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UMD's Archaeology Field School

According to Susan Mulholland, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, there is only one way to truly learn about archaeology. You have to “get out in the field and do it.”

Elena Haymond & Susan Mulholland
Elena Haymond (left) and Susan Mulholland look for artifacts after dry screening dirt.
Katie Elton
Katie Elton uses a trowel to remove dirt.
Hardened earth area
Hardened earth and fire-cracked rock area from the Bayview Point site.

That’s exactly what she and her students have done every summer since 2002. UMD’s six-week Archaeology Field School provides students with a true archaeological dig experience. “A lot of them want to know if they'd like to do this as a career,” Mulholland said.

The program teaches the students the methods and techniques. It also gives them a glimpse of the rigors involved in an eight-hour a day dig to see if they have what it takes. In addition to the dig, each student keeps a journal about his or her experiences. Towards the end of the field school, they spend time cleaning artifacts and cataloging them.

Elena Haymond, who received her B.A. in history from California State University-Fresno, found the field school to be the perfect prerequisite to graduate studies in archaeology. “It was wonderful,” she said. “It made history tangible.” She aspires to do archaeology in the Mediterranean, but noted that, “the methods used are basically the same.”

Katie Elton, who is a senior at UMD, majoring in communication with a minor in anthropology, had taken one of Mulholland's classes. However, Elton hadn’t done any fieldwork. “I had a great time,” she said. “This class really opened my eyes.” Elton would encourage anyone interested in archaeology to take the course. “It was really interesting to have hands-on experience. It shows you so much more than sitting in a classroom.”

Mulholland and students have worked at a site in West Duluth called Bayview Point since 2007. “A lot of what we are looking for is the garbage that people threw away,” she said. "We try to organize the garbage." Elton found rock flakes which appear to be evidence of tool making. Paleo-Indians were the first inhabitants in this region some 12,000 to 8,000 years ago. It is not yet clear how old the site how is or if it was a permanent settlement or a more transitory campsite used as people traveled from point A to point B.

Mysteries abound. Mulholland and her team uncovered some unusual compacted hardened earth and fire-cracked rock areas, approximately 12" x 12" in size. They don't know what they were used for. This past summer, students took pictures of the areas and drew maps. Then the students covered them with plastic. "We will investigate them again next summer," Mulholland said.

Archaeology isn’t exactly Raiders of the Lost Ark (although Mulholland, like Indiana Jones, does wear a cool hat). “It’s the most mind-numbing job on the planet,” Mulholland stated. “But,” she added, “it’s fun when you find stuff.”

For more information about the Archaeology Field School, visit the UMD Anthropology website.

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, 9/8/11

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UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,

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