The Learning Season: Field School

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Apalachicola Ecosystems Project is a summer dig. Wearing 100 percent Deet spray and leather work boots, students in Dr. Thomas Foster’s Archeology Field School are spending four weeks literally digging their way through summer with shovels, trowels and hatchets. They’ll receive four credit hours and a valuable experience no classroom can give.

The Apalachicola Ecosystems Project is a summer dig. Wearing 100 percent Deet spray and leather work boots, students in Dr. Thomas Foster’s Archeology Field School are spending four weeks literally digging their way through summer with shovels, trowels and hatchets. They’ll receive four credit hours and a valuable experience no classroom can give.Foster, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Waring Archeological Laboratory, is investigating a 17th century Native American village in a remote forest that borders the meandering Chattahoochee River.

“Anthropology is a lot like being a detective examining a crime scene and looking for clues,” explained Foster at the pits. “Here there is evidence of possible rituals and feasting ceremonies.”

This summer, 13 students enrolled in his field school to help with the archeological research project. They’ll use all the knowledge they’ve gained in class to explore the remains of the 400-year-old village.

Every discovery of a bead, pottery shard or button is saved, stored and documented for future research. Hitting 90 degrees and higher, the site is a flurry of activity where teams of students dig layer by layer into clay and soil, sift through a variety of sediments to discover the smallest and largest artifacts the pits have to offer and then meticulously document everything.

“Undergrads have a chance to do real research,” said Matt Boehm, a volunteer graduate student assisting the dig. “Normally this type of research is offered on the master’s level.”

Students are learning multiple phases of archaeological investigation ranging from field reconnaissance, orienteering, survey and test unit excavation.  They’ll also learn to use GPS and surveying equipment, a compass and cameras.

Students at the dig are majoring in anthropology, history and chemistry mirroring the wide applications of anthropological studies.

“This is the best time of my life,” said Nancy Garner, a history major, echoing the group opinion. “This puts what we learned in the classroom in perspective.”

The Department of Anthropology is a unique degree program because of the Antonio J. Waring Jr. endowment that supports the program and the Waring Archeological Laboratory.

The Waring Lab is the only facility of its type in Georgia specifically designed to meet both academic needs and federal standards for the curation of archaeological collections.

For more information on anthropology courses and degrees at UWG, go to http://anthropology.westga.edu/. For more information on the Apalachicola Ecosystems Project, visit http://www.westga.edu/~tfoster/.