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Digging in the past, for the future

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Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013 12:00 am

While most students spend their summer basking in the sun above ground, 11 Penn State students spent theirs digging underground in hopes of finding the next big artifact.

For the fifth year in a row, Penn State held its Archaeological Field School — a program where students learn how to properly excavate an archaeological site located at Fort Shirley in Huntington County, instructor and director of the program Jonathan Burns said.

Burns said the school provides students with basic field techniques and training for their professional field or graduate studies.

“We watch students with no experience become professionals in just a few weeks,” he said.

One student who had no experience coming into the school was Alysa Hemcher.

Hemcher (junior-anthropology and French) heard about the program from a friend and decided to attend the school “to find and use items to better understand cultures of the past,” she said.

The site from the 1750s French and Indian War had a lot to offer students, Burns said.

Some items the students found were colonial and Native American ornaments, including a British gunflint, pottery, U.S. trade beads, wood from the 1700s and even bones, Hemcher said.

In order to find these items, students woke up early each morning, drove to the location and then started digging test pits in hopes of finding anywhere that looked as though people had messed with the earth, field school student Bethany Greenesaid. If it was a good spot, they kept digging, she said.

Greene (senior-anthropology) said the most rewarding part of the entire process was finding something underground.

“When you find something that you dug up yourself, it makes you feel like all your hard work has paid off,” Greene said.

Attending the school was more than just finding artifacts and furthering archaeological technique to Hemcher — it also furthered her outlook on life, she said.

“There are a lot of things under the earth that we don’t know are there. We should be more observant and careful, because we never know what could be under the ground that we want to use for something else,” Hemcher said.

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