Eight SUNY Oneonta students participating in the Pine Lake Archaeological Field School this summer are seeing firsthand what it would be like to work as archeologists. And they’re digging it.
The immersive learning experience takes students to Hartwick College’s Pine Lake Environmental Campus in West Davenport, about eight miles from SUNY Oneonta. There, they spend about eight hours a day learning basic methods in field archaeology, including surveying and excavating techniques, mapping and laboratory analysis.
While digging, sifting and examining a few small sections of earth at a time, students often discover artifacts, including cooking hearths, fire pits, stone tools and other evidence of ancient hunter-gatherer communities.
“It’s tiring, but it’s all worth it when you find really cool things,” said Katie Miller, a junior anthropology major from Long Island. “I found a really cool projectile point (arrowhead).”
The summer program, which is offered every other year, is a collaborative effort of SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick, with SUNY Oneonta providing most of the equipment. Students can earn six credits by taking the summer course.
The area of this year’s dig contains artifacts dating back 3,000 to 4,000 years, according to SUNY Oneonta anthropology Professor Renee Walker, who directs the field school along with Cindy Klink, an anthropology lecturer at Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta. Walker and Klink believe the area was a gathering place for Native American people before the transition from hunting and gathering to plant horticulture and agriculture.
Students at the site last week said it’s exhilarating to find an artifact because it’s a direct link to the past. Elena Gallagher, a senior anthropology major from Westchester, said she was excited to find a graver, which was used to carve bones.
“I came in undeclared and took some anthro classes and then was convinced that’s what I want to do,” Gallagher said, as she dug around an ancient fire hearth. “I’m really interested in different kinds of people, people I’ve never heard of. It’s almost like a puzzle, finding all their old stuff and trying to figure out who they were.”
Some of the students are dual majors, combining anthropology with another field of interest. “I knew I wanted to do something artistic but I also had an interest in anthropology, so I figured why not just do both at the same time?” said Xavier Neal-Carson, a junior from Albany who’s majoring in anthropology and computer art. “I would love to do something out in the field like this, or maybe something in a museum.”
Ian Leggett, a junior from Poughkeepsie majoring in anthropology and history, said he has similar aspirations.
“I want to get a graduate degree in museum studies,” he said, as he took notes in his field journal. “I think my dream job would be to become a professor at the college level.”
The Field School is a valuable experience, no matter what career students end up choosing, Walker said.
“Not all of them are going to be archaeologists,” Walker said, “but no matter where they want to go on in terms of jobs or grad school, we know from this experience whether they can take directions, work in a group, get along well with others and work under varying conditions.”
The Pine Lake Archaeological Field School was the main reason Vico Vecchiotti, a senior from Rochester, transferred to SUNY Oneonta from another SUNY school. “My original school didn’t have an anthro program,” Vecchiotti said. “I ultimately chose Oneonta because it has the Field School.”
Adjunct lecturer Nicole Weigel, a 2005 graduate of SUNY Oneonta’s anthropology program who now works as a field assistant for the school, said she remembers the first time she found an artifact.
“Finding my first projectile point was very exciting,” Weigel said. “When I participated in the Field School, I fell in love with it and switched my major that fall to anthropology. This was the turning point as far as helping me decide whether or not this was the career path for me.”