Seven SUNY Oneonta students have spent the last month digging into the past and honing skills for the future during the Pine Lake Archaeological Field School, now in its 19th year.
A collaborative effort between SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College, the Archaeological Field School introduces students to the basic methods archaeologists use to identify, excavate, record and interpret archaeological sites. SUNY Oneonta provides most of the equipment, while Hartwick provides the place – Pine Lake Environmental Campus, located in West Davenport, NY.
Lost and Found
Tucked away in a field nestled between Pine Lake and Charlotte Creek, students work each day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., sifting through excavated dirt and searching for evidence of ancient hunter-gatherer communities in an area believed to have been a gathering place for Native American people thousands of years ago. The school, which began June 1 and runs until July 1, drew students from SUNY Oneonta, SUNY Albany, SUNY Buffalo and Syracuse University.
This is the only prehistoric field school in the region, according to SUNY Oneonta Anthropology Professor Renee Whitman, who started the field school in 2003 and co-directs it now. It’s also one of the only field schools where students spend time in the field and in the lab, processing found artifacts, analyzing and completing data entry.
“You become an archeologist here – you’re really doing it,” said Whitman. “Students learn everything they need to know in order to work in archaeology, setting up units, mapping, recording, the lab component, data entry, report writing, sometimes exhibit design, all of it!”
Over the years, Archaeological Field School students have found hundreds of artifacts that give us a glimpse into the past, from 4,000-year-old cooking hearths to fire pits, and more. This year, students have found hundreds of flakes of chert (a type of rock used to make tools and weapons,) pieces of pottery, nutting stones and a full projectile point, known to most as an arrowhead. They also found quartz that’s not local to the region, indicating that it had been traded.
“The first time students find these artifacts, they’re like, ‘Oh my god – this is 2,000 years old,” Whitman said. “And they’re hooked. It never really gets old.”
Archeology “Boot Camp”
Field school students learn skills that can be applied to all kinds of disciplines. Many are anthropology majors, but the program is open to all and often attracts students studying history, geoscience, biology, geography, chemistry and other fields. Even if a student isn’t interested in going into the field of archeology, they leave with basic skills that can be applied in any setting.
“It’s a bit like boot camp,” said Hartwick Assistant Professor of Anthropology Namita Sugandhi, who co-directs the four-week session alongside Whitman. “It teaches students work ethic, how to work with others and independently, and how to be observant and detail-oriented. But it’s also an amazing opportunity to build connections. There’s no cell service out here, so everyone becomes incredibly close.”
When they’re not in the field or the lab, students cook and have meals together, hang out and stay in cabins at Pine Lake.
“I’ve found a few flakes and pieces of pottery, and that was, of course, very exciting, but honestly, my favorite part is spending time with people who have the same interests as me,” said Raynella Clarke, a junior from Richfield Springs, NY. Clarke is studying anthropology and history, and she hopes to find a job educating others in some way.
Class of 2013 alumnus Kasey Heiser majored in anthropology and attended the field school as a student in 2011. After graduating, he earned his master’s degree in anthropology at Binghamton University and, like many other field school alumni, has worked in Cultural Resource Management or CRM (required archaeology before construction can begin to mitigate impact) since then. He has returned to Pine Lake almost every year to serve as a field assistant.
“The field school taught me so much, from how to work with others to the basics of what I needed to know for CRM,” Heiser said. “Now, working with FEMA and other organizations on grant applications and other projects, whenever there is a historical aspect, I’m the one who gets asked those questions.”
According to Whitman, most students will be able to leave the field school and be hired right away, which is good news for students like Ethan Peretta, a senior anthropology major from Bethlehem, NY.
“This whole experience has been awesome,” Peretta said. “Getting up at 6 a.m., coming down to the site, and we keep finding stuff almost every day. It’s been really validating for me because I want to be an archeologist, but I had never done field work like this. I always figured I’d love it, but this really confirmed that for me. Now I’m even more excited to go into this work.”