From anthropologists come new amateur archaeologists

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Using shovels, square sifting boxes and their hands, University of Minnesota anthropology students slowly dug through the dirt on the banks of Spring Lake outside of Hastings, Minn.  

Anthropology senior Erin Pruhs sifts through soil for pottery and other artifacts Monday near Hastings. Pruhs and her classmates are working to uncover a Native American settlement [Credit: Mark Vancleave]

Temperatures were climbing into the 90s Monday at Bremer Village, a known Native American site, and the group of 12 students and their professors had been at it for hours. 

The first-time archaeologists worked through the sweltering heat in teams of two, searching for signs of a settlement that disappeared more than 800 years ago. 

And then they found it. 

Professor Gilliane Monnier held up the dimpled shard from the rim of a pot, unable to contain her excitement. She hadn’t expected to find anything significant this early in their excavation, which began just a week ago. 

Their work is part of a class offered each summer, which gives students an opportunity to learn basic excavation skills and prepare for a future in archaeology. 

“It’s exciting because it has stylistic markings that are diagnostic of the time period,” Monnier said of the pottery piece. Despite its slight damage, it was an important discovery. 

The piece is an indicator that there is more for the 12 students to find as they spend the next two weeks digging through the site. 

The students spend more than 30 hours a week at the site, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. The class began July 11 and will run through Aug. 5. 

The field work is a resume builder and a prerequisite for any student wanting to get a job or go to graduate school in archaeology, said Ed Fleming, the Science Museum of Minnesota’s curator of archaeology, an instructor at the site. 

“All of this plays into getting a job,” Fleming said. “The basic principles are useful. It’s beneficial for everyone, no matter what they want to specialize in.” 

On Monday, students cautiously dug shovel test pits, 10 centimeters at a time. One team member digs down while the other sifts through the fresh earth, looking for signs of civilization. 

About 10 yards away, another team did the same in their own pit. 

“The general idea is we are trying to find a line of settlements,” said Gregory Reinert, an anthropology senior. 

Findings from the small test pits will help determine where to dig the larger excavation pits, which may begin later this week. 

“We know there is a site, and we know the site is here, but we don’t know where to dig,” Fleming said. 

The work students do this summer will add to the existing research on Native Americans who lived in the area. 

Bremer Village was an ideal winter campsite for Native American civilizations because parts of Spring Lake never freeze, Fleming said. 

So far, students have had better luck finding artifacts near the shoreline, which Fleming said he expected. 

The team is looking for artifacts from three separate “episodes of occupation.” 

“If we can isolate those components and look at the artifacts, we can see how the cultures changed over time,” Fleming said. 

Three students searched the loose soil around fallen trees for anything that may have been pulled up with the tree roots. 

Senior Jake Kittleson found another piece of pottery — even smaller than the shard from earlier that day. 

“You have all the luck,” said senior Julia Ramberg as Kittleson put the earth-caked piece into a plastic bag. 

Ramberg said she hopes to translate the skills from her work at Bremer Village to her focus on eastern civilizations — especially Egypt. 

“Prehistoric archaeology gives you a lot of good basics,” Ramberg said as she scoured the ground. “It’s a good foundation.” 

Kittleson signed up so he could get his hands dirty. 

“I just wanted the hands-on experience,” Kittleson said. “I’m sitting in class all year and I’m thinking, ‘I want to get out there and do something.’” 

Back at the shovel test pits, senior Ann Eoloff said she wants the class to help her gain a better perspective of how people lived in the past, but her main reason for taking the class was to try out her future career. 

“I mostly wanted to see if it was a good fit,” Eoloff said. 

A field school is offered every summer through the University. But this year, students were able to choose between two different field schools based upon their area of interest. 

The students work rain or shine. On rainy days, Monnier said the students will work at the Science Museum cleaning the pieces that they find. 

Fleming said he isn’t worried about the weather slowing them down. 

“We have the luxury of time,” he said. “We’re not on a contract. We’ll just get as much done as we can and maybe come back next year.” 

Author: Kaitlin Walker | Source: MN Daily [July 20, 2011]

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