Archeologists get their hands dirty right away

 

UIndy Archeology students put their knowledge to good use during the 2010–11 academic year. In September, a group led by Associate Professor Christopher Schmidt was called to Westfield, where construction crews uncovered the remnants of a pioneer-era cemetery. Schmidt led a team effort to recover and catalog human remains believed to date from the 1840s.

Contractors made the surprise discovery while working on Westfield’s downtown revitalization project at the Martha Doan Memorial Garden. The site was long used as a Quaker cemetery, but it later became overgrown and many of the headstones were moved. Schmidt, director of UIndy’s Indiana Prehistory Laboratory, said such finds are increasingly common in Indiana. Meanwhile, students and faculty worked at the historic General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, mapping and excavating at the site. (Wallace is the author of the novel Ben-Hur.)

The work was led by visiting instructor of Geology Chris Moore, who also organized a project on Sapelo Island, Georgia. UIndy students accompanied Moore to Sapelo to investigate a Spanish mission site in collaboration with faculty and students from the universities of Kentucky and Tennessee. Senior archeology majors Jarod Maginot of South Bend and Carolyn Lewis of Santa Clara, California, were among those traveling to the island for the dig, using high-tech surveying equipment to search for remnants of a 17th-century Spanish mission.

“We spent almost a month searching for artifacts from 16th- and 17th-century Spanish missionaries who inhabited the northern end of the island nearly 400 years ago,” Moore says. “We’re trying to determine how several different groups of people lived and interacted with one another on the island.”

The mission was founded around 1610 and abandoned in 1684, when the area came under attack by French and English pirates and the indigenous Westo people, who were allied with the British. Relics at the site—including shards of Native American and Spanish pottery as well as European beads and nails—confirm the 17th-century age.

“I think we made significant progress,” Moore says. “We found at least one and maybe two mission-period structures, one of which I believe to be part of the mission complex. We are not 100 percent certain that we have the mission, but 100 percent certainty is rare in archeology.”

Moore believes Sapelo Island offers a great study opportunity. Undergrads working on Sapelo “are involved in every component of the archeological process, from research design to excavation to site interpretation. It’s truly a unique resource for our students. Most colleges teach theory only and don’t really show you how to do the nitty-gritty fieldwork.”

Such opportunities at UIndy come often. Carolyn Lewis, for example, also has traveled to Belize, where the University has ties to Galen University, to work on Mayan dig sites.

“It was a fantastic trip. I got to excavate the kind of stuff that you dream about digging up as a kid!” she says. “I’m now finishing a paper on human sexual dimorphism to take to the Academy of Science.”