, and study what they left behind.?

Are you an AU student who’s participated in a field school? If so, and you’d like your experience featured in The Voice, just email voice@voicemagazine.org.

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